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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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Light on its Feet
There is something about Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School that audiences will find enchanting. The script is quite good, but not overwhelming. The acting very solid, but maybe not as good as I would have expected from Robert Carlyle, John Goodman, Mary Steenburgen, Marisa Tomei and plenty of other all-stars. And cinematography was used in some interesting ways to delineate three different periods, which provided perspective, but was hardly revolutionary.

But the beauty of the movie is really none of these. Robert Carlyle plays Frank Keane, a baker (from a long line of bakers in the family business) recovering from the tragic loss of his wife. One day while driving he encounters a car wreck, and begins to talk to the mortally wounded driver, Steve (John Goodman). What unfolds is the interweaving of stories—Steve's experience as a 12-year-old in the Marilyn Hotchkiss School, and Frank's as he fulfills a promise to the dying Steve.

What emerges, rather remarkably, is a story filled with tragedy that nevertheless manages to be warm, light-hearted, nostalgic, funny and inspiring. Carlyle seems an unlikely protagonist, but his character gradually blossoms into someone that is quietly heroic, as his encounter with Goodman takes him on a path of exploration, self-discovery and love. Director Randall Miller has done a remarkable job of telling a story filled with meaningful insight and compassionate charm. I flat out loved this movie, as did the rest of the audience at Sundance.
Robert Carlyle shines in this heartfelt story of love and loss. Frank (Carlyle) is driving to work in his bakery truck and he sees a man who has been fatally injured in a car accident. He stops to help the man, Steve, played by John Goodman. It turns out, Steve was on his way to meet the girl he loved as a young boy. They made a pact to meet on the 5th day of the 5th month of the 5th year of the new millennium. He was supposed to meet his love at the school of ballroom dancing where their love first bloomed. Since he can't make it, Steve asks Frank to go in his place to let the girl know what happened and that he tried to make it. Frank goes to the dance school, but doesn't find the girl there. He ends up participating in the class and keeps coming back. He meets Meredith, played by Marisa Tomei, and their instant attraction is clear. Donnie Wahlberg is excellent as Meredith's protective and controlling stepbrother, not to mention a wonderful dancer. Mary Steenburgen is great as the teacher of the dance class. She is very serious about the class, which makes her funny, although she is not meaning to be. There were many great small performances by Danny Devito, Ernie Hudson, Miguel Sandoval, David Paymer, Adam Arkin, Sean Astin...the list goes on. The movie goes back and forth between the conversation Frank has with Steve about how he met his young love as he is dying, the dance class, and Frank's therapy group. It does seem like it could be an extremely depressing movie, but it left me with a good feeling. It was about finding love and rising above the bad things life throws our way. That's what I took away from it, anyway. Not a blockbuster, but a nice little indie gem.
simple yet surprisingly introspective
Though certainly not about a new and unique topic in entertainment, this film presents a multi-dimensional perspective about experiences that we all, as human beings, can relate.

The films unique approach, and the actors sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic execution causes a myriad of emotions to surface during the development of the plot. The audience laughs, cries, and I was personally touched by both the plot transitions and the elegant development of the characters and story line throughout the film.

The film provoked reflection in the audience by asking questions and allowing this moviegoer to connect many life experiences to the film. So many movies today are developed for entertainment purposes only, usually either through special effects or dark, dismal shock factor. This film differentiated itself by not wrapping everything up in a pretty little package, leaving room for discussion and interpretation. And Mary Steenburgen's performance was easily one of the best I've seen at the entire film festival.
Such a good movie
This is such a good movie.

There is so much tragedy in the lives of the characters and yet they seek comfort and happiness at the Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing and Charm School.

It is so lovely watching these characters trying to recapture or rebuild the happiness in their lives.

Robert Carlyle is his extraordinary self. You simply can't go wrong watching a movie with him in it. Marissa Tomei is wonderful as a fragile flower. Mary Steenburgen is a delight. and John Goodman...

Please watch this film.
Sometimes Charming, Mostly Not
I just had to write a comment. I can't believe how many people found this movie poignant and charming and touching. I hoped I would. I did not.

