Pierre Dulaine has been on Broadway (in the award-winning
musical
GRAND HOTEL) and has won several ballroom dance
competitions. As a means of giving back, he went on to found a
program in the New York City school system that encourages young
people to learn ballroom dancing. Indeed, the fruits of his labors can
be seen in the 2005 documentary
MAD HOT BALLROOM.

 Now comes the fictionalized story of Dulaine (well played by
Antonio Banderas) in
TAKE THE LEAD, a joyous movie designed to be
a crowd pleaser. Certain facts have been altered in Dianne Houston’s
screenplay to make the story more accessible to audiences, most
notably the students have been aged from elementary school to
high school.

 In the film, Dulaine owns and operates a dance studio in
Manhattan. A widower, he is assisted by a very pretty and available
young woman (Laura Benanti, who costarred on Broadway in NINE
opposite Banderas). He’s oblivious to her, of course, Instead, he
concentrates on training his students, some of whom are in training
for a competition while others have less pressing, but no less vital,
needs. One evening, on his way home, he witnesses a couple of
students trashing a car. Being a gentleman he attempts to return a
parking pass to its owner, the principal of a inner city high school
(portrayed by Alfre Woodard).

 Eventually, Dulaine agrees to oversee the detention at the
school provided he can use the time to teach the students how
to ballroom dance. Naturally the young people are at first resistant
to this strange accented man with his old-fashioned ways but
gradually they are won over. It's inevitable that there will be a
citywide competition and that two students who have personal
reasons for animosity (Rob Brown and Yaya DaCosta) will be
partnered and eventually drawn to one another.

 Houston's screenplay has elements of a fairy tale to it,
and it has practically no resemblance to the harsh realities of
inner city schools. Still, the material works, thanks to its
spirited cast and the assured direction Liz Friedlander in her
debut.

 
TAKE THE LEAD is anchored by a terrifically winning
performance by Banderas. If you decide to skip it in theaters,
perhaps I might suggest renting it along with
MAD HOT BALLROOM.
Together they will make a really uplifting and pleasant double
feature that will make you want to get up and dance.



         Rating:                C+
         MPAA Rating:        PG-13 for thematic material, language
                                             and some violence             
         Running time:       108 mins.
Take the Lead
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.