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Case Number 03054

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Square Dance

Anchor Bay // 1987 // 112 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Elizabeth Skipper (Retired) // June 27th, 2003

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All Rise...

The Charge

Sometimes the most surprising journey is the one that leads you home.

Opening Statement

Winona Ryder with a penchant for the word "ain't," Jason Robards misanthropically moaning his complaints, and Rob Lowe doing his best Forrest Gump impression…if there's a blueprint for how to make a bad movie, these elements could be step one.

Facts of the Case

Thirteen-year-old Gemma (Winona Ryder, Heathers, Reality Bites, Girl, Interrupted) is an upstanding young woman who does well in school, spouts Bible verses with ease, and helps out on the farm where she lives with her grandfather, Pop (Jason Robards, Julia, The Long Hot Summer, A Thousand Acres). But when her mother (Jane Alexander, The Great White Hope, Kramer vs. Kramer, The Cider House Rules) visits to offer Gemma a place with her and her husband in the city, Gemma realizes she has a choice. Fed up with the cantankerous Pop, she leaves to join her mother in Fort Worth.

Gemma's new life starts out well enough: she and her mother bond; she gets a stylin' new haircut; and she meets Rory (Rob Lowe, St. Elmo's Fire, Austin Powers 2, The West Wing), an idiot savant who can't boil water but can play the fiddle like it's Georgia and he's just met the Devil. Despite a disturbing age difference (Rory looks about 21 to Gemma's 13), Gemma and Rory become fast friends and then more. Their innocent flirting soon leads to a kiss and talk of marriage.

But when Gemma, escaping from an argument between her mother and stepfather, runs to find Rory, she finds more than she bargained for, and her idyllic new life begins to crumble around her.

The Evidence

I didn't like this movie at all. In fact, I couldn't find one redeeming aspect. The characters were stereotypes, the plot was practically nonexistent, and the acting was forced. But sometimes when I don't like a movie, the commentary track helps clear it up for me by, for example, pointing out symbolism I've missed or explaining the characters' relationships in a different way. So I looked forward to Daniel Petrie's (A Raisin in the Sun, Sybil) track, hoping he'd shed some light on this movie and I'd be able to find something to recommend. Sadly, it didn't happen that way. The commentary starts out as a discussion of the movie, but as the moderator realizes that every question he asks is answered with "it's been 15 years, I don't really remember," he decides to switch topics to some reminiscent name-dropping. Instead of learning anything about Square Dance, we are subjected a series of you-had-to-be-there stories. What a waste.

The only other extra on the disc is a text biography of director/producer Daniel Petrie. As it turns out, he was born in 1920, making him about 82 when the commentary was recorded, so I suppose Anchor Bay was thrilled just to have him there, no matter what he talked about.

Square Dance is presented in a 1.77:1 ratio, enhanced for widescreen. There's nothing technically wrong with the picture, but there's nothing that jumps out at me as good either. For the audio, the only track is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, and the film suffers because of it. The sound is hollow and tinny, and the dialogue is often quite difficult to understand.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

The acting is not as bad as you think; it's just hidden by the atrocity that is the rest of the movie. If Winona didn't have to overcome such a lack of realistic dialogue, she'd shine as she always has since. And if Rob Lowe (who was nominated for a Golden Globe for this role) didn't have to overcome such a ridiculous caricature of a character, his talent would be obvious.

Closing Statement

Don't buy this movie; don't rent it; don't even bother watching it if it shows up on a Saturday night at 3AM and every other channel is static. Read a book instead. Hell, read the book this movie is based on—maybe it can provide a single minute of pleasure.

The Verdict

Square Dance is found guilty of wasting the court's time and, as it's set in Texas, is sentenced to death.

Case adjourned.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 80
Audio: 50
Extras: 55
Acting: 70
Story: 40
Judgment: 40

Perp Profile

Studio: Anchor Bay
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Bad
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• Audio Commentary with Director/Producer Daniel Petrie (Moderated by Anchor Bay DVD Producer Perry Martin)
• Daniel Petrie Bio


• IMDb

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