Center Stage is one of those movies that fills me with shame. Its plot conventions are cliche. It’s got corny dialogue. For Christ’s sake, the majority of the cast are dancers rather than actors; they can’t deliver lines! And yet, I will watch this. I hate to admit that I own the damn thing. I hate myself for admitting that not only do I watch this movie, but I enjoy this movie. I hate myself for even typing that. In an attempt to understand the nature of my enjoyment, I wanted to drill down to the root of my guilt. What I found is that the movie seems to parallel the main principle of the opportunities provided to the character Jody Sawyer (Amanda Schull): this one gets by because it’s visually appealing.
|I hate myself for watching this.
Let’s be honest: Jody Sawyer never, ever, ever would have gotten into that academy based on her dancing skills. Ever. Did I mention never, ever already? N-E-V-E-R. Everyone points out how bad her feet and her form are from the moment of audition onward. An instructor goes so far as to ask, “Who let that disaster in here?” Jody bumps into several other students during practice and has to have her stance corrected multiple times. Her form’s way off, so what got her in? In the simplest of terms, Jody is pretty. Throughout the film, multiple characters make mention that they can’t stop looking at her. This is not realistic. Her getting into a major dance school with terrible feet and poor form just wouldn’t happen because there are so many dancers out there that have the form already. Dance is a real bitch in terms of its competitiveness, and when you have a massive pool of extraordinary dancers, you don’t go with the mediocre one because she looks nice. Amanda Schull is quite lovely, and manages to nail the doe-eyed, naive young dancer look well, but beyond that, the film makes a ham-fisted point of letting the audience know that her dancing leaves a lot to be desired. It’s almost like writer Carol Heikkinen patted us on the head and said, “Just look at her. It’ll all work out in the end.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for scoping out a pretty blonde, but damn was this an unrealistic plot point.
From here, the expectations of reality just get thrown out the window, particularly in terms of the dancing. Jody struggles throughout the school year, then magically dances her heart out with amazing form at the workshop? Really? How am I supposed to buy that? True, there’s always the power of positive thinking, but there’s no way in hell she’d be that fantastic and confident in a short time span, especially as the choreographer pointed out that she was still messing up in rehearsals the previous week. Then again, she was dancing in a ballet that featured the music of Michael Jackson, so maybe my expectations were far too high. Speaking of ballets with odd soundtracks, why in the hell are they dancing to Jamiroquai? I love “Canned Heat,” but JESUS was that weird for ballet, which is so seeped in tradition that it’s hard for any change to occur. While we’re on that dance sequence, how the fuck did Jody manage to get a new costume, hair style and makeup (right down to the bright red ballet slippers!) instantaneously in front of an audience? There is no logic on this Earth that explains how that would happen, and yet it does. Just like there’s no logic that Eva suddenly picks up Maureen’s part and nails it without having practiced it. Does anyone else smell burning toast? Because the jumps in this one may be giving me a stroke.
|No. Way. In. HELL.
One last point of contention (I promise): Eric got a spot in the company despite his sprained ankle and lack of performance in the workshop. No. No. No. That’s a whole lot of nope right there. He would not have gotten in. Someone else would have gotten his spot. This would not have happened.
So why in the hell do I keep watching this? The only explanation I can come up with is the dance component and the sheer element of surprise.
Ballet is beautiful. While not a dancer myself, I’ve known enough dancers to the point that I can appreciate the way that dancers condition their bodies to perform in a manner that is both precise and fluid. It doesn’t look like work at all, yet if I were to try it myself, I’d probably be crying on the floor and whining that my feet hurt (and my back, and my knees, and my stomach…). The bulk of the cast in this film were dancers by trade, and that showed. I can watch ballet with sheer awe because the art form is moving. Particularly en pointe dancing. I’m the person that will watch the documentary First Position on the edge of my seat( (which, if you have not seen it yet, you need to run and watch it). It moves me. So yes, I can answer that I’m willing to overlook poor line delivery in favor of a pirouette. Ballet does that for me.
|I will freely admit to the awe of this.
The other factor is the element of surprise: I’m shocked that Heikkinen wrote characters that were so flat and placed them into situations that would never happen. A black inner-city ballerina that would really weigh working at Hooter’s over going to an elite ballet academy? A good-looking pre-med student that falls for someone who has no personality (wait, that one might not be so unbelievable…)? The high school-aged dancer that sleeps with a famous dancer and gets cast as the lead in his workshop despite not being a very good dancer? The straight male ballet dancer with a heart of gold that waits patiently for his crush to come back to him, forsaking all others in her absence? Has Heikkinen ever MET a male dancer?! Those guys are straight more often than not and get more ass than a toilet seat. But I digress. Point is that everyone is a caricature. Half the fun is guessing where they’re going to go and laughing when they arrive at that destination. It’s predictable. And for some reason, between the sheer ridiculousness of the plot and the poor acting performances, you can’t tear your eyes away.
I’m not particularly proud of watching this, let alone liking it. I often joke that some films are way more guilt than they are pleasure. This is one of them. However, I will own up to watching it and enjoying it. Even if it’s not realistic, even if it’s not good by a long shot, it has dancing without the singing, and that makes it okay by me.