Amanda Schull plays Jody, a wannabe ballet dancer who gets accepted to the prestigious American Ballet Academy. The movie follows her life and that of her friends and fellow students, who fall into the predictable stereotypes. There's Eva (Zoe Saldana), the city kid with attitude. There's Maureen (Susan May Pratt), the teacher's pet. There's Erik (Shakiem Evans), the gay guy. There's Cooper (Ethan Stiefel), the bad-boy celebrity who's still in love with the director's wife ballerina. There's Charlie (Sascha Radetsky), the perfect good guy. One has the obnoxious stage mom. Another has the talent but not the drive. A third has the drive but not the talent. Etcetera. And the lives of the students take the typical high school romantic twists and turns, as the students compete for one of three spots in the company by the end of the year, and also in the various love triangles between the cast. There are few surprises here.
None of the cast is much of an actor - Schull is particularly uneven - and the plot has a sort of predictability to it that make eyes roll.
So why the 8/10? Well, because despite all this, Center Stage is a great amount of fun - mostly due to the dancing.
By casting real dancers in a lot of the roles, Center Stage lends an air of credibility to the lavishly filmed dance sequences, clearly done with love by such talents as world-leading dancers Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel (widely considered to be one of the best ballet dancers in the world) as well as relatively new talents such as Amanda Schull. Some of the actors have body doubles dancing for them, such as Zoe Saldana - who had some dance training but not at the level required by the film. But overall, the dance scenes are the best part of the movie, especially Cooper's ballet at the end.
Some movies are great because they change your life or make you think. Center Stage is great because it's like candy - full of saccharine sugar and empty calories, but eminently watchable over and over again. Sometimes movies don't have to be socially relevant or intellectually stimulating to be good. Sometimes, escapism is OK too.