Save the Last Dance

Directed by Thomas Carter
Starring: Julia Stiles, Sean Patrick Thomas, Kerry Washington, Fredro Starr, Terry Kinney.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, sexual content, language and brief drug references.

Review by Matt Heffernan <>
January 22, 2001

I have a feeling that at the pitch for Save the Last Dance, somebody said, "Dirty Dancing N the Hood" -- and the story was sold. It has paid off quite well already, topping the box office for two straight weeks thanks to unexpectedly massive popularity with the teen market. In fact, this review is late because I couldn't get a ticket on opening weekend.

Julia Stiles stars as Sara, a Midwestern country girl who has always dreamed of a career in ballet. While she was auditioning for Julliard, her mother was killed in a car accident. After that, she put away the slippers for good, and now she has to live with her estranged father (Terry Kinney) in Chicago.

She enrolls at a public school where she is one of the only white students. She manages to make friends with a black girl named Chanille (Kerry Washington), who invites her to a hip-hop club. Chanille's brother, Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas) comes along and immediately sees that Sara's ballet skills do not translate well. Going against societal convention, Derek starts to teach her some moves and a new romance is born.

Everything pretty much falls into place as you would expect it. Hollywood has long used the formula of kids of different social groups getting together -- from the very first adaptation of Romeo and Juliet -- and now they are more comfortable bridging racial gaps, as well. Save the Last Dance has nothing new to offer, but it does serve the formula moderately well.

Compare this to Stiles' last teen flick: Down to You. There, she played a rich girl who gets together with a rich guy (Freddie Prinze Jr.), and little else happens. At least this film has some palpable conflict and almost approaches a real message.

So, for a teen film, it's good enough to be a big hit with the kids, but I couldn't recommend it for adults. For people that can actually get into R-rated films, I would suggest seeing Stiles in State and Main, where she plays the underage love interest of Alec Baldwin. That is, if you can find a theatre that actually caters to adults.

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Save the Last Dance (2001)

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Review © 2001 Matt Heffernan