Musical Chairs: Film Review
Friday, March 23 (Paladin)
Leah Pipes, E.J. Bonilla, Pricilla Lopez, Jaime Tirelli, Laverne Cox, Morgan Spector, Auti Angel, Jerome Preston Bates, Nelson R. Landrieu, Angelic Zambrana
Strictly Ballroom by way of Murderball, Susan Seidelman's Musical Chairs is a fluffy disability-empowerment-themed romance set in the city where Seidelman made her name in the '80s. Lightweight but likeably uncynical, it could connect with some underserved audience demographics.
E.J. Bonilla plays Armando, a dance-crazed kid whose Puerto Rican-American mother (insisting "teaching rich old white ladies to tango is not work") is waging a botánica-aided campaign to marry him off with a cute neighbor and keep him working at the family's Bronx restaurant. But Armando swoons for Mia (Leah Pipes), whose boyfriend/competitive-dance partner runs the studio where he dances and does odd jobs.
When Mia is struck by a car and left in a wheelchair, that boyfriend vanishes -- leaving sweetly loyal Armando to convince her life isn't over. He learns of wheelchair dance competitions, where couples with one able-bodied partner bring surprisingly graceful moves to the ballroom floor, and hatches a plan.
Marty Madden's script is a by-the-numbers affair, too obvious in its adherence to tropes familiar from rom-coms and immigrant-family tales, and is especially clunky in depicting Armando's mother's effort to derail his romance with the white, disabled Mia.
But Seidelman smoothes over the screenplay's rough edges, assisted by a cast that, while sometimes lacking finesse, has a modest charm perfectly suited to the material. (Happy misfits in the supporting cast, including Laverne Cox's wheelchair-bound transsexual Chantelle, feel like links to the heterogeneous New York City of Seidelman's punk-era work.)
Dance sequences are well staged and varied, ranging from a lovely romantic moment in a therapeutic swimming pool to a climactic waltz whose mixed couples display enough flair to easily sell the film's themes.
Opens: Friday, March 23 (Paladin)
Production Company: Dream Dance Films
Cast: Leah Pipes, E.J. Bonilla, Pricilla Lopez, Jaime Tirelli, Laverne Cox, Morgan Spector, Auti Angel, Jerome Preston Bates, Nelson R. Landrieu, Angelic Zambrana
Director: Susan Seidelman
Screenwriter: Marty Madden
Producers: Janet Carrus, Joey Dedio, Marty Madden
Executive producers: Susan Seidelman, Jamin O'Brien
Director of photography: Stephen Kazmierski
Production designer: Susan Block
Music: Mario Grigorov
Costume designer: Kitty Boots
Editor: Keiko Deguchui
PG-13, 100 minutes
Sundance: On the Scene