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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that High Strung Free Dance -- the follow-up to 2016's High Strung -- is a drama about young artists trying to make it on Broadway. It's from married filmmakers Michael and Janeen Damian, both of whom come from the worlds of music, dance, and the Great White Way. Their experiences clearly inform the story, given the situations the young performers run into, including a temperamental, womanizing choreographer. Main character Barlow (Juliet Doherty) does become romantically involved with her boss (Disney Channel regular Thomas Doherty), with minimal consequences. This is a mixed message in a film that otherwise aims to show young viewers that achieving an "impossible" dream is possible through perseverance. Teamwork is also on display, and the supporting cast is diverse. Alcoholic beverages are shown in the background, characters kiss, and there's a single use of "bulls--t" (plus "sucks" and "screw that"). A character is accidentally knocked off his bike (some bleeding). Expect electrifying dance and music sequences that cross genres.
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What's the story?
In HIGH STRUNG FREE DANCE, famed choreographer Zander Raines (Thomas Doherty) gives contemporary dancer Barlow (Juliet Doherty) and gifted pianist Charlie (Harry Jarvis) their big break by casting them in his Broadway show. Tensions mount when Barlow dances into the hearts of both her colleague and her boss.
Is it any good?
What this film lacks in story and acting talent it makes up for in eye-popping, ear-pleasing dance and music sequences that will captivate even the most disinterested viewer. The story has overtones of 42nd Street without the clever quips and snappy comebacks (although choreographer Tyce Diorio's exciting originality is worthy of the Busby Berkley comparison). The acting is underwhelming and the writing is barely serviceable, but who cares? High Strung Free Dance is all about the performance sequences.
Director Michael Damian mixes modern and classic dance and music in a way that's entertaining and impressive. Even for kids who aren't into the arts, there's something to pull them in: an amazing rap sequence (from YouTuber Ali Tomineek), a highbrow Broadway dance sequence in which dancers are lifted and blown across the stage, and a visually spectacular Bollywood number. Damian sought out recognized, awarded performers from all over the world to create a troupe worthy of perfectionist impresario Raines. The result is a series of exciting performances that exceed any expectation you might have for an indie dance movie. At the very least, it dazzles; at the most, it inspires -- home viewers might just get off the couch and join in.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how High Strung Free Dance depicts a creative leader who berates and humiliates those he's leading. Do you think this behavior is common in the entertainment world? What do you think about the defense given by the assistant choreographer -- and Barlow's response?
What are the challenges of pursuing a career in the arts? What are the rewards? What character traits do you think are required to make it? How can you tell the difference between a hobby and a calling?
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: October 11, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: February 4, 2020
- Cast: Juliet Doherty, Harry Jarvis, Thomas Doherty
- Director: Michael Damian
- Studio: GVN Releasing
- Genre: Romance
- Topics: Arts and Dance
- Character strengths: Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 104 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some language
- Last updated: February 3, 2020
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