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Movie Review

Take the Lead

MPAA Rating: PG-13-Rating (MPAA) for thematic material, language and some violence

Reviewed by: Sheri McMurray

Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens Adults
Music Biography Drama
1 hr. 48 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
April 7, 2006 (wide)
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Featuring: Antonio Banderas
Alfre Woodard
John Ortiz
Rob Brown
Yaya DaCosta
Laura Benanti
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Director: Liz Friedlander
Producer: Diane Nabatoff, Christopher Godsick, Michelle Grace
Distributor: New Line Cinema

“Never Follow.”

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One thing David loved to do was to dance before the Lord. He did this in all reverence, humility, respect and dignity. Something that today’s generation, adult and child alike, should be perceptive enough to imitate.

“Take The Lead” is a film, although easy to second guess as it progresses, which in essence takes the values of teamwork, respect, and dignity and puts a young, modern face on them. Needing to look past the predictable plot, viewers should grab hold of the core story, and that is: no matter where you come from, there are no rejects, only choices to be made, and these choices are up to you.

So, what do King David and Pierre DuLaine have in common? Each possess a love for people. A vision to help them succeed through hard work, trust, respect, reverence and honor. A sincere regard for human weaknesses, and a devotion to guide people to help them reach their full potential. Oh yes, and a love of the dance.

Loosely based on a true story, Antonio Banderas plays Pierre DuLaine, a Spanish-French New York City dance instructor who gets the idea of teaching the aesthetics of ballroom dancing to a group of problem detention students in a tough inner-city Manhattan high school. Mr. DuLaine serves up tough love to these at-risk kids in hopes that as his old-world elegance teaches them not only the tango and the fox-trot, but that they’ll simultaneously learn discipline, honor and self-respect. He dresses well, carries himself with grace and dignity, treats everyone politely and steadfastly expects them to return his courtesy.

By being so resplendent in his bearing and effect, he generates camaraderie and respect: The kids follow him because they would like to be that cool, and wind up learning to, yes, even genuinely wanting to, improve and reform.

This group of tough inner city kids in detention who will be forced to partner up and boogie down, are the star-crossed Rock (Rob Brown from “Finding Forrester”) and LaRhette (Yaya DaCosta), each of whom blames the other for their older brothers’ violent, untimely gang-related deaths. Sasha (Jenna Dewan), who’s the romantic target of both Ramos (Dante Basco) and Danjou (Elijah Kelley) on and off the dance floor. There is also the friendship between the very large, awkward Monster (gentle-giant Brandon T. Andrews) and the very petite, self-proclaimed ugly duckling Caitlin (Lauren Collins), who practices for her upcoming cotillion with Pierre’s inner city detention group because she feels more comfortable with them than she does with those on the Upper East Side. I particularly liked the line: “Do you like to dance? Yes… Then you were made to dance.” which Caitlin shares with the large and shy “Monster.” It underscores that there are no losers and that we can accomplish anything our hearts are in tune with. The Lord has given each one of us a gift. We should not squander it.

Of course, everyone thinks Mr. DuLaine is crazy—including the instructors at his high class dance studio and the high school principal, Mrs. James (Alfre Woodard, who nails her no-nonsense roll). But he persists, gradually wins the kids’ trust, and hooks them on the magic of the tango and waltz. Pierre convinces these kids, their teachers, and perhaps even us that the dignity and chivalry of ballroom dancing can co-exist in the same world with the meanness and misogyny of hip-hop. Banderas attacks this role with such conviction that he elevates “Take The Lead” to exist slightly above the ordinary dance movie.

The magic of the dance and the life lessons learned by these inner city students both profoundly affects their lives and inspire them to enter a prestigious city ballroom competition.

This, of course, is where the tension rises. They must prove to themselves that they have the courage to break out of their stereotypical gangbanger roles and learn to co-exist in a world they have never ventured into. It takes trust, courage, determination and respect to accomplish, and each knows they must depend on the other, rather than fight each other off.

