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Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing & Charm School
Drama, Romance, Comedy, Musical
IMDB rating:
Randall Miller
Sean Astin as Kip Kipling
Joshua Horowitz as Kenny Dulin
Maria Parkinson as Miss Parkinson
Chance Michael Corbitt as Peter Jelliffe
Philip Perlman as Civil Defense Man (as Phil Perlman)
Michael Bower as Tommy Tanksley (as Michael Ray Bower)
Kellie Parker as Young Lisa Gobar (as Kelley Parker)
Camryn Manheim as Lisa Gobar
Elden Henson as Young Steve Mills / Samson
Octavia Spencer as Ayisha Lebaron
Robert Carlyle as Frank Keane
John Goodman as Steve Mills
Marisa Tomei as Meredith Morrison
Teresa Johnston as Kate Collmary
Storyline: Dance is a very powerful drug, if embraced judiciously; to reap its rewards, one must shoulder its challenges with intrepid countenance. Frank Keene, a grieving baker in a near catatonic state, happens on a car accident. The loquacious and insightful victim, Steve Mills, is on his way to an appointment in Pasadena with a years-ago acquaintance; he asks Frank to go in his place. It's a dance class. Frank goes, to find Steve's friend. The story moves back and forth among Steve's childhood, the scene of the accident, and the aftermath of Frank's first Lindy hop. Black eyes, group therapy, loneliness, boys being boys, roads not taken, and saying good-bye color the story.
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God help us
Let me see if I've got this straight: John Goodman, recalling his childhood after a car accident, is represented in flashbacks by 13 year-old child actor Eldon Henson -- the pug-nosed kid who carried Kieran Culkin on his shoulders in "The Mighty." Henson doesn't look anything like Goodman, but I'm willing to play along with it. So far.

But later in the film, a character who has nothing at all to do with Goodman -- young or old -- shows up, playing a friend of the main character (Robert Carlyle). Oddly enough, this friend looks uncannily like a grown-up version of Eldon Henson. Turns out it IS Henson, now 15 years older than in the childgood flashbacks. Apparently, the flashbacks were scenes taken from an earlier short film by the same director, who decided to incorporate16mm footage into a 35mm widescreen feature (not the best idea for technical reasons, if nothing else). The short was made in 1990, when Henson was still a child. Now he's 28. God only knows why the director decided to stick the adult Henson into the film as a character completely unrelated to the one he played in Goodman's childhood flashback. And the character's name? Sampson -- perhaps some sort of in-joke referencing his part in "The Mighty."

You with me so far, or you want to drink?

So now we've got a cute blonde child actor playing the childhood version of the decidedly un-cute (and obese) John Goodman, and the same blonde kid as an ADULT playing the main character's best friend in the present.

On top of all that, in the flashbacks, the cute blonde kid's dark-haired friend looks very much like a young Robert Carlyle, making the audience wonder for a moment if some kind of personal interpretation thing isn't going on. Was the director trying to suggest that Carlyle is imagining Goodman's story, using his own personal recollections to depict the memories? It's quite a stretch, to say the least.

Things get worse: an unnecessary bleach-bypass look for the accident scenes, a confusing, non-linear story structure, a1940s-style dance class -- apparently stuck in a time warp -- and Donnie Wahlberg as a tough guy (for some reason obsessed with ballroom dancing) all add to the confusion.

"Marilyn Hotchkiss..." was a good idea for a movie. What it needed was a director who knew how to tell a simple story without resorting to clichés and complications: trendy non-linear scene-shuffling, unnecessarily confusing cinematography, muddled casting and a manipulative, wall-to-wall Thomas Newman-influenced score to make it all seem meaningful (Newman is one of my favorite composers, but music should enhance emotion, not create it).

Had the director been skillful enough to simplify matters, this film might have had a chance of someday being mentioned in the same breath as a Frank Capra classic. But now, in the second century of film -- and thanks to people like Quentin Tarantino, Oliver Stone and Steve Soderbergh -- we have drama being seriously diluted by technique -- exactly what this heartfelt little story didn't need.

