TBT – Save the Last Dance (2001)

films, reviews, TBT

So, anyone who has read my Tuesday Review of the Netflix original film Work It will know that I was in two minds about what to watch for my TBT review this week. Part of me wanted to watch Save the Last Dance and the other wanted me to watch Bring It On. Turns out, it’s really hard to track down a copy of Bring It On at the last minute. At least at a price that feels worth it. Julia Stiles as a hip hop ballerina. It’s a film that I haven’t watched in a really long time, so I don’t really know where the desire to watch it came from. I guess I just really missed Julia Stiles.

Do you remember when Hollywood went crazy for dance movies in the early 00s? It seemed as though every film was either about a wannabe dancer trying to make it or featured a huge dance number just because. It was also the time that white film execs seemed to discover hip hop. There were plenty of films that attempted to introduce white people to it. Save the Last Dance was a weirdly popular one. Especially when you consider just how bad most of the dancing is.

Now, I know that Julia Stiles did the majority of the dancing herself and she should be applauded for that. However, was it really the best choice? Just look at her final dance routine. It’s was shit in 2001 and it’s even more embarrassingly terrible here. The dance moves are way too simple and Stiles, though she puts in a good effort, looks kind of stiff. As though she was desperately trying to remember the steps instead of just dancing. Why would you not film it in such a way that the majority of the dancing could be done by someone who could, you know, dance?

What makes it worse is that the dance scene also features a bunch of super white people nodding their heads to the music. It’s pathetic and sad. Like an audience trying to clap in unison at a concert. And is it just me who’s slightly uncomfortable with the basic idea of this film? That it could only be a white girl who took hip hop to Julliard. Why not have a Black girl trying to mix her culture with the classic form of ballet? For one thing, the story was thought up by a white guy. For another, it needs Julia Stiles to bring white audiences into this world. Save the Last Dance wasn’t a film that was ever going to take any risks.

There can be no denying that this film is predictable but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. It’s like a sports movie. You need to have the struggle to succeed, the self doubt, and the eventual success. Otherwise what kind of film would this be? A girl was desperate to be a dancer, her mother died, she picked herself up, tried again, and failed? What kind of message is that giving to teenagers? You can never win so why try? Having a dream is just going to kill your parent so why have them? Some teen movies just need to be predictable.

And it’s not as if it doesn’t try to do something good. It tries to offer some sort of social commentary. There are plenty of positive representations of Black youths. Kerry Washington is pretty good playing a teen mother. It’s just a shame that this film is so cringe inducing. It relies too heavily on cliches and stereotypes to ever be taken as seriously as it wants to. It’s a shame because it ends up pushing the patronising nature of the story. Remember how La La Land had Ryan Gosling explain jazz to Black people? Well, Save the Last Dance has Julia Stiles explain hip hop to everyone. It’s not a film that has really aged well.

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