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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 16.67%
Average: 17.71%
Pretty Bad: 14.58%
Total Crap: 4.17%

3 reviews, 78 user ratings

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Save the Last Dance
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by EricDSnider

"When is Julia Stiles going to quit being so damn sour-looking?"
3 stars

MTV has a knack for simultaneously treating teens like adults, and pandering to them as if they're absolute morons. "Save the Last Dance" does both in equal parts.

As one might expect from a film credited as an "MTV production," "Save the Last Dance" is one-half realistic portrayal of youth, and one-half pure cinematic pablum. It is the former half that earns the film some degree of respect, but the latter half that will bring in the teen-agers -- especially the girls, who will be glad to have a strong heroine their age.

And I'm all for giving girls a role model. But couldn't it be one who doesn't have sex, doesn't get into a nightclub using a fake ID, and doesn't drink? The fact that Sara Johnson (Julia Stiles), the protagonist of "Save the Last Dance," does all those things without repercussions of any kind is not at all encouraging.

Moral issues aside, this is a serious-minded movie led by a serious-minded Julia Stiles. This is a girl who needs to lighten up and be a little more friendly if she's going to be in charge of an entire film, but perhaps her melancholy is justified. See, Sara grew up dancing ballet and was in the middle of auditioning for Juilliard when her mother, rushing to get to the audition on time, was killed in a car accident. Sara vowed not to dance again.

Now Sara has come to Chicago to live with her musician father Roy (Terry Kinney) in his sub-standard little apartment. She goes to Phyllis Wheatley High School, where she is one of approximately three white girls amid a sea of African-Americans. This is a movie-land school where they have metal detectors -- ya know, 'cause inner-city schools are scary -- but no actual crimes or threatening behavior beyond the typical high school rivalries.

And I do mean typical: Every relationship in this film has been done before, and it's all done pretty efficiently, with no extra characters. Bad girl Nikki (Biance Lawson) isn't just angry because Sara's white in an all-black school; she's also jealous because her ex-boyfriend Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas) is sweet on Sara. Nikki, therefore, serves as both Mean-Spirited Villain AND Stupid Racist. Derek's friend Malakai (Fredro Starr) is the Vicious Drug-Dealer AND The Opposite, whose poor decisions serve as a contrast to people like Derek, who are trying to rise above their dismal surroundings and make something of themselves. Derek's sister Chenille (Kerry Washington) acts as the Best Friend and the Sadder-But-Wiser Girl (she has a baby who was fathered by a deadbeat). Eight or nine stock characters, all rolled into three or four people!

The dour Sara gets off on the wrong foot with Derek but quickly becomes friends with him, and then lovers. (Their sex scene, by the way, is one of the film's more absurdly unrealistic moments. It's not graphic or anything, but it's filmed so tenderly and maturely, as if what they're doing is a totally fantastic idea, even though they're both so young and not entirely in love yet. Real-life teen-age sex situations are, I believe, a bit less romantic than this one. But a scene taking place in the backseat of a car and lasting five minutes from start to finish probably wouldn't get the audience a-cooing like this one does.)

Derek, meanwhile, is trying to get away from his bad-boy past and into college. Malakai is pulling him the other way, though, and that darned Nikki is awfully pesky, too.

Oh, yeah, and there's some dancing. Despite the title, the film is not really "about" dancing. It's about finding your potential and overcoming bad circumstances. In fact, the dancing is when the movie falls the flattest. Sara's obligatory Juilliard re-audition is melodramatic as all get out, culminating in a judge telling her, "I can't say this on the record yet, but welcome to Juilliard." All that's missing is a guy walking in suddenly to announce Derek has won the lottery. (Sara has already had a rote reconciliation with her dad, of course.)

But there is some realism, too. Chenille's motherhood is handled quite well, better than most films of this ilk would handle such an issue. The dialogue and general demeanor among the teens rings true, too. And I was glad to see the inter-racial relationship dealt with only as much as necessary (there's a funny scene on a train in which Sara and Derek put on a show for a white woman who is scowling at them). Chenille voices thought-provoking concerns that Sara the white girl -- who could have any number of decent white men -- is taking one of the few respectable black men out of circulation, leaving the black girls with nothing but scrubs.

