Save the Last Dance
enjoyed a profitable release in early 2001, with box-office earnings that exceeded anyone's expectations. Its performance illustrates the staying power of a formulaic movie that avoids the pitfalls and clichés that would otherwise render it forgettable. Since there's nothing new here, you'll appreciate the original quirks in a character-based plot that's just around the corner from Flashdance
, and just as familiar. Sara (Julia Stiles) gave up a promising ballet career when her mother was killed while rushing to attend her daughter's crucial audition to Juilliard; Sara blames herself for the accident, and at her new, mostly African American high school in Chicago, she's uncertain of her future.
Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas) has no such doubts; his own future is bright, and his attraction to Sara is immediate; they connect (predictably), and Sara's dormant funk emerges, with Derek's coaching, as she learns hip-hop dancing in a local club. Obligatory subplots are equally routine: Derek's sister (Kerry Washington) is a single mom struggling with her child's absentee father; Derek's best friend (Fredro Starr) feels trapped in his gangsta lifestyle; and Sara's once-estranged father (Terry Kinney) is doing his best to correct past mistakes. Within the confines of this standard follow-your-dream drama, director Thomas Carter capitalizes on a script that allows these characters to be real, intelligent, and thoughtful about their lives and their futures. It's obvious that Stiles's dancing was intercut with that of a professional double, but that illusion hardly matters when the rest of the movie's so earnestly positive and genuine. --Jeff Shannon