Not everything is a misstep, fortunately. Robert Carlyle? Not a bad choice for the lead: a disillusioned widower who each day wishes good morning to his wife's ashes. Carlyle may be a bit blank-eyed, but considering he's the nutcase from "Trainspotting," he's pretty effective here, reminding me a bit of Viggo Mortenson in "History of Violence" -- another minimalist acting job which works, but is certainly nothing to write home about. Mary Steenburgen? Always a delight to see her in anything, and she looked and acted great here. Same with Marisa Tomei, who plays Wahlberg's beautiful step-sister and Carlyle's romantic interest. My guess is the majority of the cast probably worked for scale or less just to be part of an offbeat little picture with a positive ending.

But thanks to the deficiencies in the writing and directing, the overall effect is much less than the sum of its parts. These fine actors all contributed to a minor footnote in film history, rather than a contemporary classic.

Audiences will probably respond favorably because the film is essentially good-hearted, ultimately delivering uplifting messages we all want to believe in: redemption, hope, forgiveness, surviving tragedy.

But real filmmakers will notice the movie fails in as many ways as it succeeds. The lesson here is simple: just because "21 Grams" got away with an experimental structure doesn't mean it's right for every film. And if "Traffic" or "Minority Report" were somehow justified in using desaturated images to create a slightly surreal world, this story has no reason for attempting the same, as far as I can see. Surreal traffic accident? All the washed-out look does is make viewers wonder for the first 10 minutes if something's wrong with the print.

For all of you who love this film -- and I imagine there will be more than a few staunch supporters -- I do agree it's good to see a movie that at least attempts to deal sensitively -- and sometimes humorously -- with serious issues of life, death and the sometimes tragic nature of existence.

But the real tragedy, in my view, is that the art and craft of film-making has peaked and is now in serious decline, dying just a little bit more each day. The great directors are mostly gone now, and with them, their genius for effective and straightforward storytelling.

Richard Fleischer is dead, and someone named Randall Miller is in the director's chair? God help us all.
Ballroom Bliss!!!
For all of those who haven't read the Rex Reed review in the NY Observer let me say this is one of the best films of the year...

Here's the full review:

Ballroom Bliss

by Rex Reed

At the movies, there isn't much to write home about, but compared with the violence and filth of today's Hollywood action epics and the creeping deadliness of all the independent productions that look like they were made for $100, a sweet, unpretentious and heartfelt little movie like Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing and Charm School begins to look like a wayward valentine from the dead-letter office, lost in transit and delivered late.

A despondent and recently widowed bread baker named Frank Keane (played by the sometimes unintelligible Scottish actor Robert Carlyle, thankfully exchanging his thick brogue for a more decipherable Irish accent) is driving down a California highway when he finds a man seriously injured in a car accident. Although the injured driver (John Goodman) is near death, 911 tells Frank to keep him conscious and talking until the paramedics arrive. An extraordinary story unfolds when the stranger reveals that he's on his way to fulfill a promise made 40 years earlier to meet his childhood sweetheart at the Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing and Charm School, where they first met as kids—and that he's broken out of prison to do it.

Frank keeps his appointment but never dreams that when he enters the old social club in Pasadena, his own fate will take a remarkable right turn. The original Marilyn passed on in 1972. But her dance classes are still conducted by her grown daughter (Mary Steenburgen), and they have such an unexpectedly liberating effect on the shy, inarticulate Frank that even the miserable members of his group-therapy sessions for grieving widowed husbands move to the ballroom, and the Thursday-night lindy hops and tangos become metaphors for exorcising demons and opening up new doors to hope and affirmation.

Directed by Randall Miller and co-written by Mr. Miller and Jody Savin, the movie is similar in theme to Shall We Dance? But unlike that film, it doesn't narrow its focus to what happens inside the classroom. The story is complex, involving a variety of characters at different ages in their lives, so the structure understandably has a hopscotch effect, with three different looks: The past has a historic sepia-tone quality, the California-freeway scenes between Mr. Carlyle and the dying Mr. Goodman have the bleached and antiseptic hue of an ambulance interior, and the ballroom scenes that grow from awkwardness to passion are rich and colorful.

