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MARILYN HOTCHKISS' BALLROOM DANCING AND CHARM SCHOOL

SYNOPSIS:
Frank (Robert Carlyle) is an Irish baker living in Pasadena and still grieving over the suicide of his wife. When he pulls over on the highway to help an injured stranger, Steve (John Goodman), he finds himself listening to a tale about the Marilyn Hotchkiss Dance Academy and Charm School which Steve attended as a child forty years earlier. As a result of the conversation, Frank pledges to attend the school himself, a decision that will change his life.

Review by Jake Wilson:
A widower joins a dance class where he learns to love again... In summary it sounds familiar, but something has gone awry with the crowd-pleasing formula in this all-too-personal project. Intercutting new material with scenes from a prizewinning short he made in film school, the director, Randall Hopkins, says more than he perhaps meant to about the disappointments suffered on the way to middle age.

What kind of feelgood movie is this, where reels of barely relevant backstory are narrated by a dying John Goodman in the back of an ambulance, blood spattered all over his heaving chest? Or where the dream of a fresh start is personified by an old-school dance instructor who simpers like an embalmed '50s chanteuse out of David Lynch? Mary Steenbergen is actually touching in this role, but several of the brand-name actors (such as Donnie Wahlberg as a renegade student) seem unsure whether to play for comedy or drama: the jokes about men struggling to express emotion are feeble, but the weird depressive pall feels authentic, and never lifts.

"Better luck next time," says Robert Carlyle vaguely, looking for a way to console his luckless acquaintance for the loss of childhood dreams. "Is there ever a next time?" Goodman mutters in reply. Despite the brio of a couple of the dancing sequences, the film answers this question with less simple optimism than might be expected. But the jumble of gloomy speeches, routine uplift and Saturday Evening Post nostalgia doesn't make for successful expression of adult feelings; the result is a disaster not quite crazy enough to recommend, except as a warning to film students who dream of telling bittersweet stories about the ups and downs of life.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 0

MARILYN HOTCHKISS' BALLROOM DANCING AND CHARM SCHOOL (M)
(US, 2005)

CAST: Robert Carlyle, Marisa Tomei, Mary Steenburgen, Sean Astin, Donnie Wahlberg, David Paymer, Camryn Manheim, Adam Arkin, Sonia Braga, Elden Henson, Ernie Hudson, Miguel Sandoval, Danny DeVito, John Goodman

PRODUCER: Eileen Craft, Randall Miller, Morris Ruskin, Jody Savin

DIRECTOR: Randall Miller

SCRIPT: Randall Miller

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jonathan Sela

EDITOR: Randall Miller

MUSIC: Mark Adler

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dawn Snyder

RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Imagine

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 3, 2005







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