Worth A Look: 31.58%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 5.26%
4 reviews, 14 user ratings
|Mad Hot Ballroom
by Trevor Gensch
It's not often one can use the phrase "life-affirming" about any film, but for Mad Hot Ballroom it seems to fit. If a film can make you feel good about people in general, then you would have to have a heart of stone not to like this one.Documentary film-maker Marilyn Agrelo shows us a side to the American teaching curriculum that is quite astounding for its ideas but quite simple in its execution. Put a group of 10-11 year-olds in a room and get them to learn the art of ballroom dancing.
"Let these kids swing their way into your hearts"
You might think that trying to persuade a bunch of modern pre-teens to do something as daggy as ballroom dancing would be an impossible task. But it's amazing how much these kids throw themselves into learning the moves and steps required, some of which are quite technically difficult.
It doesn't hurt though that there are prizes to be won and trophies to be striven for if these kids are picked to represent their school in various quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals. Given a goal these kids treat it as seriously as they would anything else.
Agrelo gives us three schools to follow as they prepare for the competition - and in a canny move we see not only rich, affluent schools but poor, economically depressed ones. For every student who has a room full of toys, computer games and personal effects we see another student who has to share their room with other children (more often than not from another family) and has little to call their own.
One school has a dedicated dance studio - polished hardwood floors and a grand piano in the corner - but another is forced to utilise a spare room, barely big enough to cater for their needs.
As one of the teachers tells us at the mid-way point of the documentary, making the lessons and competition free allows the poor communities to have as much of a chance to participate as those in the richer suburbs. When it comes to determination and the spirit of a child, there is no such thing upper-class or lower-class - all kids are equal.
To help fill out the film it diverges into faux vox-pops with the kids - their views on life, love, drugs, winning, losing and their ambitions. A lot of their observations are very funny, and surprisingly adult in nature. Of course it's nigh on impossible for a film not to get plenty of laughs when kids of that age try and sound adult; "out of the mouths of babes" indeed, but they are refreshing and entertaining nonetheless.
The final third of the documentary focusses on the students competing on their way to the finals; and it's at this point that the film is less successful. It tends to peak emotionally at many points, making what follows these highs more of a protracted denouement which can at times engender the film with a certain repetiveness. Evidence of this is when one of the schools gets knocked out of the competition early in the quarter-finals the film still gives one a feeling of hope, and a pleasant feeling of contentment that even though these kids have in essence lost they still take away from the experience a lot more than any cheap trophy or ribbon can give. It could have ended at the quarter-finals and still delivered the same message - its not about competing but participating.
But we do follow the remaining two teams, one of which does make it though to the final. Perhaps it was decided a true upbeat ending was required, but in my opinion it didn't need that - it had all it needed 30 minutes before.But the latter stages of the film should not detract from what is a very solid documentary with lots of great characters - especially the eclectic collection of students in the competition. **** has produced a documentary subject that would be difficult to do badly; but never let that take anything away from the incredible work that it is.
link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=11405&reviewer=343
originally posted: 09/27/05 09:17:23
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