lizbee: Three white, slim teenage ballerinas (DA: The Girls)
[personal profile] lizbee
I saw this a few weeks ago, at a preview screening attended by executive producer Joanna Werner. I did a "spoiler-lite" review at No Award, that basically gives away where everyone is at the movie's start, including that SPOILER and SPOILER are talking about SPOILERING together. But I've been sitting on everything more substantial since then, and I need to get some stuff out.



A Straight-Up Summary of the Plot

From my No Award review:

The movie opens with Tara, in voiceover, outlining her experiences at the Academy, and the accident which has seemingly ended her dance career. She’s at university, and this autobiographical account is being workshopped in a tutorial.

The other students aren’t impressed.

“Talk about entitled,” one says, and goes on to spout the criticisms of Tara that tend to end up on Tumblr: that she’s a Mary Sue, that the narrative hands her everything she wants without making her work for it, the predictability of the love triangles.

That was when I knew I would love this movie, because it’s as clever and self-aware as the series.


Eighteen months after the series ended -- which is to say, a year and a half after the opening of the Sammy Lieberman Studio, which was in turn eight months after Company auditions -- Tara is sort of drifting. She's at uni; she's working as a catering assistant at the Opera House, but her attention tends to be on the live feed from the stage, which enables her to watch Abigail in the corps -- Abigail is on the verge of getting a solo, and Tara's delighted for her; she's technically sharing a place with Abigail, but actually spends most nights at Christian's studio apartment with Harbour views.

(How does Christian afford such a space? My theory is that he charges people to watch him brush his luscious shoulder-length hair, but mostly I assume it's the same magic that puts all iconic Sydney locations within a five minute walk of each other.)

OH YES, Tara and Christian are together, and he wants her to move in with him. I WAS SO HAPPY, YOU GUYS, YET SO AFRAID IT WOULDN'T LAST AND TARA WOULD END UP WITH BEN.

(We don't actually see Tara and Christian in bed together, and I think this is a deliberate omission.)

Tara is also in the process of suing the Company (and, by extension, the Academy) for negligence in causing the injuries that ended her dance career. The Company is saying that Tara wouldn't have passed her audition, which means she hasn't lost income from her injuries, but Miss Raine has given video evidence from Houston saying that Tara could have been the dancer of her generation.

Working a shift at the Opera House, Tara encounters Madeline Moncur, the new creative director of the National Ballet. They discuss Tara's injury, and Madeline tells a TRULY HORRIFYING story about breaking her hip on stage, and getting the surgeon to set it with a better turnout.

And she invites Tara to audition again.

Me, Not A Lawyer But A Legal Assistant Who Follows These Things: THIS IS TRULY SKETCHY.

Tara: *agrees to stop suing the Company so she can audition*
Me: TARA I KNOW YOU ARE THE QUEEN OF VERY BAD CHOICES, BUT THIS IS YOUR WORST EVER

Christian, for what it's worth, totally agrees, although he's torn between wanting to support Tara, and fear that she'll injure herself again.

But Tara persuades him and Abigail to train her (Abigail: "Well of COURSE the whole universe will bend the rules for Tara, what did I expect?") and we get a training montage that covers about four months and many delightful moments of Life Coach Abigail (aka The Best Abigail).

The montage also sets up Tara's Problem: whenever she does ... you know, that thing where she leans forward and raises her leg really, really high, she flashes back to the night of her audition, when she fell and broke her back.

This is a very nice visual cue for the longtime fan, since it's the move Saskia was pushing her to do when she broke her back the first time (hashtag Tara), and aside from a glancing reference to an incompetent teacher, we don't actually have any mention of Saskia herself. Which is a shame, since actress Brooke Harman is married to the director, but, you know.

Audition time comes, essentially a bunch of wannabes attaching themselves to a regular Company class. Tara meets another aspiring Company dancer, a young woman who gushes over Tara's performance as Victoria at the Prix.

"Oh, were you competing?" Tara asks.

"Are you crazy, I was twelve," the dancer says.