For all its eye-rolling triteness, "Save the Last Dance" is often more intelligent than it should be. Which is better than a lot of movies that pass themselves off as teen films.

I got to meet Kerry Washington at Sundance. When I did, I told her, "You were the best reason to see 'Save the Last Dance.'" She didn't argue with me.

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originally posted: 02/05/01 15:32:40
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User Comments

5/20/11 Jeff Wilder Formulaic premise. But engaging leads make it work better than most. 4 stars
12/01/09 DiZHERE Julia Sties Is Maybe If Not Th Ugliest Bitch there is in acting 1 stars
10/31/08 Shaun Wallner Great Film! 5 stars
9/02/08 Nikki I like Julia Stiles- but the dancing is terrible! The Julliard audition is horrendous!! 2 stars
11/18/07 David Pollastrini Stiles looks great in this 3 stars
1/10/07 Nienke Very nice movie. I am totally in love with Sean Patrick ! 5 stars
5/03/06 Anthony Feor It is almost equivalent to a cheesy, steriotypical film 3 stars
3/03/06 karen morris best movie ever 5 stars
1/20/06 Wiseman It was entertaining 5 stars
12/23/05 cody a good movie about boy and girl finding out what can do in life, may have the last dance 3 stars
11/29/05 xXxJeSsxXx dis film is sik and i luv it...its ma fav! nuff luv 5 stars
10/16/04 Naka More stereotypes then a McDonald's ad, but watchable. 3 stars
10/08/04 random* formulaic 90s teen drama- the dancing could have been much better 3 stars
9/09/04 charmaine smith this film is amazing i watch it over and over again i will never get bored of it 5 stars
4/28/04 MJ I love the movie because a poor African American gets to live his dream and become a doctor 5 stars
4/26/04 cashe good 5 stars
4/13/04 Rachel i loved it, its funny, cute, makes you wanna dance, and makes you smile 5 stars
3/20/04 Nannette I loved this movie. It is a wonderful movie and I would recommend it to all 5 stars
12/18/03 Jemma i think this movie rocks! it is so inspiring! for the youth culture of today! 5 stars
11/26/03 Roof Sean Patrick Thomas is hott! 5 stars
7/24/03 Maggie This Movie Is Worth A Lot Of Bling Bling 5 stars
4/19/03 Jack Sommersby Acceptable formula stuff. The two engaging leads help. 3 stars
3/06/03 Dina Smith It was better than most teen-movies because it takes place in the dancing enviroment. 3 stars
9/26/02 Movie guy GREAT 5 stars
9/08/02 aMy TiGhT aZz MoViE 5 stars
9/06/02 Robyn Jamil-Walid Tight-ass movie indeed, Amy. Maybe Julia Stiles could be better after a good humongous dump 2 stars
8/07/02 april it was asbsolutely great 5 stars
7/20/02 ??? the best film ever 5 stars
6/27/02 Gretchen Seitz Wendy is right. There's plenty to dislike about this without being racist! 2 stars
6/26/02 lashawna copeland great movie/biance lawson was great 4 stars
6/18/02 Candace Troy Powers Guess we'll never know if Julia Stiles could play other than a sullen drippy pout. Too bad! 2 stars
6/17/02 Claxner Oxjaw Might've worked as hour soap opera episode. As is, interminable! 2 stars
6/17/02 Kakararaniniginjia Sinitraviwasanjofraz My gosz wainfu@ net mexmij fo mechve bojkmaag nomo kilphu taweag tintich wan pugvormh za bd 3 stars
6/16/02 Deanna Wilson I enjoy the movie very much and purchased the VHS. 5 stars
6/05/02 Wendy Mead I didn't like it either, but Conor's comment makes me ashamed of my race! 2 stars
6/01/02 aMy ( TiGhT aZz MoViE 5 stars
5/30/02 Robyn Jamil-Walid Tight-ass movie indeed, Amy. Maybe Julia Stiles could be better after a good humongous dump 2 stars