The end is predictable with the finale ballroom dance competition, but not everyone wins on the dance floor alone. The winning goes much deeper than just learning the dance moves and competing. It is a motivation of the heart and learning to trust through the lesson of dance.

“Take The Lead” is a borderline PG-13 because of strong language and sexual references. There is no nudity or sex, but a hot three-way tango they perform at the climactic citywide dance competition and some suggestive hip-hop dance moves may be inappropriate for younger viewers. Be prepared for a of couple violent acts that may be disturbing to younger kids. There is a scene where a car is bludgeoned, a fight scene using guns, and a scene where a teen girl is nearly raped—had her mother not shown up in time. All realistically portrayed.

There are references to alcohol and drugs, a father character abuses alcohol, drug dealing, references to murders, a father hits his son, and some sad and scary moments.

All in all, what is disturbing, may also be a road to family discussions about how we all can be sensitive to the problems of others and do something about it in a Christ-like manner. Included are many real life situations that we all encounter like gradual building of trust, setbacks, growth experiences, the true role of man and woman, tenderness and ways to help those around us, even when it seems they don’t want our help.

Here are some quotes worth remembering from “Take The Lead”:

  • “The people that get what they want in life are the people who show up to get it.”

  • “Sometimes the way to conquer an enemy is to get right up in his face.”

  • “Belief in yourself is the strongest secret weapon.”

  • “Assigning blame is okay for the moment, but it doesn’t make the problems go away.”

  • ‘Trust must be earned.’

We are not handed a good life on a silver platter. God is there, but He wants us to choose Him. He encourages us through our trials to lean on Him. We must show up.

David didn’t run from Goliath, he picked up his slingshot and got right up in his face.

Elijah never had a doubt that God was with him. Belief: His strongest secret weapon. When he faced the pagan temple priests, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that his sacrifice would be consumed in fire. He was so confident that he even put water on the alter first. In fact, he didn’t just sprinkle it—he drowned it with water!

Saul might place the blame with his army or with Samuel’s late arrival, but it didn’t make his problems go away. In the end, although blame may have been placed elsewhere, Saul lost the game.

Daniel and Joseph are shinning examples of those who have hung in there and through perseverance, uprightness and honesty, trust was earned in a big way!

I went in to see this movie to be entertained by the dancing, but came away with something much more profound. It brought me back, with jarring reality, to remembrance that there are people out there whose lives do not revolve around what outfit to wear or what car to buy. They fight to stay alive. Every day is a struggle to make ends meet. Just getting to school is a hazard in itself. Many who need to hear a kind word, to feel the love of Christ. Kids who know nothing more than hunger, anger and despair. We need more people like Pierre DuLaine, who will go into the trenches and help, even if it is a struggle; the rewards are so precious.

Mr. DuLaine was not shown to be a man of God nor did the film ever show anyone turning to Christ for the answers, but we as Christian viewers can take the message within “Take The Lead” to the next level. We can make the choices, as he has encouraged thousands of students to do through his after school dance programs, the choices to help those needing to hear the Good News.

Let’s all pray we will have the courage, dignity, respect and faith to get people fired up for God. Making the winner’s choice to take the lead not just in the competition of life, but for the cause and compassion of Christ.

A final note: If you enjoyed this movie loosely based on real life events, you may also want to check out the documentary about Pierre DuLaine. Rent “Mad Hot Ballroom” and feel yourself becoming genuinely moved by the real thing.