I was surprised to find this movie at my local cineplex. The reviews in the paper weren't very good, but the ad was intriguing. The title is awkwardly long, I hoped the movie was not. There was only room enough on the box office sign to put the words "Marilyn Hotchkiss", and there were at least 2 couples in line were confused about what "ballroom" movie it was they were there to see. I suspect there will be some audiences who really wanted to see the Antonio Banderas movie (Take The Lead) instead. I haven't seen that one yet, but it looks like a better bet.

The movie is obviously low budget, and the fact that they nabbed so many name actors to appear in it is both appealing and distracting. It's almost like the result of some contest for "who can get the most name actors in their low-budget movie?". Perhaps they were following the trend set by last year's winner of that contest, "Crash". Most of these name actors in "Marilyn Hotchkiss..." have very little to do, and some of them are surprisingly awful. There are exceptions. Robert Carlyle, in the lead, is quite good, though at times it seems he can't quite decide whether or not to use his native Scottish accent. His character is a baker whose family has owned a bakery in Pasadena, California "since 1903", so it would be logical that at least he and his father before him were born and grew up in the United States. Still, Carlyle is otherwise very genuine and is the backbone of this movie. Donnie Wahlberg is also a welcome stand-out in his role as one of the patrons of the Ballroom Dancing and Charm School. Marisa Tomei gives a nice performance, as do several of the other "name actors" who have minor roles, including David Paymer, Adam Arkin, and Ernie Hudson (as members of Carlyle's widower's support group) and Sonia Braga (who is one of the ladies at the dance class). Mary Steenburgen, as the leader of the dance class, gives an interesting performance. I'm not usually a fan of her work. I don't always believe what she says -- she always seems to be "acting". But in this case her theatrical style is very appropriate and suits her and the role. Sean Astin, of whom I am a fan, doesn't fare as well. Had this been the first film I'd ever seen him in, I'd have thought, "That is just not a very good actor".

Others on the minus side are Camryn Manheim, who stops in to give a one-scene one-note performance -- and it's not a note you'd want to hear over and over again. At least her scene is short. Which leads me to another one-note performance that seems endless -- The winner of the Lousiest Acting in an Independent Feature Award goes to John Goodman. I have even greater respect for Robert Carlyle's talent in coming up with such an honest performance while having to act with Goodman, who is so unbelievable and phony. Danny DeVito appears briefly in one scene, as if to fulfill the star quota. Among the several non-name actors that are spattered throughout the film, there is one that was conspicuous, the only actor I didn't recognize in Carlyle's widower's support group, a sad-sack faced actor named David St. James, whose every appearance involves him crying. Though I imagine it's intended to be comedic, it is so over-the-top, reminiscent of Stan Laurel or the Cowardly Lion, he seems to have been stuck in the wrong movie.

The writing is all over the place, some good, some bad, some preposterous. I won't include a spoiler, but there's a scene in the bakery that would not only violate health code standards, but have you seriously consider that low-carb diet.

I can't say the directing is all bad. Though he wasn't able to get good performances out of all of the actors, director Randall Miller has managed to come up with some nice imagery. His skill at photographing dance isn't always great, but I did like one particularly memorable shot panning across the feet of the ladies waiting in line to dance. He's chosen two different cinematography styles to denote flashback. The scenes from the original short (made 15 years ago), of the young kids in dancing class, are given an overly grainy look. (Or maybe that was what the entire short originally looked like). The John Goodman scenes, flashing back to the car accident, are all in that over-exposed, washed-out look that has become popular in many films. The first time I saw that look in a movie, I thought it looked like bad photography, like the filmmakers didn't have the money to do it properly so the footage would look "good". I thought it looked cheap. But now that I've seen it in major studio films, like "Munich", I recognize that it isn't cheap, it's a choice. It's simply a choice that doesn't appeal to me. It makes those scenes look even more strident than John Goodman's acting. In "Marilyn Hotchkiss...", the many different styles make it look like an exercise in Photoshop Filters.

