February 20, 2001 -- "Save the Last Dance" is a romantic drama set against a background of ballet and popular dance. The story is O.K., but it tries to squeeze in a few too many plot elements into too short a time. As a result, the story cuts rapidly back and forth trying to pick up action from a variety of different sets in order to piece the story together.
The main story has to do with a romance between Sara (Julia Stiles of "State and Main") and Derek, (Sean Patrick Thomas of "Dracula 2000") a couple of high school kids on their way to college. Sara, who is white, has seemingly given up her dream of becoming a ballerina, while Derek, a black student, plans to pursue a medical career. Derek manages to persuade Sara to resume her dancing career. The strain of the competition for the few openings at the Julliard School and opposition from Derek's friends threaten their newfound love.
The main story splits several ways. There is Sara's friendship with Derek's sister, Chenille, (Kerry Washington), her strained relationship with her jazz-playing father, Roy (Terry Kinney of "Last of the Mohicans") and her painful memories of her mother. Then there are Derek's troubles with his ex-girlfriend Nikki (Bianca Lawson of "Primary Colors") and with his hoodlum friend with machismo overdrive, Malakai (Fredro Starr of "Light it Up") and Chenille's problems with the delinquent father of her child. Nikki doesn't like Sara moving in on her man, and Chenille thinks Nikki may have a point. There are too few good black men as it is, she observes, without some white girl moving in and taking her pick of the best of them. The trouble is, these subplots get rushed because it doesn't seem like quite enough time is devoted to any of them to make them work. On top of that, you've got ballet, hip hop, rap and basketball thrown into the mix as well. At the end of the film, when all these subplots have to be resolved at the same time (before the big dance) it really gets rushed.
There are some good performances in the film, particularly by the lead performers and Terry Kinney. The dance numbers and music are good. The film is generally lacking in realism, however. Things work out too neatly, too easily, too quickly, on too many fronts, but then, this is a Hollywood-style film. This film rates a C+.
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