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: None

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer Comments
Positive—While predictable, this was an enjoyable movie with a great moral message. In my opinion, some of the content would be too mature for young adolescents (prostitution, drug dealing, etc.), but for older teens could be a great opener to some important discussions.
My Ratings: Good / 4
R. Smotherman, age 32
Positive—This movie was AWESOME! It had me, my sister and my Mom all wanting to dance after it was over. I thought it was well done and at the same time it had great acting! The story-line was believable and the writing was impeccable. Of course the dancing was over the top! GREAT! There are a few scenes that might be scary for younger views. There is a very racy dance scene with a girl and two guys—I thought was awesome—but some might think it was offensive. If you can get through that, it is a must see. What a great date movie for young lovers. TWO THUMBS UP FOR ME!
My Ratings: Average / 4
Amy, age 38
Neutral—I liked this movie. However, it was very spiritually offensive, because God was blasphemed twice with the phrase 'God d****t'. That is always very shocking, and I did not expect it after reading the main review. I love dance and dance movies. And I expected sexuality. But this was very very sexual all throughout. And it is clear that one of the young high school girls is sleeping with two different high school boys, and they are fighting over her. This fornication is not in any way discouraged, but lines like “We all express love in different ways” and “Follow your heart” are said—expressing an acceptance and encouragement of this sin. …
My Ratings: Very Offensive / 3
Ian, age 25
Positive—This movie was awesome! I loved the ballroom dancing theme. I love the performing arts so much. The dancing is intense and very hot. I love it how the underdogs wins in the end. It’s a great movie for mature audiences.
My Ratings: Average / 4
Lauren, age 20
Comments from young people
Positive—I completely enjoyed this movie throughout. It kept me on the edge of my seat and at times it made me want to get up and dance. However, one thing that did cause some conflict with the movie, was all of the language. It used to much of it for my taste, but there was nothing else really bad about it. It sort of showed a taste of Christ living in people when one character would stop at nothing so that everyone could be equal and fit in. In all, if you love to dance, you don’t mind language, and you love movies with a message, then I would say that this is definitely your movie.
My Ratings: Average / 4
Megan Olsen, age 15
Positive—I liked this film. It really showed how most teens with messed up families live. This would be a good movie to see if you like to dance or don’t think you can because anyone can dance if they put their mind to it.
My Ratings: Good / 4
Emma, age 16
Positive—Modern society, as in all other things, has degenerated the art of dance, and nowhere is it more evident than in this film. That aside, I thought “Take The Lead” was a decent movie. It has a good message for its viewers, albeit a watered-down message. The lesson we learn is that morality triumphs over the slums of anarchy—most of the time.

Several girls are dressed provocatively, boys make lewd remarks, one girl makes a comment on another girl’s dancing that goes something like, 'it’s like sex on hardwood'. Her comment is not at all untrue as much of the dancing was clearly supposed to be sexually enticing.

But that’s only part of the story. The main story deals with a boy who has to decide whether he is going to forgive his enemies, stay in school, and support his family or continue down the drug-dealing, gun wielding path he is on. There is also a girl whose mother is a prostitute. (The fact is only implied, never shown.) She also faces big decisions. This movie is worth its while (however diluted the message may be), because it shows that there is hope for people who are in destructive circumstances, and shows the results of making bad decisions. It is a lesson in morality and rising above one’s circumstances.
My Ratings: Offensive / 3
Willows_Shadow, age 16
Positive—I really enjoyed this movie. It did have some elements that I didn’t like, such as some very sensual dancing, and some of the music, but overall the plot was awesome. The story really brings you into the lives of the characters, and you find yourself caring about the people. The guy who taught the students was very likeable, being a loving person who had confidence in those others had rejected, and was willing to put time, energy, and money into helping them.

The plot seemed to me to be about people who tried to be cool in their sub-culture because they felt inferior, and by showing confidence in them, the teacher helped them develop skills that they didn’t think they could. Then they realized that they had real value, and were on the same level as everyone else, and it was all good.

But it wasn’t just about the teacher reaching out to the kids, it was also about hurting kids, who had a hard life deciding to trust someone: Value themselves, and try for something they didn’t really think they could do. This movie, I thought, was very thought-provoking, and showed a lot of Christian principles, like reaching out, love, trust, diligence, etc. (But did not actually mention God or Christianity). I would definitely see this movie again.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 5
Rebekah, age 17
Positive—We LOVED this movie. It isn’t a typical plot and has fascinating dancing. We watched it with our whole family and everyone enjoyed it. It supported good morals and hard work and was just so unexpected.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4
Maggie and Malia, age 16 and 14