Paramount // 2001 // 112 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // June 25th, 2001
The only person you need to be is yourself.
I'm leery of any film that is produced by MTV. It's like meeting someone for the first time who wears an eye patch and has a parrot on their shoulder. Trust has not yet been instilled. Save The Last Dance is produced by MTV, and is brought to you by the fine folks over at Paramount Pictures. It's a hip-hoppin' story about a young white woman who befriends and falls for a young black man. As is the case with any film geared towards a younger crowd, Save The Last Dance stars some hot young talent, including Julia Stiles (10 Things I Hate About You, State and Main) and Sean Patrick Thomas (Dracula 2000) as the lovelorn teens facing opposition, prejudice, and some swelteringly danceable tunes. Save The Last Dance grooves its way into your DVD player courtesy of Paramount.
Sara (Stiles) dreams of going to the highly esteemed Julliard College where she plans on majoring in ballet dancing. When the Julliard School holds auditions in her town, Sara plans to give it her all. Hurrying over to cheer on her daughter, Sara's mother is killed in an auto accident, ruining Sara's chances for Julliard and altering her life forever.
Sara is soon Chicago-bound on a train to live with her estranged father (Terry Kinney) on the gritty side of town. She enters a predominantly black high school where rap is the rage and everyone seems to say "Sup?" Sara soon becomes pals with Chenille (Kerry Washington), a black student, and her brother Derek (Thomas). At first Sara and Derek spar, but it's soon clear that the two are attracted to each other (ignited by their similar passion for dancing).
The two start to see each other, though friends and family are not very supportive. The thought process is that black men should stay with black women, and the same goes for white relationships as well. I'm guessing these were the same people who thought that the neighbors on "The Jeffersons" were the ultimate evil.
Through ups and downs, Sara and Derek must prove to their friends and family that in life only two things matters: true love and keeping the beat.
Archie Bunker would have hated this movie.
I'm pretty sure that I'm not the intended target audience that Save The Last Dance was trying to hit. No matter, as I'm an objective reviewer who is open to all sorts of movies (unless, of course, it has the words "Foreign Award Winner" on the cover).
Save The Last Dance runs the middle road of the entertainment highway. It includes a powerful message about tolerance, love, and understanding. On the other hand, it's about as predictable as a "Three's Company" episode. Save The Last Dance tries hard to incorporate as many themes and races as it can to include as many different people as possible. It's got black people, it's got white people. It's got hip hop music, it's got classical music. It's got club dancing, it's got ballet dancing. Yes, Save The Last Dance has got a little something for everyone (well, not everyone...where's the Springsteen music? Where's the killer in a hockey mask?).
The story line is tried and true, a typical love story set seemingly insurmountable all odds. The characters must learn something about each other, and then learn something about themselves. This time-tested formula also decrees that they must overcome enormous obstacles, such as getting into a high ranking college or teaching their friends about the power of tolerance. Just once I'd like to see them have to leap smaller problems, like which pottery class to take at the local community college, or what movie to see on a Friday night.
Though Save The Last Dance is obvious entertainment, it was nice to see a good message placed in the context of the film. Most movies today aim only for sex and laughs (need an example? Road Trip, See Spot Run, Dude, Where's My Car?...the list goes on and on). Save The Last Dance tries to be a bit more responsible in its storytelling, even going so far as to promote education and prayer! Even the love/sex scenes were done tastefully! All this in an MTV produced flick! I was shocked beyond belief.
Julia Stiles plays Sara as a bit naïve though very bright and intelligent. Her character is the typical fish out of water story. She's trying to blend into her new surroundings and make some friends in a very unfamiliar place. Stiles has a button cuteness about her, which works in her favor in most films (she was just plain bitchy as the starring role in 10 Things I Hate About You). Sean Patrick Thomas shows chops to becoming a real star as Derek, Sara's new love interest. Thomas displays charm and wit, proving that he can play a character that is not as stereotypical as most movies portray featuring African Americans. The rest of the cast is apt and able, especially the mellow Terry Kinney as Roy, Sara's musical father. Save The Last Dance also features some of today's hottest beats. I myself listen to Bob Dylan and Jackson Browne, so if you're looking to read some inside scoop on the artists of Save The Last Dance, you're not going to find it here.
Save The Last Dance is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. On par with this being a new film, the transfer looks excellent. Colors were bright and bold, blacks dark and solid. Edge enhancement was not spotted, and only the smallest amount of shimmer was noted, though nothing that will distract the viewer from enjoying the movie. Paramount has done a very good job with the transfer for Save The Last Dance. Kudos!
