Take the Lead tells the true-life story of Pierre Dulaine (Antonio Banderas) a sophisticated and well-mannered ballroom dancer who offers his services to a local high school to help reform a group of delinquent kids. The principal (Alfre Woodard) thinks that Mr. Dulaine is crazy for thinking he can you use dance – let alone ballroom dancing – to help turn their lives around. But, Pierre is determined to help even if his classical style clashes with the more contemporary influences (rap and hip-hop) of the detention kids.
Take the Lead is a film that surprised me. It’s fairly predictable from the outset. We know that the Dulaine character will be met with resistance from everyone around him, we know that after sometime those critics will begin to come around and, eventually, the kids will be changed for the better. These things were pretty much a given.
What impressed me were the ways director Liz Friedlander and scriptwriter Dianne Houston blended both Pierre’s world and the hip-hop world of the kids. The opening of the film is a perfect example. It shows a rapidly inter-cut sequence of shots that contrasts both of these styles, as their respective inhabitants get ready for an evening of dancing. It’s a great opening because of its pacy cutting style and it tells us everything we need to know about the two worlds. Instead of settling on one dance discipline as the ‘correct one’ however, the filmmakers compromise and settle on a mix of both styles. This is the film’s strongest aspect – its blend of old and new.
This fusion also infects the films music. Musicians Swizz Beatz and Aaron Zigman do a fantastic job of blending old ballroom songs with hip-hop beats. I detest hip-hop so positive feedback of this nature from me is a major compliment.
What lets the film down is its racial stereotyping. Take the Lead makes us believe that all black American students are into rap and hip-hop, that they are gangsters and that they all struggle to finish high school. I realise that the film is about overcoming adversity but I would have loved to have seen some characters with a bit of difference and intelligence written into them. It’s quite sad that the film continues throughout to show the same stereotyped representations seen in countless films before it and that more thought wasn’t put into Take the Lead’s characters.
Antonio Banderas is charming (as always) and perfectly suited to his role as Pierre Dulaine. He is suave enough without ever going into the realm of cheesiness and he pulls of the dancing impressively. It’s good to see him stretch himself and his ability with a film of this nature.
Take the Lead is an enjoyable watch that was certainly more entertaining than I thought it was going to be. The dancing is well choreographed and performed and should delight many people. Its stock characters and their derivative storylines however, diminish the film.