2008. Ian Iqbal Rashid.
Monday 2/18, 9:50pm, Beverly Center
I had absolutely zero interest in ever seeing one of these teen dance films populating theaters lately until I read Ty Burr’s review of How She Move in the Boston Globe. This is the passage that particularly caught my eye-
“How many times can you watch the same movie with different actors and a new title? If it’s a dance musical and the dancing’s good, the answer’s obvious: As many times as they can keep cranking ’em out. No one went to see Astaire-Rogers movies for the plots, and no kid is going to go to “How She Move” for its hackneyed inspirational story line about an inner-city good girl who wants to step bad.”
Realizing how much I enjoy Swing Time and The Broadway Melody of 1940 simply for their charm and dance routines, I set out to watch this film, which was by far the best reviewed in the mini-genre and even premiered at Sundance. And with my new perspective, I can say that I enjoyed myself at the theater (even though I went with Aaron, Reed and Tara and we made up 4/7 of the audience). That being said, I still wouldn’t call it a good film or anywhere near worthy of a 70% approval rating on rotten tomatoes. Clearly these critics have just been spoiled by seeing much, much worse because How She Move is as formulaic as they come.
The screenplay is terrible. It could have been written by anyone with access to flashcards and a Syd Field book. Sure, the dialogue is realistic but if the film was really aiming for realism then they can’t justify having the heroine win the dance competition, bring her parents back together, win the love of a boy and the respect of her enemy all while teaching everyone around her valuable lessons about tolerance and respect, all in a 95 minute package. As obvious as the screenplay is, director Rashid actually takes some interesting approaches to the material. In fact, overall the camera direction and cinematography were pretty interesting and evocative. Hard to believe it’s the same talent behind the dreadful looking “comedy” A Touch of Pink. Rutina Wesley is also impressive in the main role, but the supporting cast can’t quite rise above their character cliches. But what of the main attraction, the dancing? It’s good. Really good in some cases, but not exactly worth the wait when the highlights are all piled into the last reel of the film. Quick side gripe- If these routines are so difficult, how is she able to hop back and forth between teams twice in three days and still perform them all flawlessly? Ultimately, it’s terrible material well handled with some impressive dancing and only worth your time if you’re into that kind of thing.
Wow. I consider myself a big, big fan of Michel Gondry after the near flawless Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and the imperfectly beautiful The Science of Sleep, so I was excited to see this with Sean, Keegan and Stephanie yesterday. To my horror, I found myself watching a truly embarrassing piece of work. To start with, for a fanciful comedy, the movie is extremely dull and for a film about the magic of cinema, it’s just unforgivably lifeless. That’s not to say it isn’t imaginative because it is and very much so. But I would also say that the new Star Wars trilogy is imaginative and as much of a failure in storytelling. Gondry seems to think that all he needs is a kooky concept, Jack Black’s incessant mugging and some sight gags and he can call it art. Even worse, he succumbs to some insufferable sentimentality at the end that was completely absent from his previous work and attempts to justify the lackluster preceeding hour and a half by saying that “it’s the thought that counts” with filmmaking.
The performances are critical in a comedy like this and while the pairing of Jack Black and Mos Def led to anticipation on paper, it’s about as thin and exciting as paper on screen. Mos limps around acting like a shy, 5 year old while Black jumps and cavorts, chewing scenery like an attention deprived 5 year old and watching two 5 year olds is not nearly as exciting as it might sound. Mia Farrow embarrasses herself by putting way too much emoting into a performance that really only asks for one note, but Danny Glover emerges unscathed and provides the few moments of real heart in the film. But the real star is Gondry, who is working from his own script for only the second time and is beginning to sorely miss Charlie Kaufman. The ghost of Jon Brion can also be felt as the truly awful score by Jean-Michel Bernard reeks through the cinema every time it plays, which is pretty much constantly. In fact, the film is scored like a Tex Avery cartoon but the action on screen rarely compliments that kind of stylistic choice. Only when the boys get to actually remaking the films does it start to pick up a little in pace, but those moments are much briefer in the film than the trailer would have you believe and if you’ve already seen the trailer then you’ve seen all the best parts anyway.
The cinematography is boring, the editing is poorly paced and the the production design is neither here nor there. Terribly, terribly disappointing film from one of the most promising directors of the decade.