Fame Meets Coach Carter
Sara (Julia Stiles - Down to You) has one dream, she wants to get into Juilliard and become a world famous ballerina. But her dreams are cut short when she is forced to move in with her estranged father when her mother dies in a tragic road accident. Moving to a predominantly black neighbourhood Sara struggles to fit in until she is befriended by Chenille (Kerry Washington) and her popular brother, Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas - Cruel Intentions). With the help of Derek, Sara starts to believe that she still may get the chance of getting into Juilliard.
So, having bought "Save the Last Dance" purely because it features Julia Stiles, I was surprisingly impressed with every aspect of the movie. "Save the Last Dance" is a modern teenage love story, set against the backdrop of a neighbourhood which regularly sees gangland fighting and racial tension. With such tense subject matter, "Save the Last Dance" could have easily overly focused on the racial and gangland elements or alternatively fallen down a path of over slushy romance between two races. But it doesn't, and in doing so has created an all round well balanced movie which focuses on telling the main story, but also allows the sub stories to flow naturally with out interfering on the main focus.
Yes the plot to "Save the Last Dance" is very familiar, and all aspects of it have been worked many times before in much greater movies, as such you can honestly predict where "Save the Last Dance" will end up within the first half hour. But in my opinion, it is very hard for a movie to come up with a new original idea, as most of them have already been thought of, and as long as it doesn't just rely on making a sub standard remake of classic scenes, then it does a good job.
Although the main focus of "Save the Last Dance" is the romance between Sara and Derek, as they battle with the opposition of both family and friends. You also have the sub stories, of Sara learning to accept the father that she felt betrayed the family when he left, the story of Derek as he tries to break free from his predetermined future of being a gang member, the story of Julia rediscovering her dream of getting into Juilliard and the relationship between Chenille and the father of her baby. Yes, all of them are pretty cliché and works on the idea of stereotypes, but they are also very real and although it never focuses on any of them in great depth, it does not shun away from painting a reasonably realistic picture.
The lead role of Sara is played by Julia Stiles and in my opinion is probably why "Save the Last Dance" is as good as it is, but then I am biased. For anyone who has only seen Stiles in her numerous teenage flicks, this is a very much more dramatic performance, which displays her ability to take on slightly grittier roles as well as lighter more humorous ones. A big part of why she does such a great job is that although being the lead role, she never steals the limelight from the other main stars and allows them to blossom. Opposite her as Derek, is Sean Patrick Thomas who is basically a popular kid because he has the ability to make something of his life, but his friendship and loyalty to a gangland leader threatens to drag him back onto the street. Instead of being a stereotypical brash youth with attitude, he comes over as much more of a sensitive soul and the chemistry between his character and that of Stiles is very good.
The other character with any real input into the film, is that of Chenille, played by Kerry Washington, the student who befriends the naive Sara. This time the character does follow a stereotype of a brash girl with attitude, who is also a single mother but as "Save the Last Dance" moves along you get to realize that there is much more to the character than just the attitude.
The film is directed by Thomas Carter who went on to direct "Coach Carter", another set amongst the same sort of backdrop to this one. Although he is working with plot lines which are the main stay of countless other movies, he manages to make the whole experience a very worth while viewing, even though it is predictable. Part of the reason that I feel he has done a good job, is that he doesn't focus on one of the many elements of the film, and balances them all, so that you get a very unbiased movie. With a strong theme of dance running through the movie, it was very interesting to watch the character of Sara transform from her classical , ballerina style into a much more rounded urban style whilst maintaining her classical discipline.
The "Save the Last Dance" soundtrack features numerous modern R & B songs and artists as well as some pieces which I would refer to as mild rap. Although this soundtrack may sound like it may make this film not your sort of thing, the emphasis is always on the story and the soundtrack is only used to demonstrate the feeling of the scenes in a very effective manner.
What this all boils down to is that for a movie which has many different elements, some of which deal with tense subject matter, "Save the Last Dance" does a remarkable job of staying entertaining without loosing its focus. Along with this, it manages to deal with the emotive subject manner in such a way as to not demonstrate any bias or prejudice for one of them. A very well rounded movie, with very good performances, a decent modern soundtrack and some very good cinematography, "Save the Last Dance" is a very good interpretation of some very old plots.