Save The Last Dance


Directed by: Thomas Carter
Written by:Duane Adler, Cheryl Edwards
Starring: Julia Stiles, Sean Patrick Thomas, Kerry Washington, Fredro Starr, Terry Kinney
Released: April 5, 2001
Grade: A-

Whilst I constantly criticise actors, it's hard to deny the fact that they are all very talented.  People don't make it as far as Tom Hanks or Julia Roberts without ability.  What makes or breaks an actor are the roles they choose.  As good as an actor is, there are always some roles that suit their style which brings the best out of them.  The trick of course is finding the right part.

Naturally, it's not easy.  When an actor signs on the dotted line they often don't know who else will star or even who will direct.  All they have in front of them is a screenplay which is bound to go through thousands of rewrites.  Actors use their instinct in picking roles but most always they'll need advise from agents and those more experienced in the biz.

Several weeks ago, I spoke about Sandra Bullock being a perfect example of a great actress who can't find the right film.  She makes truckloads of money and always gives 100% but critics agree that most of her flicks are woeful.  What if Sandra Bullock had all of Julia Roberts' roles and vice-versa?  Who would be the bigger star in Hollywood today?  I'd bet on Sandra.

Why I've begun my review like this is to comment on the intelligence shown by Julia Stiles, the star of Save The Last Dance, in choosing her own roles.  Despite opening with a few small parts, Julia burst onto the scene with 10 Things I Hate About You - one of the few teen flicks that doesn't take itself too seriously and doesn't propose to answer life's problems.  In the two years since its release, Julia has featured in the critically acclaimed Hamlet and David Mamet's State And Main (both which are yet to be released in Australia).  Later this year, we will see her starring beside Matt Damon in The Bourne Identity.

Stiles makes the movie.  It's the story of Sara, a 16-year-old whose mother was killed in a car accident whilst rushing to see her audition for a place in a prestigious ballet school.  Forced to move to Chicago to live with her estranged father, her life has been turned upside-down.  She now attends a local school where most of the students are black and fitting in is a big problem.  She falls for classmate Derek (Thomas) and despite his mutual affection, their love is strained by constantly having to defend their inter-racial relationship to everyone.  The two compliment each other as Derek helps Sara rediscover her ballet and Sara helps Derek put his shady past behind him and look to a future at college.

Most of director Thomas Carter’s experience has come from television but his skills are an asset.  No time is wasted in the introduction and I loved the way he showed Sara’s past with quick flashbacks as she took the train to Chicago.  I was also impressed at how he captured the action of the nightclubs and Sara’s big dancing finale.  Screenwriters Duane Adler and Cheryl Edwards effectively capture the difficulty of being “white” in a “black” world.  So many current films show the opposite perspective and don’t do a very good job for that matter.

Aside from Stiles, the best performance comes Terry Kinney, a small-time actor who you may recognise from films such as The Firm and Sleepers.  Like most of the cast, his character shows human qualities and doesn’t degenerate into a stereotype.

I’ve been a sucker for “dancing” films following my affection for Centre Stage, Bootmen and Billy Elliot.  When you mix great choreography with great lighting and cinematography, it’s just as good as being part of a live theatre audience.  This story though is about more than just great dancing - it has a soul.  The best way of summing up what Save The Last Dance has to say (and I love that title) is to simply read the catchline from the poster and remember - The only person you have to be is yourself.