Our 2nd film this month is, purely by coincidence, another one about dance. And also happens to be the 21st century Dirty Dancing. Sort of.
Save the Last Dance
Where to Watch:
A teen grieving the loss of her mother learns about hip-hop, love, and the death of ‘90s fashion.
The Uncondensed Version:
Our film takes us on a train through Chicago with an incredibly moody Sara on the way to live with her dad. As we learn within the first 5 minutes of this movie, her mother was recently killed in a car accident while trying to make it to Sara’s big Julliard dance audition. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sara is incredibly depressed, feels really guilty about insisting her mom be there for the audition, and has lost all interest in ever dancing again.
With the move to her dad’s neighborhood, Sara now attends a predominantly black high school and has a lot of catching up to do. She immediately makes a bad impression when she gives a really smart, teacher’s pet-type answer only to be corrected by Derek in front of the entire class.
Luckily, Kerry Washington(?!?), aka Chenille, accepts Sara into her friend group and gives her some tips for navigating the cafeteria and other intimidating places.
Sara just can’t stop putting her foot in it, though, and calls Derek an asshole before realizing he’s none other than Chenille’s brother. …Ooops.
Nevertheless, Chenille invites Sara along to a club that evening, where she promises to dance circles around Derek. Spending time with Chenille, Sara learns her friend is also a new mother who has an on/off relationship with the baby’s father. Sara also discovers Chenille’s frenemy Nikki used to date Derek and feels really threatened by Sara.
Sara dances really stiffly with Derek, but starts to follow the rhythm a bit more and learn some hip hop moves. That is, until a fight breaks out and all 3 have to leave the club.
Derek is sort of annoyingly perfect and wants to be a pediatrician. He is also irritatingly good at listening and drawing out Sara’s secrets. You’ve ruined me for other men, Derek. When he learns Sara used to dance but she claims it’s not a big deal, he says the ridiculously sweet line, “I think it is.”
He later surprises Sara with ballet tickets. Fucking swoon, and I don’t even really like ballet. After getting Sara to open up about why she doesn’t dance anymore, Derek helps her realize she wants to dance and audition again for Julliard. Sara insanely does a shitload of ballet while also getting hip hop lessons from Derek, now her boyfriend.
There are now several storylines that begin to intersect and make the rest of this film increasingly melodramatic.
- Derek’s friends give him shit about dating Sara. They also think he’s abandoning them and the neighborhood in general and try to get him to seek revenge after a drive-by shooting.
- Nikki and Sara finally get into a physical fight, which Sara blames entirely on Nikki. This leads to:
- Chenille and Sara having a fight about white privilege, and Chenille claiming Sara shouldn’t be dating Derek.
- Sara breaking up with Derek because so many people don’t want to see them together and it’s too hard to keep fighting.
- The big audition rolling around, and Sara having no one to support her. …Or does she???
Okay, this is pretty spoiler-y (though this is an early 2000s teen dance drama, so it ends more or less how you’d expect), but the drama of the film just completely falls apart at the end when Sara is dancing, which contrasts with Derek’s friends being involved in a shoot-out. Must someone always die when Sara dances? Is that a sign from the universe or does she have secret dance powers that are beyond her control?
Anyway, Derek shows up at the audition for moral support, telling the judges she’s ready just as she falters. The drama of this moment is ruined by (1) a judge asking how he got in yet no one actually asking him to leave or doing anything to stop him at all, and (2) Derek jumping onstage to give Sara a pep talk, which apparently crosses the line as a judge interrupts, “We don’t have time for this.” And there is a slow-mo hug, the most emotionally resonant kind of hug, of course.
3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
Mostly because our leads are just so damn likeable. Sean Patrick Thomas and his smile, ungh.
Storyline is a bit meh because it tries to do so much and ends up spreading itself too thin. It’s refreshing to have a teen dance movie ambitiously cover so much ground in terms of race and privilege, but it does get a bit simplistic at times. The plot makes it ridiculously convenient for Derek to walk away from the gang and leave his friends behind. And Nikki is annoyingly one-dimensional, there only to stir up drama.
That being said, the dancing in this is amazing and, despite my cynicism, I admit Derek and Sara were a pretty fucking adorable couple.