Turn Back the Clock

Romantic Drama

Save the Last Dance

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            Years ago, an ex-boyfriend turned me on to the movie Save the Last Dance.  I related to some of the main characters' issues right away and loved the soundtrack of the film as well.  Since then, I have watched the movie a number of times.  I just got my hands on the Special Collector's Edition of Save the Last Dance and decided to watch it yet again.

In the film, Julia Stiles is Sara Johnson, a young high school student who dreams of going to Juilliard and becoming a ballerina.  Her dreams are shattered when, while attempting to get to her daughter's audition, Sara's mother (Jennifer Anglin) is killed in a car accident.  Sara moves in with her estranged musician father (Terry Kinney) and struggles to rebuild her life and deal with the guilt she feels over her mother's death.

She soon meets Derek Reynolds (Sean Patrick Thomas), a cocky, intelligent young man who initially rubs Sara the wrong way until she meets his sister.  Chenille Reynolds (Kerrie Washington) is a single mother who sees Sara needs some guidance at her new school.  Chenille, Derek and their friends introduce Sara to a whole new lifestyle - hip-hop

Though many are against it, Derek and Sara find themselves becoming more than just friends.  Sara finds that she can be herself around Derek and Derek soon learns about her ambition to go to Juilliard.  With his help, she finds it within herself to take up her dancing shoes once more and make another attempt at following her dreams. 

            But it all may come crashing down when Derek's old friend Malakai (Fredro Starr) tries to drag him back into a life of crime Derek deserted long ago.  When Malakai asks for Derek's help in retaliating against a rival for a drive by shooting attempt, will Derek miss out on Sara's Juilliard audition to make good on an old debt, or will he rise above his past looking out for his future?

There's a lot going on in Save the Last Dance.  It's a movie about learning from past mistakes, about going after one's dreams, about interracial relationships and what it means for all involved, a romantic drama set in a hip-hop world...It's all that and more and I loved every last moment.  Julia Stiles is believable in her role as a guilt-ridden teen trying to fit into a new and foreign environment who finds strength to follow her dreams thanks to the help of her friends and a new love interest.  Sean Patrick Thomas is great in his role as a conflicted young man who has risen from his former life as a street thug to the first in his family to go to medical school, only to face the possibility of losing it all thanks to an old debt.

             I remember watching this movie for the first time and immediately finding myself liking Chenille, the teenager who helps bring Sara into the hip-hop world and brings Sara and Derek together.  Despite being a high school student with a child, the character of Chenille is not some whining teenager who lets her son be raised by others.  She is a strong woman who doesn't shirk her responsibilities who is already following her dreams of becoming a fashion designer.  Little did I know that the woman who portrays Chenille, Kerry Washington, would eventually become a big star (Save the Last Dance was one of her first feature roles.  She has since appeared in Tyler Perry movies and is the lead actress on Scandal). 

But it wasn't just the uplifting story that caught my eye.  Having been in an interracial relationship in the past and knowing friends and family members who have gone through the same thing, I can understand the hardships undergone by the main characters.  There are those out there who, despite the fact that we are in the 21st Century, still can't see beyond color barriers.  Instead of seeing individuals for who they are inside, they are bent on seeing them only by the color of their skin and so they stare at interracial couples, make comments, even go so far as to attempt to break them up.  It takes strength of character, conviction and love to continue in such a relationship and I say, more power to the characters in this film for sticking it out despite all of the peer pressure.

            And then there is the music and dancing - WOW!  The soundtrack of Save the Last Dance contains a musical score by Mark Isham, which is dramatic, but it's the songs that really grab you.  Songs like the love ballad Crazy by K-Ci & JoJo, You Make Me Sick by Pink, U Know What's Up by Donell Jones, You Can Do It by Ice Cube, Breathe and Stop by Q-Tip, Get It On Tonite by Montell Jordan, Murder She Wrote by Chaka Demus and Pliers and more that make you want to sing along or get up and dance.  And I challenge one person who has enjoyed this film to tell me that they haven't gotten up and dance along with the cast as the end credits roll on Couples Night at Stepps at the end of Save the Last Dance.

The dancing was phenomenal, especially when you consider that the main actors in this film were not trained dancers.  Julia Stiles studied ballet and learned steps provided by ballet choreographer Randy Duncan and hip-hop choreographer Fatima Robinson looking as if she has performed in both these genres all her life.  I enjoyed the way the two choreographers were able to blend ballet and hip-hop moves together for Sara's Julliard audition freestyle performance.  Awesome!

The Special Collector's Edition of Save the Last Dance features  a number of informative documentaries like The Making of Save the Last Dance, The Writers' Story, In Step: The Choreographer's Story, Save the Last Dance - A Retrospective and more offering viewers an inside look at all of the aspects of making this move from the script to the cast selection to the dancing and more.

Save the Last Dance is a fun film with a great storyline...a movie I can watch over and over again without ever getting tired of the story, the music or the dance moves.


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