I really wanted to like this movie. Instead, I found myself shaking my head in disbelief through much of it.
Emotional roller-coaster, Mary Steenburgen is amazing
It took a while before i felt involved with the film and the characters. However, once more characters started joining the dance class i started to look forward to every scene in the ballroom. Robert Carlyle was obviously the lead role but Mary Steenburgen was fabulous. She was funny but serious and assertive, and her wardrobe throughout the movie evolved along with her character. A nice, subtle touch. As was the gentleman who starts and stops the music for her during the film, i think his name was Freeway? I started looking forward to every time he hit play on that tiny boom box and hearing the music boom through the theater sound. Overall i really enjoyed the film even though it started a little slow.
The Way to Lisa
Viewed as it is, without the cynicism that comes with having seen too many movies both good and bad, MARILYN HOTCHKISS BALLROOM DANCE AND CHARM SCHOOL is an affecting picture about disaffected, bruised people whose destinies converge in this little motif of a tableau. An expanded concept from a short film of the same name that was released in 1990, this is a very romantic (i.e. "escapist") take on lost love, and the intent to rekindle it in a time and place where dreams have been lost, people have outgrown their innocence, and the only thing lingering over their heads is a small sliver of hope to return to that safe haven.

The movie cuts between time zones in a style closer to the fragmented storytelling of Guillermo Arriaga's 21 GRAMS and THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA, and changes palettes according to each: blue for the fateful encounter between Robert Carlyle's and John Goodman's character, pastel for the flashback sequence where we see the title character, and a more balanced tone for the story as it eventually unfolds from Carlyle's point of view. It's a technique that works in unraveling the parallels of the characters as children, and seeing them now, as broken adults.

It almost becomes a thriller in a way that is less dependent on an intentional story within a story. Carlyle's quiet baker, trying to locate Goodman's childhood sweetheart Lisa, stumbles on another situation where another shy girl, played by Marisa Tomei, is being brutalized by her half-brother, played by Donnie Wahlberg, and discovers a second chance at love. All the while, the specter of this ideal Lisa hanging over the ballroom and Marienne Hotchkiss' sensual-robotic commands, which makes her actual introduction late into the story as a bitter woman all the more heartbreaking. Camryn Manheim plays out all the anger and sadness into her brief scene where she at first pretends not to know what the hell this stranger is doing at her door, and later, alone, reveals to us her pain.

An imperfect movie in the way it decides to resolve supporting conflicts and uses the voice-over narration of John Goodman to near unbelievable levels, but again, this is an escapist feature length film made with what seems to be genuine love for the material and devoid of all manipulation.
Sweet and Charming
This movie was so incredibly sweet! I really loved how the Robert Carlyle's character learns to love (and live) again. John Goodman was amazing telling his story, and the flashback scenes with the kids were so sweet.

I loved how John Goodman's character passes on his destiny to Robert Carlyle's character, and how everyone's life is impacted. This is a wonderful story of love and loss and moving forward. The dancing may not be brilliant, but it's not about the dancing. It's about real people learning to dance and learning so much more in the process. It's about people actually connecting with each other.

The supporting cast was awesome! There were so many people I recognized. Mary Steenburgen was just brilliant was the eccentric dance teacher, and Donnie Wahlberg was so funny as the jealous step-brother. And so many more celebrities - Sean Astin, Camyrn Manheim, Danny DeVito, Adam Arkin -- the list goes on and on.

I highly recommend this wonderful film. It made me laugh and cry. It made me want to dance!
A small market movie but a major league hit
Movie audiences should be prepared to view a movie that tells a short with such emotion that the audience will be mesmerized by the story line and the fine acting. The lead actors are incredible as they become the characters they portray. There are minor appearances by John Goodman and Danny Devito. The dancing school becomes a major part of the characters life and manages very well to integrate many stories into a ongoing event. The story mixes well with the boys and girls attending the charm school and the way it shapes there life. The script is so wll written, the acting so good and the end of the movie will leave you asking for more. Why oh Why can they not make more movies like this one. Please do yourself a favor and seen this film as you will be truly charmed.
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