Save the Last Dance

Choice forms the main theme of Save the Last Dance, an adequate movie that passes as amusing time filler, but nothing more. Sara's (Julia Stiles, State and Main, Hamlet) mother just died, throwing a wrench into all her plans. She lived a middle class existence and was auditioning for Julliard, but now she lives with her father in Chicago. Now she goes to a mostly black high school, and any thought of dancing brings her pain, since she feels partially responsible for her mother's death. Save the Last Dance may have a lot of dancing, but its central theme is one of choice.

Sara quickly befriends Derek, (Sean Patrick Thomas, Dracula 2000, Cruel Intentions) who introduces her to the world of hip-hop. Derek is different from most of his classmates; he has ambition. He wants to go to Georgetown and become a doctor. In Duane Adler and Cheryl Edwards' script, Derek is the one who helps Sara get on track again with her dream. Along the way, they become extremely close, which causes tension among many of the people in school. The entire story mines familiar territory, it is only the performances that resurrect it. Adler and Edwards use the typical stereotypes and pressures for an interracial relationship. It only shows how mature Derek's character is, and how dependent Sara is. She is always looking for approval, and seemingly unable to make decisions for herself without relying on somebody to rely on. Unfortunately this weakens her character and makes the movie less appealing.

Stiles and Thomas have nice chemistry together. Scenes of them trading quick barbs between each other highlights each one's attraction toward each other, they just do not know how to express it properly. Director Thomas Carter (Metro, Swing Kids) gives Sara and Derek the time to talk and get to know each other, instead of having them quickly jump into the sack. Their relationship together seems more grounded and realistic because of this. The dance scenes have mixed results. This is clearly for a younger audience (it's from MTV films), so the hip-hop looks okay, but Thomas uses the same quick camera cuts and loud music for some of Sara's ballet sequences, which forces it to lose their power. Terry Kinney (Luminous Motion, The House of Mirth) does a good job his role as Sara's father.

There are also a number of subplots that actually have some depth to them. Derek's childhood friend is moving towards a self-destructive life, and Derek is having a hard time choosing how, and if, he can help his friend. Derek's sister Chenille (Kerry Washington, The Lift, Our Song) is trying to deal with motherhood and an absent father for her child. Instead of spending more time on these stories, Save the Last Dance continually moves back to Sara and Derek. As the movie moves on, their story becomes increasingly melodramatic, until a nearly laughable ending.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 52 minutes, Rated PG-13 for violence, sexual content, and brief drug references.

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