Professional dance: Tara can't be much more than twenty, and she's already aging out.

Aaaand she fails the audition. She dances well, but those flashbacks are still there ... and who knows, maybe Madeline just offered it as a carrot to induce Tara to drop her suit HAVE I MENTIONED HOW SKETCHY THAT IS?

Tara is not devastated, but determined. Kat has offered to fly her to New York, where she is the star of a successful (and terrible) kids series, and Tara's going to use that time to audition for every single dance company in the city.

Christian: STILL TORN BETWEEN SUPPORT AND CONCERN, ALSO UNABLE TO ARTICULATE THIS BECAUSE HASHTAG CHRISTIAN

New York! We reunite with Kat and cover every major landmark they could squeeze into a week of shooting! All to a Taylor Swift song, because the one major failing of this film is its soundtrack, which is largely forgettable and not a patch on the TV soundtracks and their assemblage of Australian alt-pop! It's not even an exciting Taylor Swift song!

Anyway, Kat is doing incredibly well, which only exacerbates Tara's need to succeed. But maybe, if Tara had been a little less self-absorbed (not a criticism, this is totally realistic) she would have seen how a lot of Kat's happiness is wound up in her Social Butterfly/Manic Pixie Dream Party Girl persona -- she's obsessed with her social media presence, and is thinking of pursuing her hot co-star romantically, which will be popular with fans AND, she hopes, increase her profile. Basically, she wants to fame her way into a major movie -- typical Kat, she's all about the shortcuts.

(Hot Co-Star is Xav, played by Australian actor Nic Westaway. Apparently he's in Home & Away? He is on the posters, which reflects some nice work on his agent's part, because he has a very small role and a terrible American accent.)

Tara hits the audition circuit, where she runs across Ollie. They never interacted much in the show, but they bond here over being ... well, basically the only members of their group who aren't where they thought they'd be. Ollie left the company for a musical career in London, only that didn't pan out, and now he's in New York, attempting to network but coming across as kind of desperate.

He shows Tara the ropes, and she briefly attracts the attention of a spotter (?) for the Metropolitan Ballet ... except, you know, the flashbacks.

We hit another montage: Kat watching with concern as Tara more or less climbs out of bed every morning, barely able to walk, then Tara and Ollie auditioning by day and basically acting as Kat's entourage by night. There's a bit where Ollie sings the theme song from the TV series and it's even more excruciating than you can imagine.

It falls apart at a nightclub, where Kat has gone to network, and Xav makes a crack about Tara leeching off Kat. The girls argue, and Kat's facade cracks when Tara implies that Kat got where she is via luck, not talent. I mean, way to hit a sore spot, Tara.

Tara wanders off, crying, and that's when Christian calls ... to break up with her. Because, well, he can't see her hurting herself like this, but he doesn't want to be the guy who stops his girlfriend from pursuing his dreams, so they've hit a wall and he's setting that boundary.

But he's not a word guy, so it doesn't come out quite that well. Tara returns to Kat's penthouse, packs up her stuff, and boards a Greyhound for Houston, which bears a passing resemblance to New South Wales.

OH YEAH, I totally forgot (because Ben): early in the movie, Ben and Tara are skyping, and they seem to do it regularly, but at some point, he's more or less gone off the grid, stopped replying to anyone's messages or updating his social media.

Tara arrives at -- look, I can't call her Miss Raine anymore -- Tara arrives at the home Lucy shares with new husband Marcus, and discovers that Ben is living with them. Because -- is this even a spoiler? -- his leukaemia returned. His treatment has just finished, but now he's at the stage of watching and waiting to see if it's worked. He can't dance, and is presumably heavily in debt to the Texan health system or something.

And finally, Tara has a friend who really gets it -- the frustration of wanting and needing to express oneself through dance, yet being physically unable to. She's rather stiff around Lucy, whom she subconsciously blames for promising that her first Company audition would be fine, but she and Ben connect at once.

("They are totally doing it," Marcus tells Lucy.)

