Friday, November 23, 2012

Musical Chairs Dances to Familiar Beat

Despite the fact that many people deal with paralysis from the waist down on a daily basis, it is still a disability that few can fully grasp. People with disabilities are often met with pity, regardless of the fact that they can still have full and rewarding lives. Musical Chairs is a film that wants to both promote the extraordinary capabilities of people with disabilities, as well as inspire people to follow their passions. Like most romantic comedies though, reaching your dreams can only be achieved when you are willing to let love in.

A naturally talented dancer, Armando (E.J. Bonilla), works at his family’s restaurant during the day while dreaming of being a professional dance instructor. At night Armando works as a cleaner at a local dance studio. It is there we he becomes infatuated with the beautiful Mia (Leah Pipes), a dancer who sees potential in Armando’s raw talent. Unfortunately for Armando, Mia is dating the egotistical owner of the dance studio, Daniel (Philip Willingham). One night Mia is hit by a car will crossing the street. The accident leaves her in the hospital paralyzed from the waist down.
While Daniel claims to be “too busy” to visit her in the hospital, or talk over the phone, Armando makes a point to visit daily. In an attempt to cheer Mia up, Armando shows her a video of a ballroom dance competition in which wheelchair participants are paired with able body partners. As the competition is coming to New York for the first time, Armando believes that it might be just the thing Mia needs to cure her depression. Armando decides to set up an illegal ballroom dancing class at Mia’s hospital and recruit some of her fellow patients to participate. With only three months before the competition, Armando must not only get his class ready, but also convince Mia that she can still fulfill her love of dance even in a wheelchair.

After unleashing films such as Desperately Seeking Susan, She-Devil, and Cookie in the 80’s, director Susan Seidelman has since split her time between television and film. The television influence really shows in Musical Chairs in regards to the structure that offers few surprises as it hits every single beat. Everything from the subplot involving Armando’s mother (Priscilla Lopez) trying to set him up with a particular woman to the random ragtag group of hospital patients that show up for dance lessons is paint by numbers. This is not to say that film is not without its charm.

Musical Chairs is a film that knows exactly who its audience is and does not deviate from giving them what they expect. Normally this would be a bad thing, but it actually works to the films benefit in an odd way. Due to the familiarity of the film, it is easier for the audience to focus on the performances more than the plot. E.J. Bonilla and Leah Pipes are convincing in the lead roles. The charismatic Bonilla in particular does a really good job of making Armando a grounded character. You are able to believe that he would go to such lengths for the woman he loves. Pipes also gives a solid performance though the limitations with the script do not allow her to effectively showcase her full range. Hopefully her next couple of roles will allow Pipes to expand on the glimpse of promise she shows. The same can be said for the supporting characters who are decent, but ultimately limited by the fact that they are playing stereotypes rather than well-rounded characters.

The dance competition subplot may not flow as smoothly as in other films, such as Silver Linings Playbook for example, however, the dancing scenes themselves are well shot. Seidelman does a decent job of showcasing the various styles of dance and how those in wheelchairs can modify them to make it there own. As was mentioned earlier, Musical Chairs is a romantic comedy that stays true to the conventions of the genre. Despite the addition of the people with disabilities, the film is predictable from start to finish. However, the film is entertaining enough that it will satisfy those who enjoy these types of films. Musical Chairs may not be one of Susan Seidelman’s most memorable films, but it does manage to charm despite its flaws.

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