The charming Pierre Dulaine (Antonio Banderas) and a bunch of school rejects-turned-impassioned dancers take the lead in an inspirational story about the harsh realities of people’s lives in a New York public school.
A dance-filled teen melodrama mainly set in a high school detention hall, the theme of Take the Lead clings on to the interesting and exciting mix of hip-hop and ballroom dance. It it turns out to be a predictable story hanging on to some good and entertaining dance and comic sequences in a pop fairy tale fashion. Its inspirational teacher movie formula where Banderas’ charisma mainly becomes its only source of strength associates it with movies like Dangerous Minds, Mad Hot Ballroom, and Shall We Dance.
Inspired by a true story, Take the Lead revolves around the idea of the professional dancer Pierre Dulaine volunteering to teach ballroom dancing in New York City’s South Bronx High School. When his formal background and classic methods clash with his students’ rebellious, hip-hop instincts, his efforts are given due credit as his class creates a new style of dance capturing their interest and inspiring them to take on their teen challenges in every step. A feel-good story utilizing music and dance to infuse emotions with the passion for dancing, Dulaine guides the students in detention farther from the complications of their caught up and problematic lives.
As a kickoff to set the mood is an impressive opening sequence that introduces a swing. And from then on, the music shifts from the tango and the foxtrot to the hip-hop and some groovy remixes: combining ballroom and hip-hop moves in many exciting ways.
The hip-hop and ballroom music mix becomes a marketable concept. It has a certain appeal to peek the curiosity of the audience. The dances make the movie vivid but not as spectacular as expected. The movie’s dynamism and the characters’ coming-of-age adversities don’t stand as clear as the expectations for the film. What redeems it is a combination of splendid dance scenes, good music, and an Antonio Banderas making it energetic from its very surface.
It seems like the debuting film director Liz Friendlander mainly leaves a mark of her music video directing roots with the movie’s shifts in tone and stylish cuts. Physically, it works to a certain extent; but its feature film potential weakens with its superficiality and lack of deeper sensation for the story. The movie extends more on the flashy dance sequences, but falls quite short on depth and direction.
Take the Lead has plenty of funny parts. The interesting character conflicts and drama make interesting accents. However, the ending doesn’t seem to wrap up everything. While it is convincingly pegged under the Hollywood mainstream formula, some issues are not clearly resolved accordingly. The dance performances and Bandera’s appeal deserve applause; the script is another story…
The wonderfully magnetic and oozing with charm Banderas in the lead delivers it all for the film. It certainly helps that he plays Dulaine. He fits the role. However, the movie loses redemptive power without his sophistication. His compassion, accent, and flowery courtliness matter a lot. From the way he effectively carries both his dramatic and comedic scenes as the perfect sexy gentleman to his mad hot dance performance with Morgan (Katya Virshilas), the endorphin rush for the film really takes the lead because of him.
The rousing finale is no less engaging. The audience tends to anticipate something hopefully surprising in the end. However, there are many false steps with its choppy finale and vague ending. Even the fusion of classic dance and hip-hop moves doesn’t give a clear final bow. It is entertaining, but it could have used a better tempo to make it more worthwhile in the end, and not just leaving all the clichés unturned.
Take the Lead knows which direction to swing, but it doesn’t know where and when to end itself with a thrill.