Film

Take the Lead (2006)

Lesley Trites

There's something disturbing about the recent proliferation of films with this 'save the inner city kids' motif.

Take the Lead

Director: Liz Friedlander
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Rob Brown, Alfre Woodard, Yaya DaCosta, Dante Basco, Lauren Collins
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: New Line
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2006-04-07

Part Breakfast Club, part Dangerous Minds, and a lot Save the Last Dance, Take the Lead fictionalizes the same events that inspired last year's Mad Hot Ballroom. In the shift from documentary to "inspired by," the kids are moved from elementary to high school, where there's more fodder for screen-friendly interpersonal drama to drown out the dancing. Something about Take the Lead rings as false as its version of New York, which is actually Toronto, with a few NYC street scenes for "color." Though surely entertaining, Take the Lead perpetuates stereotypes in a cumbersome celebration of multiculturalism.

Antonio Banderas stars as Pierre Dulaine, a professional dancer who teaches ballroom dancing to a group of detention-hall kids at a New York City high school. Banderas is convincing as a dancer, effectively reserved and earnest. From the opening scene, Pierre's clean-cut, upper-class world, fluidly shot and brightly lit, contrasts immediately with the lower class students' environment, where shakier camerawork and green-tinged lighting suggest a kind of chaos. Cue an incident intersecting the two worlds -- Pierre sees one of the students bashing the principal's (Alfre Woodard) car -- and he embarks on his new mission to "change their lives."

We've seen this before: Pierre's patronizing attitude is masked as "good intentions." There's something disturbing about the recent proliferation of films with this "save the inner city kids" motif. The insinuation, of course, is that they need saving, and that unlike their hip-hop dancing, Pierre's "high culture" ballroom style will teach them about "respect." Though the students fuse their dancing with Pierre's, in the end the kids become "civilized," donning gowns and ties to enter the ballroom competition.

Mad Hot Ballroom had the same presumption of "civilizing," but that film showed kids from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and classes and didn't focus on particular individuals, and so avoided condescension. Take the Lead tries to portray racial and class harmony by having everyone -- black, brown, white, upper or lower class -- dance to hip-hop at the end of the competition, but it leaves the violence underneath this harmony unproblematized. Once everyone has taken off their formal wear, how will the deplorable conditions of the students' lives have changed?

When the protégés-to-be initially resist his hoity-toity (or "punk ass," as one boy calls it) manner, Pierre is not above cheap gimmicks to grab their attention. He brings in a stunning (and snobby) female dancer from his academy, Morgan (professional dancer Katya Virshilas), and the camera objectifies her (approximating the impressed kids' perspectives) as she performs an eroticized dance with Pierre. The boys want her, and the girls want to be her: they're duly hooked. Though supposedly around their age, Morgan serves as a role model. Yet why would any of the kids want to be like her? She's portrayed as nothing short of despicable throughout the film, except for a final moment when she turns very briefly generous.

True to the genre's form, Pierre takes a particular interest in one student, Rock (Rob Brown), the boy he saw smashing up the principal's car. Peering through a chain-link fence, Pierre literally speaks down to Rock. The boy challenges this strict teacher/student relationship when he asks, "You can know about me, but I can't know anything about you?" The teacher's transformation follows, as he must also learn from his students.

For instance, sometimes survival is difficult on a basic material level. Rock is the "good" son forced into a "bad" life in order to support his mother and alcoholic father. As he slowly warms up to Pierre, Rock doesn't want to follow in the path of his older brother, who was killed in a gang fight. Caught between lucrative crime (and his boys) and ballroom dancing (and a girl), Rock makes a tough but predictable decision at film's end. But the film goes for reductive answers rather than complex questions: why does he have to forsake his friends and family in order to realize his "potential"?

Another character at odds with her family, Caitlin (Lauren Collins), is a debutante whose mother pressures her into lessons at Pierre's uptown dance academy. She decides to join the kids in the detention class instead. They accuse her of "slumming," but she explains, "I feel better up here than I do where I live." They accept this answer, somewhat unbelievably, and Caitlin develops a friendship with her dance partner, a large black boy significantly called "Monster" (Brandon Andrews).

Their relationship culminates in a scene reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast. With Caitlin's encouragement, Monster is transformed into a graceful dancer, dashing in a suit and ready to offer her a steadying arm as she descends the ballroom staircase in a white gown for her cotillion. While Caitlin's challenge to family tradition by dancing with Monster instead of her cousin might initially seem progressive, the scene is more about the backwardsness of her mother's social set, an easy target at best. Take the Lead celebrates Caitlin's openness to change and Pierre's transformative powers without asking why his other students are in detention in the first place.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.