Guys, I never thought this day would come. After almost three years of agony and anticipation, the Dance Academy movie has finally arrived in the U.S., and I'VE SEEN IT. THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING.
The rest of this post contains spoilers, so if you haven't watched the movie yet... honestly, I'm not sure why you're reading this post? Because if you were a swimfan of the show, you'd be thinking, "Posh, of course I've watched it, and honestly, this review is coming a little late, don't you think? The film's been available for three whole days. What have you been doing?!" I don't know! I'm sorry! And before you mention it, yes, I realize I still owe you the recap of the last two episodes of season three, and yes, my priorities are totally out of whack and yes, I should really just quit my job and focus on
becoming Dena Kaplan's bestie all things Dance Academy full time, BRB gotta set up a GoFundMe page.
So, let's talk about the movie! Which is a thing that is available! And that I have watched!
It's been about a year and a half since Tara broke her back (again, jeezus) auditioning for the National Ballet Company, and as much as she's tried to bury her dream of dancing, it's still burning inside of her. The film cleverly catches the audience up on backstory by having Tara workshop a short story about her time at the Academy, and hilariously the members of that writing class are none too impressed. Referring to Christian, one student says, "She has a boyfriend who is essentially Edward Cullen in tights."
Tara works at the bar of the Academy theater (because apparently she's trying to torture herself as much as possible) while living with Abigail, who dances in the Company. I am SO glad that the movie doesn't eff with that friendship because it is the wind beneath my wings. Oh, and Tara and Christian are together! Anyone else fist pump when Christian first appeared, busting those sweet hip hop moves we've missed so much? Christian still teaches at the dance center for kids that he co-founded with Sammy's dad. There's a shot of Sweet Angel in Heaven Sammy's picture framed on the wall just in case you needed a punch in the gut today.
The artistic director of the Company, Madeline Moncur (Miranda Otto), spots Tara at the bar and encourages her to reaudition for the Company now that her back is officially healed. Conveniently, this would mean that Tara would drop her lawsuit against the Academy (for her injury and loss of career), so of course Tara does, even though I was shouting "ONE MILLION DOLLARS, TARA. WHAT ARE YOU DOING," and you know it wouldn't be Dance Academy without me yelling at Tara to look at her choices.
Even with coaching help from Christian and Abigail, Tara doesn't make the cut, and she decides to head to New York to see if she can get a contract with a company there. Fortunately for her, she can share a room at the Plaza Hotel with Kat, who is basically a Disney star ("D-List, possibly approaching a C-list") in the role of Belle the Teen Fairy. Kat is a leeeetle too into her social media status and her douchebag of a costar/boyfriend, but damn, girlfriend looks good! Tara runs into Ollie at a studio, and dude is hustling with all of his might to get a gig. Neither of them seem to make progress, and after a fight with Kat AND a phone call from Christian in which he dumps her (whaaaaaa), Tara decides to head to Austin (WHAT) to hang out with Miss Raine (who looks GREAT, and is still married to Marcus, yay!) and the Benster (the star of the Austin Ballet).
Once she arrives in "Austin" (clearly not Austin), Tara discovers that Ben's leukemia has returned with a vengeance. He undergoes transplant surgery, but he needs time to recover, though he can't resist dance sessions with Tara in Miss Raine's gorgeous barn studio. They decide to choreograph a reimagined Persephone dance together and submit it under the name Benstara (Ben's idea, obvs) to the New York Ballet Festival, which accepts it! Miss Rain is super worried about Ben's recovery, but he and Tara head to the Big Apple and end up kissing in Central Park in a super sweet, poignant scene.
At the Festival rehearsal (audition?), Tara and Ben rock their number (with Ollie providing some snow) but can anyone tell me why there appeared to be a homeless lady in the theater? I even did that cartoon eye rubbing gesture, yet she was still there. ANYWAY. Madeline happens to be at the theater and asks Tara to join the Company on tour, which includes Abigail as a soloist. Tara agrees, but once she arrives, she discovers the reality of her dream: relentless practice, brutal pain and a ruthless director in Madeline. Plus, this dance does not look fun AT ALL.
Things really start to go downhill when Abigail falls during a performance and is replaced, followed by nude photos of Kat leaking online and Ben ENDING UP IN THE HOSPITAL OHMIGOD NO NO NO YOU CANNOT KILL BEN, MOVIE. YOU CANNOT. I will NOT ALLOW IT. Tara leaves a performance and rushes to Ben's bedside. Kat and Abigail soon arrive as well, and it's so good to see these three girls together again, even under these TERRIBLE CIRCUMSTANCES.
Tara decides to quit the Company, because she's realized she doesn't want to be a dancer anymore, and who should show up in NYC but Christiaaaaaan!! They kiss as the camera swirls around them and all is right with the world.