The performances are whimsical and touching, with solid and human portraits etched by Marisa Tomei, Donnie Wahlberg, Sean Astin, Sonia Braga, David Paymer, Adam Arkin, Camryn Manheim and Danny DeVito, among others. Today's movies are so bad that when respected performers with established reputations find a script they believe in, they work for next to nothing. By the end of this film, every life has been changed or impacted in positive ways through the group experience of ballroom dancing. The point of the film is that anything is possible when you open your heart to new experiences… the feel-good pleasures in a movie with this much positive thinking are undeniable.
Charming and touching, dance out the door and secure a view soon
Frank (Robert Carlyle) is a widowed baker, trying to recover from his wife's sudden death. As he is driving the highway, one day, he comes across a serious auto accident involving a single driver, Steve (John Goodman). Told to keep the man conscious through conversation, Frank learns that Steve was on his way to a dance class appointment he made, 40 years ago, with a young girl he had a crush on! He begs Frank, when he can, to go to the Marilyn Hotchkiss Dance and Charm School, find Lisa and tell her why he couldn't make it. Frank does so, reluctantly, much to the surprise of his widowers support group. Once at the school, however, now operated by Marilyn's daughter, Mary Ann (Mary Steenburgen), and featuring a beautiful lady, Meredith (Marisa Tomei), Frank is intrigued. Failing to find Lisa, the baker, nevertheless, goes back the following week, even though Meredith's troubled stepbrother (Donnie Wahlberg) warns him to keep away from his sister. Before long, Frank and all of the widowers are learning to "live again" with the healing power of ballroom dance. But, will Steve remain alive and will Lisa ever be found? This lovely film is easy to recommend to fans of romantic drama and, indeed, all those who admire quality film-making. The story is wonderful, after a slow opening, with some memorable lines and situations. Also, the setting is fantastic, an old but beautiful ballroom, with Mary Ann parting the stage curtains at each class' beginning and following a pattern of etiquette that recalls a different era. As for the cast, Carlyle, Steenburgen, the always lovely Tomei, Goodman, Sean Astin, Paymer, and especially Wahlberg, are made-to-order great. Naturally, the costumes, photography and inventive direction are also strong assets. Want to put a spring in your step and smile on your face? Dance out the door and secure a view soon.
Dancing as a Way out of Loss
Whatever the impetus for writer/director Randall Miller to recreate his 1990 film on the same subject, this little low budget film has the sense of commitment and love on the part of everyone associated with it. Be warned that this is a hankie film and that if you don't have a tolerance (or a fondness) for tearjerkers, then best avoid this one. But for those who enjoy a look at the changes that loss and discovery and love can impact a disparate group of characters' lives, this is a sweet little movie.

The basic premise is how caring for others can positively affect one's own world view. Frank Keane (Robert Carlyle) is a baker in a family shop, a quiet man who is trying to recover from his wife's unexplained suicide and for consolation he is in group therapy with other grieving men (David Paymer is the leader of a group that includes Sean Astin, Adam Arkin, Ernie Hudson, Miguel Sandoval). On a routine delivery run, Frank witness a car crash in which Steve Mills (John Goodman) is critically injured. Feeling helpless, Frank calls the paramedics who respond and tell him to keep Steve talking. And talk Steve does, pleading with Frank to go to a ballroom dance session to which he promised a young girl he would attend 40 years ago when a child. Frank does attend Marilyn Hotchkiss (Patricia Fraser) Ballroom Dancing and Charm School, feels out of place at first, but gradually warms to the message of now-owner Marienne Hotchkiss (Mary Steenburgen), meets an abused Meredith (Marisa Tomei), her abuser Randall Ipswich (Donnie Wahlberg), and fellow dancers including Sonja Braga et al. Through the miracle of dance (and through a lot of flashbacks from car accident to Steve's childhood, etc) conflicts resolve. The ending is cluttered by events unnecessary to the story but seemingly inserted to make use of the talents of Danny DeVito and Camryn Manheim. But by the time this fluff is added we have already been enchanted with the bumpy road tale and can forgive about anything.

