Monday, May 25, 2009

Monday Movie Review: Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School

Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School (2005) 9/10
On an isolated road, Frank (Robert Carlyle) comes across a devastating car accident. He calls 911 and waits with Steve (John Goodman). Since the dispatcher told him to keep the victim talking, Frank learns that Steve was on his way to the Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School for a fated meeting.

When I first saw an ad for this movie, it looked interesting. Then I saw terrible reviews: 22% on RottenTomatoes, 2 stars from Ebert, and I passed.

Well, the other night Arthur and I saw a preview for it, and it just looked so charming, so I took a chance, and my oh my I'm glad I did.


The movie follows three paths; Frank and Steve by the roadside, and then in the ambulance, Steve's childhood, during which he attended the titular school, and Frank's life following his encounter with Steve. The tone is poignant, sad, wistful, and fantastical. There's something of the fable in this story, something as if Frank has gone down the rabbit hole, and the Red Queen is Marilyn's daughter (Mary Steenburgen), still teaching dance as if forty years had not passed since Steve's fond memories of his childhood.

Steve wants to meet the girl he loved when he was twelve years old; the girl he promised to meet at the dance school on this day. Certain of the rightness of this reunion, he crashes on the way, and presses his ticket onto Frank to go in his stead, and tell Lisa he tried to make it. Everyone in this story lives atop a terrible pain; Steve alludes to a dark choice made long ago, Frank attends a widower's therapy group where no one seems to be getting much better, Miss Hotchkiss's daughter pretends her mother had not been dead for thirty years, and on and on.

In this fable, everyone can either carry a burden or put it down. Everyone can change or stay the same, and dance is the means by which they will discover what to choose. It is tender and sentimental, but not corny, and it is populated by wonderful characters: Meredith (Marisa Tomei), her lunatic companion Randall (Donnie Wahlberg), Gabe (Adam Arkin) who is full of anger at his late wife, and really, a host of familiar character actors who make the action light and funny and charming.

Some movies are fables. They are not meant to be closely examined for what really would have happened. They are magical tales, and the qualities of a musical (although this really isn't a musical) are there to clue you into the fantastical elements, so that you won't be too bound up by the need for veracity. Still, some people are going to hate that sort of thing. I'm not one of them.

The original 1990 short film, concerned only with the school as it was in 1962, is included on the DVD.

(Deborah Lipp's Blog of Movie Review & Cross-post)