4/13/02 Conor Beardesley This piece of nigger loving trash must die 1 stars
4/11/02 laura i think it is a brilliant film, its really worth watching. it brings forward the real facts 5 stars
2/06/02 Claxner Oxjaw Might've worked as hour soap opera episode. As is, interminable! 2 stars
2/06/02 Hepta Hooty C'mon Julia Stiles - play other than a pol. correctness crusader! U might B A decent actres 3 stars
2/02/02 Kakararniniginjia Sinitraviwasanjofraz My gosz wainfu@ net mexmij fo mechve bojkmaag nomo kilphu taweag tintich wan pugvormh za bd 3 stars
1/20/02 tasha I absolutely love this movie! 5 stars
1/03/02 aMy TiGhT aZz MoViE 5 stars
10/02/01 Phoenix I actually thought this was a good movie. 4 stars
10/01/01 ashley cleaveland awesome!!!! i watch it everyday(almost) 5 stars
9/20/01 Siedah this movie is the bomb, it seems like i can relate to this movie in a lot of ways, but i'mc 5 stars
9/20/01 Gina Dis Movie iS Da BomB!!!!.... 5 stars
9/08/01 MEME good movie 5 stars
9/08/01 Osang very promising actress-- Julia Stiles 4 stars
8/17/01 hilary awesome 5 stars
8/02/01 Ashley Victoria Norman I think it was a fantastic movie and I loved watching every pecking moment in the movie. 5 stars
7/15/01 shahira The movie is great and awsome!!!! 5 stars
7/09/01 J Suprisingly I'm more with Greg on this one. 3rd act was questionable but this was good. 4 stars
6/25/01 Tzila Seewald Sara, make sure your music was alive b/c that's makes you alive! 5 stars
5/03/01 Erin Best movie ever 5 stars
4/30/01 Michelle Medza The best movie in the world mainly because of FREDO STARR 5 stars
4/27/01 Jessica Blythe Its the best movie in the world because of Sean patrick thomas. 5 stars
4/27/01 Nina , I can relate to the movie, so I'd have to say it was great. 5 stars
4/26/01 karri bailey it was realy good 5 stars
4/19/01 Tuwanda Turner I thought it was really good. So good I saw it twice. 5 stars
4/18/01 benita I love this movie/this movie is my #1 favorite 5 stars
4/17/01 Truth Will Set You Free I'd love to have sex with Julia Stiles. She has a beautiful face and an erection-making ass 1 stars
4/01/01 Dana This movie is the best I have seen it 9 times and wanna see it again and again. 5 stars
3/06/01 clarice i loved it because ive been wanting to take dance lessens but i cant find any. 5 stars
2/24/01 Angie Basak This is of the best movies made this year! It just makes me want to dance!!! : ) 4 stars
2/05/01 natasha looked like real people's lives 4 stars
1/29/01 Nic Kinda like "Centerstage," only WAY better! 4 stars
1/23/01 Sir Galahad MTV trendy Chick Flick...nothing else. 3 stars
1/22/01 Justine Hardy The movie was so good I cryed in parts of it, when it comes out on video I'm gona buy it. 5 stars
1/16/01 Desirée Kirlin it was interesting to watch 4 stars
1/15/01 Porcelain Hair Surprisingly not a cliched racism dud. Sean Patrick Thomas is solid, but Julia still lags 4 stars
1/15/01 Emily Ash This is the best movie I have seen in a while. They have everything you could ask for. 5 stars
1/15/01 OJ SImpson This is the feel food movie of the year. Needs more violence though. 5 stars
1/14/01 Jim Stiles looks like she was reading a cue card and not "acting" 1 stars
1/14/01 Kandi i think that the movie is well done and very one should go and see it..... 5 stars
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  12-Jan-2001 (PG-13)
  DVD: 26-Sep-2006


  05-Apr-2001 (M)

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