And Ben suggests, well, if she can't get into any companies, why don't they start their own company? And enter themselves in the festival about to take place in New York, where the National Ballet will be performing Madeline's avant garde new ballet at a gala? It's a revenge fantasy, they decide, where they come and dance, and the Company begs Tara to join them.

So they begin choreography -- starting with Persephone, the piece Tara used for her fateful audition. But Ben points out that the whole Persephone and Hades myth is SUPER skeevy and gross -- FINALLY, SOMEONE POINTS IT OUT -- so they create a new interpretation, and learn to work around their physical limitations, and become a real team.

Right up until Lucy finds out about it, because ... well, Ben called their dance collective "Benstara" BECAUSE OF COURSE HE DID, so she unthinkingly opened the letter offering them a place in the New York festival. And then we're back to the argument about health versus dance. Lucy makes the point that, for most of her life, dance was the only thing that mattered, and now she has more, and her life is richer for it. And Ben's health really is fragile right now, and if he overexerts himself, the consequences could be severe.

But Ben is an adult, and can make his own choices, and he says this is worth the risk. So they're back on the Greyhound to New York. But not before Lucy gives Tara some extremely foreshadowy advice about Ben's health.

New York! Central Park! Ben and Tara dance in a rotunda with some nice old people, then they dance together, and then Tara kisses him!

Audience: *cheers*
Me: *vomits in my mouth a little*

FORTUNATELY, Ben is like, "WTF, Tara, you know I care about you, but you and Christian are endgame OTP."

And Tara is all, "I have no idea what those words mean."

BASICALLY, Ben thinks Tara was kissing him because she felt sorry for him -- the words "pity pash" were used -- and Tara says, no, she is genuinely attracted to him, and Ben is like, NOPE, not going there. There might have been more, I tuned out to admire Tara's dress. Ben has grown a lot by this point, and he's a lot more likeable and much less toxic masculinity in tights, but I do have my limits.

With Ollie in tow as their technical guy, the Benstara collective gets through their early performances -- one of which is attended by Madeline Moncur at Tara's invitation. And, because #Tara, the revenge fantasy comes true, and she offers Tara a place in the Company right then and there.

In FACT, what she says is that she needs a warm body, and when Tara arrives at the studio, she realises just how true that is. Abigail is practically the only Company dancer still walking -- she dismisses the suggestions that Madeline's choreography is dangerously demanding, but it does seem like an abnormally high injury rate.

But everything seems to be going fine -- Benstara are performing twice a day with Ollie in Tara's role ("Bit of homoeroticism!" says Ben) and garnering praise, while Tara is doing well with the Company.

Until, of course, everything goes wrong:

- Abigail falls on stage
- leading Madeline to order her to teach her solo to Tara
- nude photos of Kat are leaked online, causing a massive scandal
- Tara calls Christian to tell him she misses him, and he completely fails to use any meaningful words whatsoever because #Christian
- Ben collapses and winds up in the ICU

Of COURSE, this is where everyone comes together. Tara abandons the Company -- and calls Madeline out for the audition-carrot, I CANNOT BELIEVE THE COMPANY'S LAWYERS ALLOWED THAT -- and reunites with ...

...Christian, who also desperately missed Tara, and being incapable of meaningful verbal expression, flew to New York to be with her. YAY! MY OTP IS TOGETHER FOREVER!

Audience: *boos*
Me: WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE? WERE YOU RAISED IN BARNS?

And everyone comes together around Ben's bedside, and in this moment, truths come out:

- Kat leaked the photos herself, thinking it would make her image more edgy and appealing to major movie producers, only she underestimated the fallout and now her show is on hold
- Abigail isn't happy in the Company; she's afraid of spending her career in second place to more talented dancers
- Christian loves Tara and wants her to be happy and also not in constant pain
- Ben says it was totally worth it to dance
- Ollie has really loved dancing with Benstara

And Tara's big revelation, which is as amazing and surprising to herself as to everyone else: she can't be a dancer anymore. She is physically unable to sustain a career. But she has found fulfilment with Benstara, and this is what she wants to be: the creative director and choreographer for an independent dance company full of her friends.

