‘Feel the Beat’
Starring: Sofia Carson, Enrico Colantoni, Donna Lynne Champlin, Wolfgang Novogratz, Brandon Kyle Goodman, Eva Hauge, Lidya Jewett, Shaylee Mansfield and Justin Caruso Allan
Rating: TV-G, and suitable for all ages
By Derrick Bang
Enterprise film critic
For the most part, this is a Hallmark TV movie with delusions of grandeur, having debuted instead on Netflix.
It’s saved from sentimentality overload solely due to its feisty kid supporting cast, and a few nice touches in the otherwise formulaic and wholly predictable script from Michael Armbruster and Shawn Ku.
Director Elissa Down brings nothing to the party; her approach is unremarkably bland from the first frame to the last. Even during the rare moments of something approaching dramatic conflict, the atmosphere is relentlessly bubbly and cheerful.
Many of the adults here don’t feel like real people; they’re closer to TV sitcom constructs. Notable exceptions include the always dependable Enrico Colantoni, best remembered as Veronica Mars’ gumshoe father, and similarly cast here as our protagonist’s father, and Brandon Kyle Goodman, who displays solid comic timing as a flamboyant Broadway costume designer.
The kids, happily, are a different story. They’re a lively mix of sizes, appearances and attitudes, ranging from 7 to 13 years of age; they credibly inhabit characters who, if not granted much depth, are sketched deftly enough to be distinctive; we have no trouble telling them apart, and each gets numerous opportunities to shine.
Star Sofia Carson, an appealing Disney Channel discovery looking to expand her horizons, delivers what little the script demands of her; she can’t be blamed for a director and writers who don’t show much imagination. (I’ve long felt that scripts that don’t give their characters last names — as is the case here — tend to lack depth.)
The story begins in New York, where talented but self-centered dancer April (Carson) rudely steals a cab en route to an audition; naturally, the person left behind turns out to be the director for whom she’s auditioning. Said individual, justifiably furious, has the power to blackball April. And uses it.
Days later, with no other options, April returns to her small Wisconsin 凯发体育官方sporthometown of New Hope with her metaphorical tail between her legs. Her sympathetic father says all the right things, with the mildly acerbic edge that Colantoni delivers with such eye-twinkling élan.
Despite believing herself a failure, April remains a treasure — a native daughter who “made it” — to the tightly knit community and particularly to former dance teacher Miss Barb (Donna Lynne Champlin, who badly overplays the goofball card). Miss Barb suggests that April occupy herself by coaching the town’s misfit group of young dancers; our snooty Broadway has-been couldn’t be bothered.
Until she learns that one of the judges at the nationals, several steps up the competition ladder, is highly respected Broadway director/choreographer Welly Wong (Rex Lee), who’s enough of a maverick to ignore the scarlet letter attached to the remnants of her career. At which point, April becomes the town dance coach — for all the wrong reasons.
There’s no question what follows will transform April from an egotistical jerk into a kinder, gentler and sympathetic mentor, just as there’s no question the initially hapless gaggle of would-be dancers will somehow make it to the nationals. This inevitability is mitigated by April’s young students, who quickly size her up and decide to do something about that condescending attitude.
Kai Zen is too cute for words as June, the youngest and quietest student, who always shows up in a pink tutu. She’s too young to adjust to April’s initially itarian touches and repeatedly winds up having to “drop and give me 20.” Zen’s attempts at push-ups are hilarious.
Eva Hauge’s Sarah is the oldest and boldest and the first to call out April’s insufferable attitude. Sarah also has an unrequited crush on one of the school’s football players (Drew Davis, as R.J.), which Hauge handles with credible anguish.
Shaylee Mansfield, a young deaf actress who has long campaigned to encourage families to learn American Sign Language (ASL), plays Zuzu; Like Sarah, she isn’t shy about expressing her disapproval of the group’s new coach. In a nice touch, most of the other girls — and many adults — also know ASL; no big deal is made of this, which is as it should be.
Lidya Jewett’s Kari is taking the class on the sly, having fibbed and told her mother that she’s studying schoolwork with a friend each afternoon. That prompts a confrontation when Mom finds out, which leads to a blatant script lapse; when next seen, this visibly angry woman has become an enthusiastic parent supporter. Um … seriously?
Justin Caruso Allan’s Dicky sits on the sidelines during classes, in a childcare arrangement that bears tasty fruit when the little guy — who has paid close attention throughout — suddenly demonstrates serious dance chops of his own. (Shades of “A Chorus Line’s” “I Can Do That!”)
Hunky Wolfgang Novogratz has the rather thankless role of Nick, the guy April left behind a few years earlier when she abruptly fled New Hope for New York. Nick is pleasant, tolerant and sympathetic to the point of absurdity; I swear, Novogratz displays the man’s friendly, ear-splitting grin every time we see him.
Nick is Sarah’s older brother, which adds some credible friction to her behavior toward April.
I also like the fact that the students’ various fathers display the same enthusiastically noisy pride that we’d expect them to direct at their sports-playing sons and daughters. You’ll find no dance-shaming here. (That said, the sexualization of some of the other moppet dance teams is a major eyebrow lift.)
In fairness, “Feel the Beat” is a good-natured, inoffensive, family-friendly film with its heart in the right place; God knows we don’t get nearly enough of them. But I do wish Down and her writers had tried a little harder.
— Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at http://derrickbang.blogspot.com. Comment on this review at www.hkxms.cn.ShareTweet