Learning to Dance
Film Review: “Work It”
A family fun charmer about a clumsy high school nerd who discovers her best side through an unexpected leap into the world of hip-hop dance competitions.
Decades ago, dance-themed movies such as Fame, Flashdance, and Footloose set in motion a collective love affair with the genre, in particular the beginner trope, about the neophyte whose entry to the world of dance awakens a sensual side that had previously remained dormant. The newest addition to the category is the clever and buoyant, Work It, starring teen pop singer, Sabrina Carpenter as disciplined brainiac Quinn Ackerman, who realizes that her perfect high school resume might not be enough to get her into her dream college, Duke University. It seems she’s missing that one credential that will make her stand out from the pack of equally high achieving students: Passion. Quinn’s best friend and the ying to her yang is Jasmine, aka Jazz (in a winning performance by YouTube sensation Liza Koshy) who dances with the school’s nationally renowned hip-hop group, The Thunderbirds. When Quinn realizes the only way she can distinguish herself (to the admissions rep at Duke) is to actually form her own hip-hop team, she enlists the help of Jazz to literally teach her to retrain her two left feet and learn how to dance. Oh, and of course they need to find and recruit the “diamonds in the rough” to join this motley crew in time to prepare for the annual Work It competition in a mere 5 months. All that’s left is to find a brilliant choreographer to shape these mismatched kids into a cohesive and polished team ready to take on the illustrious Thunderbirds. Quinn tracks down local legend, Jake Turner (played by Jordan Fisher of Dancing With The Stars fame), whose stellar career path was abruptly altered by an injury, in the hopes she can convince him to take on the challenge.
With time running out before the big competition, Quinn finds herself becoming increasingly enamored by the dance experience itself — to her complete surprise — so much so that her once infallible grade point average has started to dip precariously below the high honors standard she’s always maintained. As well, she finds a romantic chemistry with Jake that has awakened a hidden side to her otherwise controlled nature, causing friction at home with her single Mom, who’s set her entire dreams on her daughter’s brilliant future.
The dance numbers are exciting and playful, making good use of outdoor spaces becoming impromptu stages for lessons and exhibitions. And through it all, we see the very real friendship between Quinn and Jazz evolve through some challenging moments but in the end remain rock solid in their commitment and support of each other.
Work It doesn’t pretend to be the next great dance movie of all time. Its charm rests in a few simple themes having to do with Friendship, Loyalty and Passion. So it should come as no surprise that musical superstar and all-around humanist, Alicia Keys produced the film, along with Leslie Morgenstein and Elysa Koplovitz Dutton.
Work It is a late-summer family film that will appeal to all ages, thanks to its breezy pace, invigorating dance numbers and a script rich in verbal barbs as well as earnest sentiment. The message is clear: the key to success is to dance to the beat of your own heart. And sometimes you need a good teacher to show you the steps.
Work It is presently streaming on Netflix.
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