This little unpretentious movie has an endearing style and is populated with some superb actors who seem committed to the project. Many of the 'little things' (Hotchkiss' gradual variation in costume, the DJ "Freeway" (uncredited), and the quality of outside vs interior photography) come to mind in retrospect and make the memory of this evening of borderline saccharine story even more of a treasure. Grady Harp
A man in 2005 is trying to get to the ballroom to see 1960s friends.
This is a somewhat quirky story that I find works very well. It is not told in a linear fashion and that works very well, with the fine editing.

In present time John Goodman is Steve Mills, driving to get back to Pasadena, California, to the "Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School". He had taken dancing and charm lessons there for almost 3 years in the 1960s as a young boy, and he and one of his friends agreed to meet there on the 5th day of the 5th month of the 5th year of the new millennium. This was the day and he had to get there.

Robert Carlyle is Frank Keane, who bakes bread and delivers it. He is in his delivery truck when he comes upon the single vehicle accident. It is Steve, who is injured, but he makes Frank promise he would go in his place and look up the old friend.

In a complementary story Frank has recently lost his wife and is still grieving, so he and several other men meet in a self-help group. Some of them are Sean Astin as Kip Kipling, Adam Arkin as Gabe DiFranco, David Paymer as Rafael Horowitz, and Ernie Hudson as Blake Rische.

In the modern day dance studio are Mary Steenburgen as Marienne Hotchkiss, the daughter of Marilyn who is now deceased. Two of the key adult dancers are Marisa Tomei as Meredith Morrison and Donnie Wahlberg as Randall Ipswitch.

The story, its pacing, the acting all have a charm to them. All in all a very unique and enjoyable movie. A very touching story. In trying to help a stranger Frank helps himself out of his depression.

SPOILERS: Steve is gravely injured in the accident. Very late in the movie we see that he had been in prison, and released just the day before he was supposed to meet is boyhood crush Lisa. So he stole a car and had to drive through the night. Sleepiness caused him to crash, almost cutting himself in two. He did not survive the ambulance ride to the hospital. So Frank went in Steve's place, sure that Laia would be there, but she wasn't. However Frank found a new place he felt comfortable and meeting Meredith was a bonus. They eventually became a couple. Frank did track down Camryn Manheim as Lisa Gobar, a frumpy smoker living in a trailer, she said she had no recollection of the deal she and Steve made 40 years earlier. But as Frank left, we see her pull out a cigar box on mementos, including a photo of Steve. She never forgot. (Danny DeVito has a very brief appearance as Steve's cell mate as Steve is leaving.)
A delight not to be missed.
It seems that dance-themed movies are almost by definition, if you will pardon the pun, a little offbeat. I suppose one could make pseudo-intellectual references to dance as metaphor, but, in the end, I think dance is dance and that's just fine. And so is this movie – just fine, wonderfully, delightfully fine.

Writer/director Randall Miller deftly employs the frame story literary device to weave two disparate narratives into a third, unifying story line. While this literary conceit was necessary to incorporate a short film of the same name that Miller made fifteen years previous to this film, it is nonetheless cleverly handled and flawlessly executed. One actor even appears in both time-lines. As a child he plays one of the central characters in his boyhood story, and as an adult, he plays the colleague of another central character. This is done imperceptibly, and is almost in inside joke to those who are aware of the earlier film.

Without giving too much away, the story lines all revolve around the eponymous Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing and Charm School; how one character, recalling his youth there, struggles to return for a rendezvous he promised as a boy to make on this day, and how his struggle leads a grieving widower to make his own journey there, where he will find, well, you'll have to see for yourself what he finds, but, believe me, it's worth it.

