Guilty Pleasure No. 2: Save The Last Dance (dir by Thomas Carter)


When Arleigh posted his pick for the first guilty pleasure review here on the Shattered Lens, it made me think about just what exactly constitutes a guilty pleasure.

I’ve always been very much of the belief that you should never feel guilty about feeling  pleasure.  Of course, speaking as someone who was raised Catholic, I can tell you that’s a lot easier said than done.  However, I’ve always been the type who can find something to love in just about any film (with the exception of Avatar).  I’ve never felt any sort of guilt about the fact that I can both love a film like Citizen Kane and a film like Confessions of a Go-Go Girl.  If anything, I take a lot of pride in the fact that I can see the value of a film like Confessions of a Go-Go Girl.  

What, I wondered, could I possibly write about?

And that’s when I remembered Save The Last Dance.

Released in 2001 and produced by MTV films, Save the Last Dance tells the story of Sara (played by Julia Stiles), a high school dance student who fails her audition for Juilliard on the same day that her mother is killed in a car accident.  The guilt-stricken Sara gives up on ballet, moves in with her estranged father, and transfers to an urban high school in Chicago.

Sara is literally the only white girl in the entire school but still manages to befriend Chenille (Kerry Washington), who takes her to a club where she meets Chenille’s brother, Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas).  Despite the disapproval of apparently everyone else in Chicago, Sara and Derek start dating.  Derek encourages Sara to try out for Juilliard again but, as the date of Sara’s audition approaches, Derek finds himself pressured to take part in a drive-by shooting.

When Save The Last Dance first came out, I was a 15 year-old ballet student whose life pretty much was all about dancing..  I went to the movie with some friends from dance class and I have to admit that we were pretty catty in the way that only dancers can be.  Our lives, after all, revolved around dance and we weren’t about to cut Julia Stiles any slack just because she spent four months taking ballet lessons before making Save The Last Dance.  While the rest of the audience was content to enjoy Save The Last Dance for what it was, we fixated on how awkward Julia looked during her second audition for Juilliard.  We commented on how nervous her eyes looked whenever she was dancing and how she really didn’t have a dancer’s body.

As one of my friends put it, “There’s no way she would have gotten into Juilliard,” as if Save The Last Dance was meant to be a documentary about ballet as opposed to a teen romance film.

But you know what?

Though I never admitted it to my dance friends, I enjoyed Save The Last Dance  when I first saw it and I still enjoy it today.  Yes, it is obvious that Julia Stiles was not a trained ballet dancer and yes, the film’s look at race relations is more than a little bit idealized but so what?  Sean Patrick Thomas is hot,  the club scenes are fun (and Julia Stiles is more believable as a club dancer than as a ballerina), and director Thomas Carter is appropriately shameless when it comes to manipulating our emotions.  When I watch  this film now, instead of being critical of the film’s unrealistic portrayal of the dancer’s life, I instead see it as a dramatization of every girl’s ideal fantasy.  Like the best fantasies, Save The Last Dance tells us that — if you just believe — you can have it all: hip friends to protect you, a hot guy to love you, and a second chance to go to Juilliard.

Or as Derek says to Sara, “You can do it. Sara, you were born to do it.”

(Incidentally, if not for a memorable supporting character in Save The Last Dance, a New Jersey girl named Nicole Polizzi would never have been nicknamed Snookie.  So there’s that, as well.)

And so, with this post, allow me to officially announce to the world: I love Save The Last Dance and I am not ashamed!

To quote the tagline from Save The Last Dance’s theatrical poster, “The only person you need to be is yourself.”

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11 responses to “Guilty Pleasure No. 2: Save The Last Dance (dir by Thomas Carter)

  1. So you’re saying that Save the Last Dance is actually responsible for Snooki? Burn the film! Burn the negatives! Burn the director and casting director!

  2. I don’t believe in the term “guilty pleasure”, either. If you tell people that you have a guilty pleasure, then you’re not guilty enough about it for it to qualify as a “guilty pleasure”. If it’s dredging up deep feelings of stomach-churning guilt from the pits of your soul, then it’s not a pleasure of any sort. “Guilty pleasures” don’t really exist.

  3. Definition of guilty pleasure: noun – something, such as a film, television programme, or piece of music, that one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard: “everybody has a guilty pleasure—for me, it has to be mid 70s disco”.

    [as modifier]: the average disaster movie falls into the ‘guilty pleasure’ category

  4. Mid-70s disco IS held in high regard.

    Perhaps a little too much so.

    If you classify ABBA as mid-70s disco, absolutely, it’s way overrated. It’s one of those things that is considered to be a “guilty pleasure”, yet an astronomical number of people really dig them. Go figure.

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