Audio is presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 (English) as well as Dolby Surround (English and French). I was a bit disappointed with the 5.1 track than I thought I would be. Though the rear speakers are utilized, the track doesn't seem all that aggressive. Sounds were very clear, though tones and music seemed to be a bit low from the side speakers, mainly filtering through the front. Dialogue was clean and crisp with music and effects mixed well. Not the best Dolby 5.1 track I've ever heard, but it'll do. Also included are English subtitles for the hard of hearing.
Save The Last Dance comes in a nicely packed edition. First up is a commentary track by director Thomas Carter. The track is only so-so, featuring Carter discussing aspects of the filmmaking, pontifications on the acting, adolescence, and his filmmaking influences (Spielberg, Scorcese, et cetera). The track, though nothing overly exciting, will be interesting for fans of the film. It's too bad they couldn't have gotten more of the cast or crew to sit with Carter, as it might have made the track that much more fun (aside of informative, this is what I think a commentary track should be). Carter is talkative, though there are a few gaps where he sits silently watching the film. Carter is also very expressive about what he wanted to do in the film (an interracial love story), and he seems genuinely proud of his work.
Next up are four anamorphic widescreen deleted scenes. Though nice to have, they don't add much to the final film (one scene, "The Record Store," is partially used later in the finished film as just voice over). Save The Last Dance didn't need the extra running time, though it will be nice for fans to see these outtakes.
"The Making Of Save The Last Dance" includes interviews and a behind-the-scene look at the production. Each actor (Stiles, Thomas, Kerry Washington, et cetera) takes time to talk about their characters and their motivation. Much of the featurette is devoted to lavishing praise on many of the actors (..."...he has a depth you don't normally see in an actor..." and the like), as well as a look at the dance sequences with an interview by dance choreographer Fatima and ballet choreographer Randy Duncan. Since I'm not much of a connoisseur when it comes to dancing, I'll just say that it looks like it took them quite a while to get down all the moves. I'm the typical American white guy, so watching me dance is like seeing the Pillsbury Doughboy doing the hokey-pokey. I will say that Save The Last Dance did have some impressive dancing going on in it, and the amount of rehearsal time shows why. The rest of the feature includes conversations with director Carter and the making of the video by K-Ci & Jo Jo, whom the director considers "guardian angels" in the film. Yes, the first thing that I always think of when I see a hip-hop video is that these people must be omnipotent, Heaven sent angels of mercy.
"Cast and Crew Interviews" seems to be an extension of the "Making Of..." featurette. Once again, the actors and director discuss how they liked working with each other, what they brought to the production, what the rehearsals were like, et cetera. It's the basic type of interviews you can catch whenever you're watching E! Entertainment Television. Finally, there's a non-anamorphic theatrical trailer, as well as the music video "Crazy" by K-Ci & Jo Jo (or, as I like to call them, "Guardian angels") featured in non-anamorphic widescreen. The video is interspersed with scenes from the final film.
Save The Last Dance's fatal flaw is its predictability. You can see almost everything coming from a mile away. If there is ANY doubt in your mind that Sara and Derek won't end up together at the end of this film...well, then you apparently have been spending most of your weekends on the edge of the earth. Though I'm about as suburban and white as Sara, and haven't spent much time down in the inner city of Chicago (my hometown), I'll assume that, aside of some Hollywoodisms, Save The Last Dance is pretty accurate in its portrayal of the inner city youth culture.
Otherwise, Save The Last Dance is decent entertainment. It's not going to win any awards, but neither will Halloween II and I think that movie rocks the house (see how hip I am? I'm using today's cool and neat-o catch phrases in my reviews). I wasn't overly bored by Save The Last Dance, and though it's slow in parts, it offers a relatively good message to today's kids.
For around 25 bucks, Save The Last Dance may be a bit pricey as a purchase. If nothing else, it makes for a decent rental if you're either a hip-hop fan, under the age of twenty, or have a burning desire to "be in the know" with your kids. With a very nice transfer, good audio and a jam packed feature selection, Save The Last Dance might just end up being your date the next time you hit the rental shelves.
Acquitted on all charges, though it gets a slap on the wrist for having a way too obvious plot.
Review content copyright © 2001 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Cast and Crew Interviews
* The Making Of Save The Last Dance
* Deleted Scenes
* Music Video -- "Crazy" by K-Ci & Jo Jo
* Commentary by Director Thomas Carter
* Theatrical Trailer
* Official Site
* Dance Films Association
* Are You A Danceaholic?