The cast is surprisingly heavy with A-list (and some solid B-list) talent. Frank Keane (Robert Carlyle: The Full Monty) is a widower going through the motions of his life as a baker, unable to get past the suicide of his wife. Carlyle excels at bringing unexpected layers to his roles, and this is no exception. His character encounters challenges and inspirations that become life changing, and Carlyle renders them perfectly.

John Goodman is one of those actors who, despite being gifted, are almost, if you will pardon another pun, too large a personality in real life to be effective in most roles. Here, the circumstances surrounding his character make it work beautifully. Similarly, Danny DeVito, who has but a cameo appearance, is delicately downplayed with surprising effectiveness. One almost wonders how Miller managed to assemble this impressive cast, as if he won some Hollywood casting lottery, but the fact that he is Rhea Perlman's cousin might explain at least DeVito's willingness to do the film. Rhea's father even appears.

I have always loved Mary Steenburgen, and her more or less title role as Miss Hotchkiss is no disappointment. Her characteristically cracking voice is just what the character needs to seem somewhat surreal. Oscar® winner Marisa Tomei delicately inhabits the female lead of the story, and brings closure and redemption to the bereaved widower. Camryn Manheim has a brief but powerful appearance, and even Sonia Braga was somehow convinced to join a cast inexplicably overloaded with talent. Add to that Sean Astin, Adam Arkin, Ernie Hudson, and even a deliciously counter-cast Donnie Wahlberg, and you begin to see what I mean about the surfeit of talent.

All of that talent wasn't for naught. The ensemble melds beautifully, delicately supported by Mark Adler's gorgeous soundtrack and all orchestrated with preternatural grace and subtlety by auteur director/writer/producer/editor Randall Miller. Films like this go largely unnoticed, and most of its fan base comes from people who caught it as part of some tedious and pretentious film festival or other. I was fortunate to have placed the film in my Netflix queue so I could watch it sans pretense, where I could experience it personally, as it was meant to be seen.

Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing and Charm School is simply a delight not to be missed.
I had a ball!
This happens when you let your stomach decide, and not your hands. My hands wanted to take Flight Plan of the shelf at my local videoshop, but then I came across this film and my stomach told me, that's the one to make your day! And it most certainly was and did! For a long time I haven't seen such a broken yet lovable character as this Frank Keane, played so soulfully by Robert Carlyle. Marisa Tomei was amazing, as was Mary Steenburgen. Equally I enjoyed watching all those widowers thawing up in the ballroom in the end. Wahlberg, Paymer, Arkin, all of them in small roles, but brilliant nevertheless.

The music did the rest. What a gem of a score, I hope I can find it on CD somewhere. Not just the songs, for dancing and background, but also the original music by Mark Adler was mesmerizing. A treat for everybody who loves violins.

The film is out now on DVD in Germany, so nobody has an excuse any more, get out and get this film. Don't say I didn't recommend it! Nine out of 10.
Terrible Movie
Do you like long, slow, artsy-fartsy movies with lots of black & white flashbacks that go on forever ? Then you'll love this one.

There are some good actors here, but this film represents their worst work. John Goodman's performance, as an accident victim, is lost. He looks about twice as obese as I remember him, and his face crowds the screen.

Frankly, I couldn't get through it, and Donna Grayson's previous comments are completely inexplicable. She must have been involved in the production and is trying to beat the dead horse of promoting the film.

Avoid this film like the plague, and you'll be a much happier person.
The Best Movie I've Seen All Year!!!!
The is by far the finest film that I have seen all year... Robert Carlyle was superb as the broken widower. I lost my wife to cancer four years ago and his portrayal was dead on. John Goodman was magnificent as were Mary Steenburgen as the beleaguered and out of touch Marianne Hotchkiss, the Grand Damne of the ballroom. And Donnie Wahlberg was brilliant in comic turn as Randall Ipswitch, the Lord-Of-The-Dance of the Pasadena ballroom. But finally the Marisa Tomei character, Meredith was perhaps the finest bit of acting in the bunch. Her work as the broken and beaten down sister of Donnie's character was dead on. I cannot recommend the film highly enough. GO SEE IT!!!!
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