And so comes the night of the gala, and the National Ballet's difficult, futuristic ballet. Which is followed by Ben and Tara's dance, only neither of them are on stage.

Instead, Ben's role is taken by Ollie -- and Tara's by Abigail, because -- as she says when Abigail starts asking technical questions -- this might be Tara's story, but Abigail was born to dance it.

Excuse me, I just came over all teary.

Christian and Tara watch from the tech booth, and Christian smiles as Tara says, "Cue snow", because fake snow is important in their relationship, and that was when I started crying EVEN MORE.

And Ben and Kat watch from hospital, and then they hook up, because ... I dunno, of course? I have trouble seeing Kat as anything but demi-romantic and asexual, so I don't see that lasting, but it does make sense that they'd try. I mean, just about everyone else has hooked up.

(Except Abigail and Christian, that would be TOO amazing.)

And then we return to Sydney, where Kat is studying acting, and the collective -- Abigail, Ben and Ollie -- is using the Sammy Leiberman Studio to rehearse their next piece, which Tara promises will be amazing.

THE END

The Bit Where I Have Thoughts

Weeks and weeks ago, I read an article about the dearth of female choreographers in the world, and I realised that my ideal ending for Tara would be for her to pursue choreography after realising her injuries would prevent her from dancing. But that seemed quite improbable -- Dance Academy has given us a whole lot of male choreographers and only one woman -- so I didn't even express my ideal ending out loud.

AND THEN I GOT IT. And it pleases me greatly -- I want lots of fic about securing grant money, and road trips to Melbourne to perform at White Night, and competing with Ethan and Impressione. I'M JUST SO HAPPY.

For me, the main question arising out of the movie is: just what has been happening at the Company? When the series ends, Rebecca is in charge, and moving the company in a more modern direction. Now, eighteen months later, Madeline is the new creative director, and is even more radical in her approach.

What happened to Rebecca? Internal politics? Was she used as an interim director to soften up the ground ahead of Madeline? Where is she now?

(My headcanon is that Ollie left not long after Rebecca -- they respected each other, whereas I don't see him getting along with Madeline.)

And what on earth is the National Ballet's legal team smoking?

But that's all what the Avatar creators call Trade Federation stuff -- dry, nitty gritty worldbuilding that the majority of the audience don't care about, and that doesn't add much to the story. I'm dwelling on those questions because I'm so happy with the movie.

I mean, it's not perfect -- the soundtrack really is very dull, and Christian's whole arc is pretty limited. That makes sense if you've seen the series, which really brings his story to a good place, but I think if I was watching the movie cold, I'd be asking why Tara is into this moody, unexpressive guy. Aside, of course, from his studio apartment and amazing hair.

I'm also not sure how well Kat's story works if you don't know her -- it's perfectly in character for her to think that leaked nudes are an amazing shortcut to fame, and not, say, a terrible violation AND effectively an end to her career on kids TV. But without her context, it comes off a bit weird.

And, of course, it doesn't have enough Abigail. (Literally in the middle of a Houston scene, I found myself thinking, "Where's Abigail? I miss her.") But nothing does.

But I loved it. Especially its handling of injury and disability, and Tara's slow, reluctant realisation that, even though she is not disabled per se, her body now has limitations she can't fight, and she has to find a new way to express herself.

(Uhhhhhh, if you find, say, the sound of bones snapping upsetting or even triggery? This may not be the movie for you. I had barely recovered from Madeline's horrible hip story when we were into Tara's PTSD, and there's a scene where I think a character just reaches down and dislocates her own toe? I can't give you more information than that because I was hiding my face in my hands. This is the number one reason I'm slightly hesitant to see the movie again. I'll probably go, but I'll need a stress ball to hold onto.)

(Yes, I have a Thing about foot bone injuries. And I knew that going into a series ABOUT BALLET. You should see me trying to read Chinese history. Did you know that at one point, French ballerinas practised foot binding? I wish I didn't!)

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