Antonio Banderas Comes Dancing
These days the sub-genre of inspirational high school movies seems to be continually growing with certain movies appearing to fair better than others. 2006's "Take the Lead" firmly fits into this category and if it wasn't that it was inspired by the true story of Pierre Dulaine, who brought a sense of meaning to a bunch of high school delinquents through teaching them ballroom dancing, I would have said it was a blatant attempt to manufacture a movie out of all the best bits from the likes of "Coach Carter" and "Dangerous Minds" to name just a couple. That is the downfall of "Take the Lead" it doesn't really bring anything new to the game to make it stand out from the rest and at times feels like a lightweight caricature of some of these better known movies.
Following a late night encounter with a high school delinquent dance teacher Pierre Dulaine (Antonio Banderas - The Mask of Zorro) offers his services to the school to teach the kids about self-respect and manners through the art of ballroom dancing. Typically he struggles to gain the respect of the kids as to them ballroom and his choice of music is seriously uncool but slowly he breaks through the barriers and hopefully give the kids a choice in the world.
The biggest issue when it comes to "Take the Lead" is that it is all far too predictable. You can second guess what scenes are going to appear, the inspirational and motivating speech, the realism that this is a chance to do something worth while and of course the big finale where you get the expected and very cliché which reaches an emotional high. It's all far too familiar territory and whilst inspired by Pierre Dulaine's true story and I presume trying to stay close to the truth it feels like there is nothing new, no unique selling point to make it stand out. Even the fact that the kids learn the big life lesson through ballroom dancing doesn't feel like a real catch to make it stand out. As I mentioned earlier if I didn't know that this was inspired by Pierre Dulaine's true story I would have thought it was a manufactured feel good movie using the best bits of various others.
Whilst other movies in this genre usually deliver a gritty, stark realism of life for a bunch of students who have no hope "Take the Lead" sadly fails to capitalize on what should have been a strong element to the movie. We get to see that various students have difficulties outside of school but it never feels like the kids have no hope or no choice to break the downward spiral into a life of crime. In a scene where the school principle explains to Pierre that the pictures on the wall of her office are those who have died it lacks the impact that a moment like this needs, it feels emotionally empty which is wrong and should be charged up with power. Which is actually a little surprising as elsewhere, especially in the final scenes, it uses every trick in the book to draw emotion from the audience in an obvious string pulling fashion.
The final nail in the coffin is that along with various story elements feeling like they have been plucked from various other inspirational movies so do the majority of the characters. I suppose with this type of high school movie you should expect to get the same sort of characters and in many ways this is acceptable, except that here the characters mainly feel 2 dimensional. I point the finger at the lack of gritty realism for this as we never really get to fully sympathise with any of the characters or their situations. In one of the few moments where the movie shows either the poor home life or life of crime on the streets it lacks the impact to hit home how bad things really are.
Unfortunately the performances do little to help although some of them are enjoyable in their simplicity. Rob Brown who strangely appeared in the previous years inspirational movie "Coach Carter" does the best of a bad job and his brooding performance has a depth about it that stands out from the rest, whilst Yaya DaCosta does quite well to match him in their scenes together. But the real disappointment has to be the performance of Antonio Banderas in the role of Pierre Dulaine who lacks the passion to really bring the character to life on the screen. In scenes where you would expect a powerful presence, such as the motivational speech, it barely rises above a simmer. Then again he looks the part and excels when it comes to many of the more light hearted of moments.
All of this probably sounds as though I thought "Take the Lead" was a really bad movie, but there is something very entertaining about it. In many ways the fact that it doesn't try to be too gritty makes it very easy to watch and enjoyable for all the cliché but fun scenes. Even though I don't think Banderas's performance was that great there is something about his Latin appeal which makes him worth watching, the cheeky smile, the gentlemanly conduct and charm it all draws you in to what otherwise would be a very poor movie rather than the average one it is.
On top of this I have to say the "Take the Lead" soundtrack is one of the most commercially entertaining I have heard for a while. It takes many of those classic pieces you would associate with ballroom dancing and then mixing them too a hip-hop beat. So you get the sounds from the likes of Lena Horne & Nat King Cole mixed with a foot tapping beat which works to grab your attention when you're losing focus. This mixing of classic with modern works best with many of the Latino pieces which play during the tango and give the movie the passion and tempo which it lacks in most of the other departments.
What this all boils down to is that in reality "Take the Lead" is not a patch on many of the other inspirational high school movies out there. Despite being inspired by a true story it feels like it lacks originality and the big performances/ characters that a movie likes this needs. But then it is strangely entertaining and although it may not inspire you in the same way as other similar movies manage, it will get your foot tapping along to a great soundtrack.