Save the Last Dance Movie Poster Image

Save the Last Dance



Formulaic teen romance with an MTV spin.
  • Review Date: May 8, 2003
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2001
  • Running Time: 112 minutes

What parents need to know


Characters involved in violence, car crash, parental death.


Teen character has out of wedlock child, some sexual references.


Typical high school-style strong language, very strong language in soundtrack rap songs.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Teen characters drink and smoke, fake ID.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this movie has strong language, and the soundtrack lyrics have even stronger language, including the "N" word. 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 they can go to a club that serves liquor, and they drink and smoke.

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, 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 child care. Still, no one goes to this movie to gain great insights about the human condition. It is nowhere near Grease or Flashdance in style, soundtrack, or dance, but it may appeal to teens who see it as one big music video.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the choices Sara and Derek must face. Sara blames herself for her mother's death. How does she overcome that feeling and allow herself to take the risk of auditioning again? How do Derek and Sara get into trouble by not being honest with each other about what is bothering them? How do they sort through their loyalties, Derek to his friend Malakai (Fredro Starr) and Sara to Chenille? Malakai tells Derek, "You act like you don't know who you are anymore." How do Sara and Derek decide who they are? Where do they find their support?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:January 12, 2001
DVD release date:June 19, 2001
Cast:Julia Stiles, Kerry Washington, Sean Patrick Thomas
Director:Thomas Carter
Studio:Paramount Pictures
Run time:112 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:violence, sexual content, language and brief drug references

This review of Save the Last Dance was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

  • Raw look at teen life more shocking than you might recall.
  • Musical phenomenon is still great fun but quite racy.
  • A dated rebellion tale.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Adult Written byjoshua martinez September 5, 2010

13 and up.

Save the Last Dance is a good teen-romance movie that deals with some themes such as race issues, relationships, and peer pressure only for your older teens and parents you need to know that Save the Last Dance has some violence such as shootings, and a fight in the club scene there are some sexual references and characters used strong language plus the hip-hop soundtrack rap songs also has strong language Teen characters drink and smoke.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Parent of a 4 and 5 year old Written byjkirklewski April 6, 2009
This has been my favorite movie for the past 10 years!
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Teen, 13 years old Written byemma29 December 12, 2009

Predictable teen movie is a simple flick

This movie is a pretty predictable teen-romance. There is a lot of bad language, a drive-by, and general gang-activity. Also, there is some teen drinking, smoking, and presenting of fake IDs, and the main character's best friend has a child out of accidental pregnancy. However, it also has the perspectives of under-privelaged teens living in the ghetto. Also, it touches on the difficulties of interracial romance and racism. It's nice to finally see a couple of different races on the big screen. This is not to say it is a good movie...It's actually pretty bad, complete with a rather terrible script.
What other families should know
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Great messages


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?