No Award goes to the movies: Dance Academy

In which Liz attempts to write a dispassionate, spoiler-lite review of the Dance Academy film adaptation without excessive capslock or reaction gifs.

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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.

What struck me most about the movie is how mature it is. Eighteen months after the finale, Tara is grappling with the issues that took up a lot of my twenties: what happens when you were a gifted child/teen, but now your body itself has let you down, and you’re working in hospitality and wondering what to do with your life? When all your friends seem to have everything sorted, and you’re still floundering, what does that say about you?

(Friends who have everything sorted: Christian, still teaching, living in a sweet studio apartment by the water that presumably costs a small fortune in rent, which must be why he suggests that Tara moves in with him; Abigail, a rising star in the corps de ballet; Kat, the star of an egregiously terribly Disney Channel series; Ben, a principal dancer at the Austin Ballet. Ethan? He has a puppy, apparently.)

(Friends who really do not have everything sorted: Ollie, who left the Company to pursue a singing career in London, only to have that fail.)

A chance encounter with Madeline Moncur (Miranda Otto, effectively inheriting the role played by her father in season 3), the new creative director of the National Ballet, reawakens Tara’s need to dance. This leads her to New York, where for some reason Kat’s series is filmed, and she joins Ollie on the audition circuit.

Tara is not unsympathetic in this act, but, like most young people who are trying to figure out their lives, she’s more than a bit self-absorbed. When Kat — who has her own problems — calls her out, and Christian says he can’t keep watching her torture herself, Tara takes off for Austin, where Ben is a principal dancer for the Austin Ballet.

Or is he? If you’ve seen the trailer, you probably know that his leukaemia is back. Thankfully, this doesn’t magically make Ben a nice person — that would be the only thing worse than Ben being terrible — but he has grown a lot in his time in the US, and is going through something similar to Tara. Dancing could damage them, but they need it, and they will risk their lives and health to pursue it.

And, meanwhile, Abigail is finding life as a soloist harder than she expected; Kat discovers a brand new way to sabotage her professional life; Ollie is … still Ollie; and Christian misses Tara but is, typically, incapable of saying so.

It all comes together in New York, where the lights are bright and the American accents are uneven.

I was asked on Facebook whether the movie would make sense to someone who hasn’t seen the series, and I would say: yes. What you lose, if you’re a newcomer, is appreciation for the wider cast — everyone is there, everyone has a great moment or two, but this is Tara’s story. Even Christian, despite being second billed after Xenia Goodwin in the opening credits, has a relatively small role — which is fair if you’ve seen the series, and know how much time went in to setting up and ending his arc, but leaves him with less to do here.

But, whether you’re a newcomer or not, the movie embraces yet subverts the cliches of the dance movie, and brings Tara’s story to a satisfying end point that balances wish fulfilment against realism.

I didn’t realise, when I bought a ticket for an advance screening at the Sun Theatre, that it would be followed by a Q&A with executive producer Joanna Werner. This is probably for the best, as it means I didn’t have time to over plan my questions for her and inevitably embarrass myself, Tara style.

(Note for those sensitive to embarrassment squick: Tara did not humiliate herself once in this whole movie, I was so proud! Our little girl is growing up!)

(Ollie came close, though.)

Anyway, my question was extremely spoilery for Tara’s ultimate fate, so I won’t discuss it specifically here, but in her answer, Werner discussed her desire to create a show with good, well-written characters, boys and girls, and particularly to have empowering female characters. I liked Werner a lot, and hope I wasn’t too creepy when I approached her at the very end, face covered in make-up from all the crying I had to do, to tell her how much I loved Ready for This, which she also produced.

(I was less impressed by a certain section of the audience, who didn’t just cheer when their OTP kissed — that’s fine — but booed when their anti-OTP kissed. Guys, that’s just being a jerk.)

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