A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dance & Charm School

February 8, 2011

Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dance & Charm School

I can’t remember what movie I saw the preview for this on, but it looked like a touching and moving film. It looked like it had some humor and fell into that category with The Full Monty (another Robert Carlyle movie) of movies where dance solves all problems. The preview depicts a movie about a widower who ends up going to a dance class and finds some solace there. While this is an accurate short plot summary of this movie it doesn’t even begin to encompass the film we watched tonight.

Writer director Randall Miller has done something extremely odd here. He’s taken a 1990 nostalgic short film about young boys in the sixties and expanded it into a feature film with a completely different tone. The short (which is featured on the DVD as well) is preserved almost in its entirety, but cut up and sprinkled throughout the movie as background for a character who isn’t even featured in the A plot, really, except as some kind of guiding force. William Hurt’s narration is replaced by John Goodman, who plays an adult version of one of the boys in the short, Steve Mills. The way that Steve fits into the plot of the feature film is that he was on his way to attend a dance class, in hopes of re-connecting with a girl he knew when he was twelve, when his car crashes. The only person on the scene of the crash is a bereaved baker named Frank Keane. Frank is the main character in the feature – and Steve’s story is framed as a sort of inspiration for him. Frank attends the dance class in Steve’s place and discovers something there that he wasn’t expecting.

So there are three movies going on here. The original short, the story of adult Steve with his quest to get to the Marilyn Hotchkiss school, and the story of Frank going to the school in Steve’s place. The result is an odd blend of different tones. It’s a movie about recovering from crippling loss, about trying to find a way to turn back the clock and make better choices in one’s life, and about ballroom dancing. With a sprinkling of romance and humor. To call the movie quirky would be an understatement.

It works though. That’s the strangest thing. It’s a touching and charming movie. And the key to its success is the absolutely astonishing cast that Miller has collected here. Robert Carlyle is fantastic of course. He so deftly captures the quiet desperation of Frank, and it’s a thrill to see him finding a way out of the hole he’s in at the start of the movie. John Goodman’s character Steve is an interesting one, and he provides a lot of power to drive the film. There’s a great cast of supporting characters and oddballs played by big name actors. Marisa Tomei as a mysterious and sad woman Frank meets at the dance class. Donnie Wahlberg as an angry but desperate ladies man in the school. Ernie Hudson and Sean Astin as a couple of other bereaved widowers in Frank’s support group. And a fantastically eccentric performance by Mary Steenburgen as Marienne Hotchkiss, who is teaching the dance class in memory of her mother who founded it back in the sixties. Her performance is so strange, shrill and brittle. She takes a few lines and creates an entire character from them. Not to forget the spectacular dual performance of Elden Henson who stars in the short from the nineties as young Steve and is in the feature film as Frank’s friend and employee Samson. Elden has an effortless charm to him – it makes me wonder why I haven’t seen him in larger roles.

How to possibly describe this peculiar film? Think of it as a combination of A Christmas Story with Up and Strictly Ballroom. All blended together to create something otherworldly and magical. It’s not at all the movie I was expecting from the preview, but I’m extremely glad nonetheless that it is in our collection.

February 8, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , ,

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