Born to Dance
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 27th September 2015
Born to Dance is the much-heralded “New Zealand’s first hip-hop dance movie!” and with homegrown, now-international celebrity choreographer Parris Goebel involved, it certainly lives up to its hype. Because, dance is what this movie is all about, and those are the moments where it shines. Unfortunately, in keeping with its American forebears, plot is not.
But let’s not dwell on the story – you’ll know it before you read the next sentence, as it presents the usual boy-wants-to-dance/father-wants-him-to-get-serious/boy-meets-girl-he-can’t-have tropes familiar from the Step Up (among others) franchise. We have quite literally seen it all before. Albeit in another country.
To be fair, what will tickle local audiences is seeing our own neighbourhoods rendered on the silver screen, where Papakura more than represents and the North Shore of Auckland is presented as an almost mythically posh place full of white people, flash houses and unicorns. (The best line, which elicited a hearty LOL from this Shore-raised reviewer, is when the South Auckland crew crow “Let’s go put some brown in Browns Bay!”. If only they would.)
Our cute and unobnoxious protagonist, Tu (newcomer Tia Maipi) is a good lad, respectful and honest, and boy, can he dance. He makes the contentious move of joining a rival hip-hop troop in order to make it bigger than he can with his local crew, and catches the eye of American expat, Sasha (Kherington Payne, who has been busy carving out a career in the six years since the Fame remake). The standard dance movie conflict thus poised, there is then never any sense that anything particularly bad will happen, so it’s best to sit back and revel in the exhilarating set-pieces which demonstrate not just Maipi’s evident talent, but Goebel’s deserved place on a highly competitive world stage.
As far as dance movies go, this feature film debut from director Tammy Davis (whose terrific short Ebony Society is available at NZ On Screen) deserves accolades for its fresh, high-paced and well-produced adherence to the genre conventions. (Stan Walker’s in it, too.) At least, while the script won’t have you moved, the hip-hop certainly will.