Title: Save the Last Dance
Play time: 1h 52min
Director: Thomas Carter
Starring: Julia Stiles, Sean Patrick Thomas, Kerry Washington
Save The Last Dance (2001) Summary: This Romance Follows Every Cliche in The Book
“You come and take one of the few decent men left after drugs, jail and drive-bys.”
It’s hard to expect an insightful examination of contemporary race relations from an MTV-produced teen drama. Save the Last Dance has been bashed in many circles for not effectively dissecting the love affair between a black girl and a white boy, but that’s not the problem; the movie does more in that regard than I ever expected from it. The problem is the romance itself, which follows every cliche in the book, even while the plot around it evolves into something more. When telling a story, it’s usually a bad idea to ignore its central point.
The film opens with the sight of Sara (Julia Stiles) sitting on a train, interposed with images of the tragedy that turned her life upside down: as her mother was hurrying to be on time for Sara’s botched Julliard edition, she got into a fatal car accident. Now, Sara is going to live with her deadbeat father in the Chicago ghetto, where she must go to an all-black school and wade her way through a rough neighborhood where, as she is quickly reminded, it is very easy to give to charity.
Instead of the violence and hostility she expects, Sara is greeted instead with indifference; she’s largely ignored by the school population, who could care less about a white girl showing up at their school. She befriends Chenille (Kerry Washington) and gets into a rivalry with her brother Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas), an intelligent, street-smart kid involved with the wrong crowd. She’s invited to “Steps,” a local hip-hop club, where, despite her dance background, she thoroughly humiliates herself.
The Relationship Nobody Wants in Save The Last Dance
Derek offers to teach Sara how to dance hip-hop and before we can say “What the hell?” the two have developed a controversial relationship. Nobody likes it very much except for them and they wind up spending “more time defending our relationship than actually having one.” Chenille thinks that the white girl has stolen one of the few decent black guys left, and Derek’s friend Malakai (Fredro Starr) thinks that Derek has abandoned his buddies to be with her. And, of course, Derek has to prepare his girlfriend for another try at a Julliard audition.
Okay, so I was impressed by the extent this MTV production dared to delve into the consequences of a black guy dating a white girl in an exclusively black neighborhood. I liked the way the film handled the conflict with Derek’s sister, as well as with his troubled friend. This is above and beyond your usual teen comedies, which are usually rife with idiotic humor and idiotic characters. This is the part of the show I liked.
And then there’s the actual love story, which insists on conforming to every teen movie stereotype ever invented. Let’s see… bonding while in a bizarre mentor-protege relationship? Check. Big mid-movie fight? Check. Obligatory latecomer scene that inspires the main character to kick some metaphorical booty at important performance/speech/audition? Check. It’s really irritating to see a nice film like Save the Last Dance be constantly undermined by either a) its own laziness or b) executives’ stupidity. I’m not sure either is any better than the other.
Not Up to Its Capacity – Save The Last Dance (2001)
It’s hard to hate a movie as relatively ambitious as Save the Last Dance, but I can’t recommend it. It’s not courageous enough to deviate from the teen movie formula more than a smidgeon. But I suppose that in the movie wasteland that is January and February, we should be thankful for every little bit we get.