For the Benstara festival performance, Tara decides to remain backstage as the director and gives her part to Abigail. "She was never meant to be me, and I love that she's you." C-R-Y-I-N-G. It's a beautiful performance and reminds me that I wish there had been even more dance numbers in this film, because the cast is so freaking talented.
The film ends where it all started: in Sydney, with the whole crew working and dancing together in Christian's studio. Ben and Tara have founded their own company with their favorite dancers--Christian, Kat, Abigail and Ollie--and if your heart didn't swell at this very happy ending, you're a monster.
Bravura (What I Loved)
The Reality of Dreams
With this film, writer (and creator) Samantha Strauss explored the reality of the dreams that fueled the TV series, and it felt like a natural extension of the show rather than a tacked-on "The College Years" situation. All of the main characters discover that this life they fantasized about for years turned out to be an empty shell of their hopes, and that made for some compelling cinema, particularly surrounding Ben's hospitalization. "Ben's in there because we're all obsessed with doing this thing that doesn't even matter," says Tara, and when she and Abigail talk about the relief that stems from an injury, there is such devastating sadness there. "Everything hurts, every day," Abigail laments to Tara. "And I know I'll never be as good as you are." It's heartbreaking, and the ugliness of a ballet career hinted at by the TV series is on full, brutal display, especially since Tara and co. are no longer the young ones (I cringed so hard when the girl who beat out Tara told her that as a kid, she'd seen Tara perform). It's not just ballet, either. Ollie auditioning in short shorts and green suspenders for a "sexy" Leprechaun show; Kat leaking her own nude pics just to try to get an edgy film role--everyone is so desperate to find success that they've lost sight of themselves. It's a powerful theme that lends the film a fair amount of weight and substance.
I mean, obviously. While she should have been in every single scene, our girl got some great moments, including:
- When she makes space for Tara at the barre by scaring another girl away. "Look at my face. I'm serious." GIF PLEASE.
- When she welcomes Tara to the Company: "You're like a cockroach that can't be squashed."
With that said, this movie could have used 100% more Abigail snark.
WHAT A SWEETHEART. With the exception of becoming more mature (which is good), Ben hasn't changed since the series ended; prime example, his Skype handle is Benster1. Another thing that remains the same? Tara not deserving him. At all. My fave Benster moments:
- Ben wearing that "I Heart NY" shirt and a Statue of Liberty foam crown. SO CUTE.
- Ben to Kat as he's lying in the hospital bed: "I'm not a dying hero in a John Green novel."
- Ben and Ollie deciding to do the Persephone routine together!!!! Except we didn't get to see it which is RUDE, movie. VERY RUDE.
Watching everyone together in that hospital room (Miss Raine won the day with her comment to Kat: "Glad to see you with clothes on, Katrina.") made me ridiculously happy, but it was WAY too short. The magic of the TV show was the chemistry of the group--the warmth and the humor and the energy of their comraderie--and the movie really skimped out on that. While I'm glad the film wasn't just pure fan service (I'm looking at you, Veronica Mars movie), I wouldn't have minded if we had a little more time with the crew back in Sydney. Like, is it too much to ask for a group dance number?
The End Credits
The childhood dance photos! The childhood dance VIDEOS!!! Dena Kaplan's little costume and facial expression and just everything Dena Kaplan forever and ever amen.
Sprained Ankle (Things I Didn't Love)
It PAINS me to say this, because Christian is my bae. But his storyline was so undeserving of his hotness. I dug how supportive he was with Tara, but then he breaks up with her because he's worried that she'll hurt herself again? The film just didn't give us enough context to make that motivation feel realistic, and then he's ignoring her calls and reminding me of Season 3 Christian which I do NOT like and then it's just a wham bam redemption when he shows up in NYC and honestly, WHAT A WASTE.
The only couple chemistry that worked for me was the one that wasn't supposed to matter, i.e. Ben and Tara. Christian and Tara barely exhibited a flicker of passion for each other, whereas I was feeling FLAMES when watching Ben and Tara dance together. I'm not the only one--how great was it when Marcus leaned over to Miss Raine and said, "They are totally doing it."
In spite of the heat between them, Ben was able to shake it off because... it's canon for Christian and Tara to be together, apparently. "This is a path we've been down and you always circle back to Christian, like a pigeon," Ben says. "You guys are OTP." I was both charmed by this meta-ness while also feeling irritated by it. Like, how could Samantha Strauss watch Ben and Tara film their dance scenes together and not pull an all-nighter to rewrite the ending?! Instead, Ben ends up with Kat which is was just a sloppy, forced NO.
I did enjoy the pigeons that flew away as Christian and Tara approached each other. Even if it was unintentional, it was a great callback to Ben's statement.
So, fellow swimfans, what did you think? Let's spend way too much time analyzing this movie in the comments because I can't let myself think about the fact that the Dance Academy story is really and truly over. IT CAN'T BE.