Sweet & Inspirational
Having been a dancer for a good part of my life, I found Musical Chairs quite inspiring. It's a sweet romance focusing on wheelchair ballroom dancing. Deftly directed by Susan Seidelman of Desperately Seeking Susan fame, this unusual film written by Marty Madden boasts appealing performances by leads Leah Pipes and E. J. Bonilla as well as enjoyable ballroom dance sequences. My only complaint? I wanted more dance numbers. But, hey, I always want more dance numbers, so consider the source. And, after all, the story also needed to be told.
That story involves Armando (Bonilla), who literally dances as he walks down the street, and Mia (Pipes), a well-trained ballroom dancer. They come from very different backgrounds. Armando, a Latino from the Bronx, works in his family’s restaurant and as a part-time handyman in a dance studio where Mia, from the Upper East Side, is one of the teachers. Clearly, Armando has become fascinated by Mia, who’s looking forward to an important ballroom competition with her regular partner. Then, on the very day when Mia finally notices Armando’s dance potential, an accident causes drastic changes to her life. Because she’s paralyzed from the waist down, she must rely on a wheelchair to get around. If that happens to anyone, it’s tragic. But for a dancer, it can be catastrophic.
Fortunately, Armando never gives up on Mia. He even starts up a wheelchair ballroom dance class, hoping she will join in. But Mia is so depressed, it’s almost impossible for her to think of dancing again. The rest of the movie deals with the ups and downs of this relationship and how the two become closer as they get ready for a wheelchair ballroom competition event.
One touching scene between Mia and Armando is among my favorites so far this year. Pipes and Bonilla make their characters look like they’re meant for each other when Armando shows Mia she can dance by carrying her into a swimming pool and whirling her slowly around in the water. We almost feel Mia’s pain change into happiness and hope. Obstacles faced by this couple appear almost insurmountable, but we can’t help cheering them on.
Adding welcome humor to the film are colorful characters recruited for Armando’s wheelchair ballroom class, including Laverne Cox as an outspoken transgendered woman, Morgan Specter as an Iraqi war veteran, and Auti Angel as a tough Goth girl. Priscilla Lopez also gets her share of laughs as Armando’s demanding mother.
I’m placing Musical Chairs on my list of favorite ballroom dance movies -- right up there with Strictly Ballroom and Mad Hot Ballroom.
(Released by Palladin Films and rated “PG-13” for language, some sexual material and a brief drug reference. Available on Cinemax and MAX GO until March 31, 2014.)
For more information about Musical Chairs, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.