Thomas Carter (2001, Paramount Pictures)
Starring Julia Stiles, Sean Patrick Thomas, Kerry Washington, Fredro
Starr, and Terry Kinney
A white girl is pressured about her relationship with a black guy as
they teach each other about different styles of dance.
April 6th, 2004 on
I hadn't noticed that this movie was
sponsored by MTV, but it makes a lot of sense, given all the music and
dancing that goes on. I still think this is a great movie. The acting is
top-notch, and the story was great.
When I saw Sara trying to dance the
hip-hop in the bar, I really thought she was faking it, because she was
so bad. She had been
boasting through the day that she could dance to anything, and I
figured, with her dance background, she would be able to pick anything
up. But once she banged her head against Derek's, everybody knew that
she couldn't dance. Strangely enough, that didn't make her unpopular, or
come under ridicule, except from the people who already didn't like her.
I also liked the way that race didn't
come into the equation as Sara and Derek were falling in love. Only when
other people started commenting on it, and trying to tear it apart, did
it come to the forefront.
Derek keeps wanting to see that Malakai
could become a smart and outstanding citizen if he wanted to, but
Malakai doesn't see it that way. He doesn't know how to turn the other
way when insulted. He doesn't have the confidence to change his ways, to
do anything other than what he has always done. It's too bad.
Sara, for her part, learns to dance
hip-hop, as well as regain her ballet confidence. The judges of the
entrance exam certainly gave her a lot of chances, though, especially in
disregarding the rules of not having any visitors around. Ah, well, I
guess they could see real love.
I would definitely recommend this movie,
especially since it has such smart characters, and a smart theme about
growing up and growing mature.
September 30th, 2001 on Video
WOW! What a beautiful story, well told, wonderfully executed, and thoroughly enjoyable. The characters were complex, the emotions genuine, the directing and editing spectacular, and the acting so impressive.
I must confess first-off that I am smitten by Julia Stiles. I have been since
10 Things I Hate About You. I thought she was a terrific actress there, and she topped that performance even here. She is beautiful, with that wondrous head of hair and a terrific smile that is always wider in the middle, with a cute curve up at the sides. I could just stare at her dancing all day long.
But enough of that. Yes, she was beautiful in every scene, whether she is in fancy clothing, sexy clothing, baggy pants, a winter jacket, whether she is crying or smiling, or just uncertain about life. But there were others, too. There was Chenille, almost as beautiful as Stiles' Sara. She took to the new girl at once, rescuing her twice from the clutches of a big new school. For Sara is one of the very few white girls at this school. I didn't see any white guys, and I don't know how well the other white girls got along with the black students.
So it is inevitable that Sara will fall for a black guy. Derek happens to be Chenille's brother, an intelligent and passionate young man who sees in Sara something he likes -a lot. Derek has some friends that most would consider "wrong". Malakai is constantly in trouble. He gets out of juvenile detention, but wants revenge on some street gang. It escalates into a war, where both sides have guns and shoot up neighborhoods. Derek owes his freedom to Malakai, though, and he knows that he has to repay the debt. But the price is too high, and in the end, he can't go shooting at other people. Malakai is arrested again, this time for murder, while Derek would later see that he made the right choice.
The relationship develops at a wonderful pace, little by little. It starts out as bravado, each trying to outdo the other, but when Sara discovers that she can't dance to hip-hop music, Derek volunteers to teach her. He shows her how to slouch ("are you sitting for tea?"), how to walk without a straight back, and how to dance. At one point, he shows her some moves, obviously showing off. She responds by doing some ballet steps.
When he presses her, she runs away. She can't face her past. For she used to be a very promising ballet student. Until one day when she and her mother had an argument over an audition, and her mother was killed in a car accident trying to get to the audition on time. She can't face the idea that it was her fault. So she came to live with her estranged father in Chicago. He is a jazz musician, who doesn't really have time for her. But in a wonderfully emotional scene, he shows her that he has finally finished creating a room for her.
Sara gets into a fight with Derek's ex-girlfriend, about him. She accuses Sara of taking one of the only good black men out there for herself. When Chenille agrees, in a moment of exasperation with her son, not really paying attention to what she said, Sara decides to break off with Derek. They both go soul searching. Sara and Derek had started resuming her ballet dance routine after she finally broke down, and they made love. So when the audition comes, it is her father who takes her, and Derek who ends up rushing through town to get to her in time. I was wondering if he would
meet the same fate as Sara's mother, but fortunately, he arrives in time to inspire her to her wonderful routine, allowing her to enter the ballet academy.
The tones of this movie were incredibly well balanced. I loved the friendships, the cheerful banter between friends, and the way Sara looked up to her friends, to make sure that she was "cool", too (or should that be "smashin'"?). When they enter the dance club, all eyes turn to the white woman, but she is accepted as she adopts their way of dancing.
One spectacular element of directing I noticed was the use of color. Everybody wore greys, browns, and blacks. Except Sara. She is the only one wearing oranges and reds when she walks down the hallway at school. She is instantly
noticeable by her blonde hair in the dance club. And when she starts pulling out candles and frames in her father's apartment, they are the only real color there. When her room is finished, the colors are vibrant, making it seem to be the only room that was alive in the whole place.
Finally, the two scenes where Sara is auditioning for the ballet school were edited in a visually moving way. She dances, and we cut to her mother rushing to get to her. Then, after more dancing, the accident happens, and Sara stumbles. The overture keeps going, so that we are still in the dance frame of mind, except that the visuals don't match. There is no sound from the accident; we are still with Sara. The same thing happens at the end. Sara walks into the audition, and the music starts. Derek leaves Malakai and the others, and starts racing across town. She begins dancing as the car slowly rounds a corner near the opposing gang, and as Derek runs across the street to catch the subway... And the cuts go back and forth, but the music stays the same, so that we are still dancing with Sara. The gunshots can be heard, but nothing else to interrupt the flow of the dance. When the car with Malakai in it catches on fire, Sara stumbles, and it looks like history was repeating itself.
But this time, Derek walks in, interrupts the audition, and gives her the support that she needs. He can't be without her. He loves her. He doesn't need to say it -he has shown her that he loves her, and that she can't get rid of him because of what other people think. She knew that earlier, but had forgotten it. In a very funny scene when they first start going out, they see a woman on the subway who doesn't approve of a black-white relationship. So they play it up, knowing they have an audience, making out, wrapping her legs around him, and so on. It was so funny! So she had to be reminded that nothing else matters -nothing but the two of them.
The story was powerful, and very well directed. But it was the acting that really made the movie something special. The two leads had great chemistry together, as did the supporting cast. They all had passionate opinions, and were not afraid of doing what they thought was right. It was Sara, as the new person in town, suffering from a terrible loss, who needed support, and that she received, from all her new friends. I especially liked Chenille, whose eyes and smile were so expressive, and her joy was so apparent.
This is a movie well worth seeing, more than once. It has so many lessons to pass along, but more importantly, it is just well acted and well put together.