I believe that every good looking Hollywood actor eventually has a ‘suit movie’. In a ‘suit movie’, he gets to look great in a expensive looking suit. Robert Redford did his in ‘Indecent Proposal‘. Richard Gere did his in ‘Pretty Woman‘. George Clooney had his in Ocean’s Eleven and Intolerable Cruelty. Andy Garcia has the Godfather III. I can name countless more.
For me, Antonio Banderas ‘suit movie’ is ‘Take The Lead’, where he gets to wear nice talian threads in this movie adaptation of the true experiences of Ballroom great Pierre Dulaine, as he takes his love for dancing from the studios to the streets, via a ‘Dancing Classroom’ outreach program which had since been implemented in almost 7,500 elementary schools in New York.
The key word of course being ‘adaptation’, the most obvious sign of which, is that the students in the film are in high school, while the outreach program dealt with elementary school kids. To me, this meant that once the producers bought the license for the story, and the rights to do whatever they wished with it, pretty much every need to remain true to the story goes out the window.
So while Banderas and high school crew go through the ups and downs of their relationships with each other, dealing with such things as drugs, prostitution and such, Mr. Dulaine’s most difficult experiences may well have just been the need to occasionally keep his elementary kids’ from putting bubblegum into each other’s hair, or chasing around each other on a big wooden dancefloor. The variations of what may had truly transpired and what the studio writers produced are unlimited, and this bothered me somewhat.
Having said that, all is of course not lost, as the writers can still come up with a good movie. At this, however, they failed.
Take the lead is yet another implementation of the tried and true mentor – teaching – kids – gone – astray formula, started imo by the excellent 1988 “Stand And Deliver“, featuring Edward James Olmos” and a very young Lou Diamond Philips (and an Andy Garcia small role as well).
Not only it is an ‘implementation’ of that theme, it is occasionally a copy, complete with that scene where Olmos’ Volkswagen Beetle was carnapped by the kids, leading him to feel angry and miserable for a while, except that it was later returned and ‘improved’ by them Mexican style, replete with accessories and embellishments afterwards, as a sign of their respect and love for their teacher. It is done again in this movie, this time involving Banderas’ bicycle (I assume because it’d mean his kids had less money to spend).
At this point in writing this, I realize that, really there’s nothing wrong with all that. If they can come up with a great movie while exercising artistic license, then why not?
But the problem lies in that, in pursuing an interesting story via ‘improving’ it, the purpose gets lost along the way.
The problem with me is that I am too realistic. I believe that in real life those things do not really happen. Inasmuch as it’d be so cool to have inner city kids pimp their teacher’s rides out of love for him, or that a big drama scene between the extremely annoying unbelieving teacher and our hero results in a PTA meeting where he gets to explain the value of ballroom with much flair to one and all, or that a dancing match at the end of the movie allows the kids to mix their hiphop beats alongside classic music and it all ends up as one happy party, it’s very hard for me to swallow any of it as real, or at least realistic.
Which is sad, because there is a part of this movie that is very real, and that the one that started it – the main reason why the movie producers approached Mr. Dulaine to begin with – the story where he built character, instilled hope and taught respect to poor inner city kids via his outreach program, and achieved immeasurably positive results.
Ultimately, the important thing in the telling of a story is it’s main parts, which then achieve the desired results – which is to inspire others. The manner with which this movie had been mangled for mass appeal have unfortunately not only removed this goal, but may have marginalized it as well.
Ergo, at the end of the day, what we merely have is a Banderas ‘suit movie’. Fortunately, he looks very good in it.
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