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MAD HOT BALLROOM (PG) (2005)

Paramount Classics

Official Site

Director: Marilyn Agrelo

Producers: Marilyn Agrelo, Amy Sewell

Cast: 5th grade students and teachers of various NYC public schools

Rating:


Fantastic dancing, superb soundtrack, uplifting events—why am I not more enthralled by Mad Hot Ballroom? Well perhaps part of the trouble can be attributed to lazy filmmaking. Mad Hot Ballroom takes place over the course of one school term, during which several fifth-graders take their required ballroom dance class. The students learn rumba, tango, merengue, foxtrot, and swing. Adept practitioners earn the opportunity to compete in an all-city dance-off for a great big trophy and terpsichorean glory.

I have to wonder what was left on the cutting room floor after watching this skeleton of a documentary. Yes, the kids are cute and some of the teachers are passionate about their charges, but where’s the story? It’s like watching an extra-long TV news feature. For example, I keep hearing adults talk about how the ballroom dancing program has changed this kid or that kid—one teacher even chokes up about it—but you can’t prove it by anything you see on the screen. Since the filming took place over the course of six weeks, there should’ve been ample opportunity for the filmmaker to show us a few changes instead of showing us adults talking about changes. Furthermore, the film focuses on a school in a “disadvantaged” neighborhood, one in a working class neighborhood, and one in more upscale Tribeca. The Tribeca teachers don’t seem to have so much to say about the program’s beneficial effects on their students. What did these Tribeca kids get out of it? We never find out.

As a documentary fan, I have to rejoice that there’s more product, yet I also have to lament the unavoidable consequence—more second-rate product. Hewing closely to the template of Spellbound, Mad Hot Ballroom gives us cute kids, some of whose idiosyncracies seize the audience, and competition, with the attendant guaranteed disappointment for some. What it lacks is a story to hitch its wagon to, and any soupcon of suspense. Now everyone can’t be the mad hot editor that Yana Gorskaya (Spellbound) is, I know. But the lazy-ass editing here seems to have consisted of finding the best dance footage and calling it a day. This with a runtime of nearly two hours. Surely director Agrelo could’ve sacrificed a few scenes of fancy footwork for some before-and-after with these kids.

Still, I’m giving this three stars... barely. Why? Because a bunch of youngsters shaking their booties, in a very classy way of course, is nigh unto irresistible. Because ballroom dance is cool to watch. Because it is a PG movie that doesn’t insult your intelligence. Because it’s summer, it’s hot, and you could go further and do worse than chillin’ in an air-conditioned theater with pretty pictures and cool music. Just don’t expect much more.

—Roxanne Bogucka

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



none now
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