Save the Last Dance

Toby Baldwin's Film Review Home

6 out of 10

If you can check your cynicism at the door, you will probably enjoy this formulaic film. Great dance scenes, nice issues touched on, but why, oh why, did the director cut the jazz club scene?

Rating: 6 out of 10.

The movie opens up with a traumatic event that leads Sara (Julia Stiles) to give up ballet dancing and forces her to move in with her father in inner-city Chicago. She enrolls in a nearly all-black high school, and fall for Derrick (Sean Patrick Thomas). The subsequent obstacles the couple faces are the regular issues related with interracial relationships, such as Derrick being torn between his feelings for Sara and the opinions of his friends, and so on. Also in the mix is the question of whether Sara will take up ballet dancing again, and whether she will retake the audition she failed (microscopic spoiler there) at the beginning of the movie.

I read reviews when this was in theaters criticizing it for using doubles for the dancing scenes. After seeing the (excellent) bonus material on this DVD, I think the actors worked extremely hard and did it all themselves, which makes the movie exponentially more enjoyable and worth watching (Stiles does a fantastic job with this movie). The director and cast obviously cared about this movie a lot and tried to make it significant. It has a lot of nice visuals, solid pacing, and brings up some good social issues. And--I never thought I would see myself admit something like this--the music video on the DVD adds to the story. It's a nice little alternate reality fantasy, and the movie would seem incomplete without it.

On the negative side, the plot is predictable, predictable, predictable. Is anyone surprised by the ending? Also, plenty of plot threads were left dangling to varying degrees, such as Sara's father. He agrees to take her to the big event at the end (after the obligatory tear-jerking father-daughter bonding scene), and we see them leave the house, and then he DROPS OFF THE FACE OF THE PLANET. Dad? Daddy...? Another issue I had with his character is the fact that the jazz club scene with Sara sneaking into the club and watching him play trumpet (oh yes, he's a jazz musician, which in the final cut is only mentioned) was deleted. You can see it on the DVD. It would have been one of the most understated and moving scenes in the film. Other themes are slightly better developed, such as single parenthood, but never go too far beyond the obvious. Additional deleted scenes show this subtheme going all over the map, indicating how unsure director Thomas Carter was of how much he could cram in without distracting from the main plot issues. Given the predictability of the primary theme, I would have preferred him to keep the extra stuff in just to add more food for thought. One final complaint: with just some minor tweaking of the script, couldn't the lead characters have been better developed? Sigh.

You may like this film if you're not completely jaded. How could you help not wanting the best for these characters, even in a formulaic story? Especially after seeing the DVD special features, it's hard not to root for the people who made this movie, and the product they turned out is at least far superior than the average teen gross-fest, and deserves high marks for effort. You will probably not like this film if you're expecting to be surprised or intellectually challenged by it, or if you hate movies that lean toward plot-driven versus character-driven.

Quasi-Steamy Scene Note: There is one scene in which the protagonists strip (nothing explicit seen here) and presumably have sex. The conversations between the two throughout the movie seemed effective, but this (rather unnecessary) scene felt sterile.

Worth renting? For most people.
Worth buying? Maybe, but I recommend you see it first.
Suitable for kids? Not very. Year: 2001
Director: Thomas Carter
Running Time: 112 minutes
Rated PG-13 for violence, sexual content, language and brief drug references.

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Review Copyright 2003 by Toby Baldwin

Originally written July 14, 2001.

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