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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that High Strung is a celebration of the artistic life, looking at the hard work, perseverance, and dedication that make musicians and dancers become great, whether they're classically trained or hip-hop street performers. The emphasis is on working to improve your performance; to that end, dancers' bodies are shown off while they do their thing (clothed, but sometimes suggestively so). Male characters are also shown shirtless, and there's some kissing. Characters don't always make the smartest decisions (one student parties so much that it initially impacts her ability to perform, for instance), but many grow and learn key lessons over the course of the movie. The language is on the mild side -- "bitch," "butt," "screwed," etc. -- and there's some social drinking.
What's the story?
HIGH STRUNG follows Ruby (Keenan Kampa), a scholarship dance student, as she arrives in New York to study ballet. She immediately falls for Johnnie (Nicholas Galitzine), a poor British street violinist who needs a visa to avoid deportation. A can-do girl, Ruby tries to rescue Johnnie from homelessness and comes up with a plan to get him legal status. And, naturally, it means teaming up with a crew of hip-hop dancers to compete for money and a scholarship.
Is it any good?
This entertaining display of talent mixes classical and contemporary music and dance techniques, exposing enthusiasts of either one to the other genre. And the movie argues that mastering contemporary skills requires just as much hard work, drive, and talent as mastering classical technique -- equal admiration and respect are given to both disciplines. Energetic and imaginative choreography shows how much the performers in each category can learn from one another when artists collaborate, rather than compete. In fact, High Strung is at its best when it showcases the fun and exhilaration of following a passion. For example, musicians in a bar turn country-inspired fiddling into riffs on Swan Lake. And a swanky party devolves into a toe-tapping fiddle-off as competing violinists play variations on Ernesto Lecuona's Malaguena.
It helps that the stars are genuinely artistically talented. Kampa is one of few Americans to have starred in a Russian ballet company, and the camera loves Galitzine; as Johnnie, he gets to show off impressive musical, dance, and acting chops. Co-stars John Silver and Marcus Mitchell are also outstanding dancers. Michael Damian's direction is adroit, and the script -- while sometimes a bit corny -- is well intended, with moments of wisdom. As a dance teacher puts it, "Each time you conquer a step, there will always be another challenge waiting. It's a long road, it never ends." Good advice for anyone.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how movies like High Strung depict artistic talent. Do you think it's realistic? Do you think people with artistic talent have more fulfilling lives than people with other kinds of skills and abilities?
Can movies and TV shows introduce people to ways of life they might not otherwise have a chance to experience? Has that ever happened to you?
- In theaters: April 8, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: August 2, 2016
- Cast: Nicholas Galitzine, Paul Freeman, Jane Seymour, Keenan Kampa
- Director: Michael Damian
- Studio: The Orchard
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Arts and Dance
- Character Strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 95 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some thematic elements and mild language
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