A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Save the Last Dance is a 2001 movie in which a white suburban teen moves to the city and begins a romance with an African American teen from her new high school in Chicago. This movie has strong language (including "f--k" and "s--t"), and the soundtrack lyrics have even stronger language, including the "N" word. There are two drive-by shooting scenes: gunshots, a car explodes, characters are sent to the hospital and arrested. Two teen girls get into a fight in the gym, with punching and shoving. Chenille has an out-of-wedlock child (and a difficult relationship with the child's father). Derek has to decide whether his loyalty to an old friend (and his sense of guilt at the friend's having taken the rap for them both) means that he must go along with him when he plans to shoot someone. Characters object to the interracial romance, mostly because they are jealous. The characters buy fake IDs so that they can go to a club that serves liquor, and they drink and smoke. During an in-class discussion about In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, a homosexual slur is used while discussing Capote.
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What's the story?
SAVE THE LAST DANCE centers on Sara Johnson (Julia Stiles), a ballet dancer who is nervous about her big audition for Julliard. Her mother promises to be there, but she is killed in a car crash on the way to the theater. Sara moves from the suburbs to live with her dad (Terry Kinney) in a tiny apartment in Chicago's inner city. Her new high school has metal detectors, and almost all of the students are black. She's befriended by Chenille (Kerry Washington), whose brother Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas) is a smart kid torn between his old friends, who are increasingly involved in dangerous activities, and his ambitions to go to medical school. Chenille brings Sara to a dance club, and Derek teaches Sara a little about hip-hop. They become friends, and then romantically involved. He finds out about her passion for ballet and urges her to apply to Julliard again. Various complications ensue, and Sara, Chenille, and Derek have to confront their fears and think carefully about loyalty and trust. Ultimately, what Sara learns from Derek in dance and in life helps her to follow her dream.
Is it any good?
Save the Last Dance is a formulaic coming-of-age/teen romance with an MTV spin (MTV co-produced the movie). While the script is below average, even by the low standards of this genre, its performers are attractive and sincere (Kerry Washington is particularly appealing), and most teens are still so new to this category of film that it may not seem clichéd to them.
This movie requires suspension of disbelief that is close to complete abandonment of any sense of reality: Characters who live in the poorest circumstances seem to have all the money they need to buy fake IDs or expensive tickets. Students who get good grades never seem to do any homework or have any books in their backpacks. A teenager with a baby never has a problem with childcare. Still, no one watches this movie to gain great insights about the human condition. It's nowhere near Grease or Flashdance in style, soundtrack, or dance, but it may appeal to teens who see it as one big music video.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about teen romances. Why are there so many stories about teens who have to fight against the odds to be together? What's the appeal?
How does this movie compare to other movies that explore the complexities of race relations in America? Do you think the movie accurately represented some of these complexities? Why or why not?
What are some of the topics addressed in the movie that remain relevant today, years after its release?
- In theaters: January 12, 2001
- On DVD or streaming: June 19, 2001
- Cast: Julia Stiles, Kerry Washington, Sean Patrick Thomas
- Director: Thomas Carter
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 112 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: violence, sexual content, language and brief drug references
- Last updated: October 10, 2019
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