Take the Lead (2006)
Director: Liz Friedlander
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Rob Brown, Yaya DaCosta
Plot: When internationally renowned dancer Pierre Dulaine takes a teaching job in a New York City public school, he meets ridicule from the street-wise students, who scoff at the notion of ballroom dancing, only to be caught up in the world itself.
Based on a true story, Take the Lead follows the journey of a ballroom teacher who chooses to work for free, teaching a detention class from a school filled with underprivileged students how to dance. The movie is written by Liz Friedlander, who is mainly known for directing TV episodes for series such as 90210 and One Tree Hill, who has managed to take a story which seems fairly ridiculous and turn it into a heartfelt journey for both the characters and the audience; as each becomes accustomed to seeing how the other half lives and learning from their life experiences.
Pierre Dulaine (Antonio Banderas), a sophisticated ballroom dance teacher, witnesses a young man wreck another person’s car. Once he tracks the owner, Dulaine realises it’s a headteacher from an underprivileged school. He chooses to help – by teaching the kids in detention how to dance ballroom. Although they laugh at his idea to begin with, both the Headteacher and the students begin to accept his odd yet clever ways to show them that dance is a way to express their emotions, and a means of learning how to treat others with the respect that they deserve. We are henceforth presented with some of the students’ lives and how this form of discipline impacts on their behaviour, such as LaRhette (Yaya DaCosta) whose mother is a prostitute with three other children, and Rock (Rob Brown), whose father is an alcoholic and whose mother is addicted to drugs. Using Dulaine’s dancing method, LaRhette and Rock put their past behind them, despite each of their brothers being killed by the other’s gang, and become friends.
Having such a diverse actor as Antonio Banderas in the lead role, who is both handsome and believable as a dancing instructor who genuinely wants to change people’s lives for the better yet learn something along the way, is excellent; Banderas’ brilliant tango scene would make anyone hot under the collar! In addition to this, the range of good young actors as the class delinquents shows how all students can lose their way but, with a little bit of guidance, can change their lives and find the support they need. A true story which combines such real emotions of fear and hatred with comedic scenes and a happy ending to show the audience how, when you put your mind to it, it is possible to achieve great things in life no matter what your background is, Take the Lead will leave you feeling motivated and uplifted.
The soundtrack is very unusual; a great blend of contemporary rap music, the smooth music of Gershwin and even orchestral accompaniments. This really helps to illustrate how the students and Dulaine live in two separate worlds yet manage to blend into one by the film’s finale. Just because they come from different sides of the city doesn’t mean that one cannot be understood by, or understand, the other.
The whole film feels smooth and genuine. There are no awkward moments, no situations of bad acting or even bad dancing (seeing as all the actors did it themselves). It’s such a well-rounded movie, especially as Dulaine’s students do not win the competition, but come together as a group having learned to respect one another and be there for each other, regardless of what other people in their universe may say about them. The only real downside of the whole movie is how the ‘based on a true story’ claim should not be taken so seriously. If you’re interested in the ‘real’ story, it’s more worthwhile to watch the documentary, Mad Hot Ballroom. But, if you like a little light-hearted comedy with a great deal of serious political commentary and interpersonal drama, Take the Lead is your movie.