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2002: Jake Mitchell is the defending World West Coast Swing Champion. He's got everything going for him: looks, personality, and style. He's at the top of his game when he and his partner Corinne are crowned the unexpected winners at the World Swing Dance Championships. As the crowd cheers and the celebration begins, Jake appears uneasy. Did he really deserve to win? The music blasts and the bass is thumping, and Jake hears none of it. He feels it. Jake is completely deaf, due to an ear infection when he was a teenager. He learned how to dance by feeling the vibrations of the music. Now he feels something else: that perhaps the judges gave him the win out of sympathy. Present Day: Jessica Donovan's life is boring. When she was younger, she was a dancer who had dreams of Broadway. Now she's an English teacher for disinterested, upper class middle school kids, and she's dying to let loose. Her fiancee Kent is a work-a-holic who cares more about making money than making Jessica happy. ... Written by
Skip it: the romance and plot are weak, and the dancing's strictly for WCS devotees
... and I dance East Coast Swing, a simplified take on Lindy Hop, which is the real thing (West Coast borrows a few moves from East Coast/Lindy and blues dance but is actually too Hollywood in its choreography and too close to the Hustle -- FEH!), so of course the dancing fell short for me. Real swing is what you dance to Count Basie, Duke Ellington, or Benny Goodman, or even contemporary big bands. My saying so will no doubt steam the West Coast fans in the audience, but hey, dance history is what it is (look up Frankie Manning and Hellzapoppin' on Wikipedia if you want to know where it all came from). Besides, the dance scenes would have fallen short anyway, for reasons cited below. But I digress.
I started off really wanting to like this movie. Honest. After all, I found the male lead appealing at first, and I'd enjoyed other dance films such as Strictly Ballroom, Center Stage, Take The Lead, and Tango Bar (I even tolerated Shall We Dance fairly well, given my usually complete disdain for Richard Gere). But no: the non-dance part of this storyline was so weak it made me cringe. OFTEN. Billy Zane was slightly less obnoxious than usual, so that was something, but not enough to offset the fact that Amy Smart seemed to be sleepwalking through the whole thing. The writing was awful. Their fight scene at home, for example, seemed sudden and oh, so contrived. So did the upset at their friends' wedding. Fake, fake, fake. You could see the consequences telegraphed a mile away. And the dance competition was even **more** Hollywood over-the-top than West Coast usually is. Mehhh. They learned ALL the wrong things from ballroom competitions.
Worst of all, Amy Smart never looked like she was really getting the hang of the sense of elasticity or stretch that underlies all variations of swing -- or that she was enjoying any of it, even a little bit. If you hate dancing that much, why do a dance movie?? Don't tell me she really liked it, because you sure couldn't tell from her performance in this film. I could barely sit through it. The actual dancing by others, however, like some ballroom competitions I've seen, was expert yet mechanical. Soulless despite all the plastic smiles, sequins, and flash moves. Wasn't **anybody** really getting into it? It's like they were still showing off but all just too cool to really show they like it. Nuts!!! I've seen much more fun and energy generated by amateurs at Lindy competitions on college campuses than I saw anywhere in this film. And I kept wanting to see real Lindy Hop, so that spoiled the rest of it for me.
If you want an introduction to WCS, I suppose this is as good as any; but if you were hoping for another Swing Kids (despite its inauthentic choreography) or Take The Lead, sit this one out -- it's not your kind of number, and it doesn't even have anyone like Antonio Banderas to save it. And Lindyhoppers should avoid it entirely. (It'll just annoy you too much. Better your should watch Frankie Manning clips on YouTube or video reruns from the Frankie 95 celebration. I'm just saying.)
PS -- I just noticed that Tom Molloy, the lead, also wrote the script. He has a lot to answer for, in that case.
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