Marilyn Hotckiss' Ballroom Dancing & Charm School

It's a bit sad when a movie tries to hard to be charming. Case in point, the clunkily titled Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing & Charm School. This movie could have been a cute little film about a bunch of lonely people and the healing power of dance. Instead, writer/director Randall Miller (The Sixth Man, Houseguest) tried to cram in as much as possible in order to remind people that this story is heartwarming and romantic instead of letting the characters do so for him. Miller based the movie on his short film from his 1990 short film and co-wrote it with Jody Savin (Witchcraft). There is an impressive array of stars, many with very small roles, but in the end, Marilyn Hotchkiss comes off as contrived.

There are three separate stories occurring. Frank Keane (Robert Carlyle, Once Upon a Time in the Midlands, Formula 51) is a widower still reeling from the death of his wife. On one fateful delivery, he comes across Steve Mills (John Goodman, Beyond the Sea, Clifford's Really Big Movie), who just had a horrific accident. Years ago, Mills made a promise to his childhood sweetheart Lisa that no matter what happened, on May 5, 2005 (the fifth day of the fifth month of the fifth year), they would meet again at Hotchkiss' school, where they took lessons as children. The most uninteresting portions of Hotchkiss take place in the past, where a young Mills and his friend reluctantly take dance classes and slowly discover women.

The problem with Randall's story is that it takes a while to get anywhere. The flashbacks never tell what the audience wants it to. The scenes between Keane and Mills are even worse. Mills' accident was fatal. He is dying and wants Keane to go to the dance school to find Lisa. Yet amusingly, he has time to relate what seems to turn into his life story. It gets to the point where it becomes funny. Randall should have focused more on Keane once he goes to the school. There, he falls under the spell of Hotchkiss' daughter Marienne (Mary Steenburgen, Elf, Casa de los Babys), who speaks with a strained voice and forced mannerisms.

Keane instantly falls for Meredith Morrison (Marisa Tomei, Alfie, Anger Management), a beautiful young woman who has a black eye the first time they meet. She has an over-protective older brother (Donny Wahlberg, Annapolis, Saw II). Still, the freeing nature of dancing is therapeutic, and it draws him out of his shell and closer to Morrison. Carlyle is an actor who can play psychopaths and bad guys, but there's something about his face that conveys sadness. He is a good choice for Keane, and shows considerable restraint in his performance. For her part, all Tomei has to do is smile to look appealing. The emotional core of Hotchkiss lies with these two, and it would have been nice to see more of them. Instead, Randall gives short amounts of time to a whole slew of quirky supporting characters. It's cute, but he's simply trying too hard.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 43 minutes, Rated PG-13 for mature situations and language.

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