Take the Lead
By Cynthia Fuchs,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
NYC high schoolers saved by ballroom dancing.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Kids fight, resist authority, behave sullenly in repsonse to dance teacher's entreaties; teacher's bicycle is stolen (and at film's end, replaced); kids learn mutual respect; widowed teacher learns to open his heart to romance.
Violence & Scariness
Movie includes several violent scenes, including an opening fistfight at a high school dance; an attack on a car with a bar; boy pulls a gun at the end and is beaten by his angry crew (slightly bloody imagery here).
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Dancing is often sexualized (especially tango, salsa, and some hip-hop styles); an older man tries to seduce his girlfriend's adolescent daughter; romantic kissing by featured high school couple; the sight of an interracial couple dancing upsets white girl's mother.
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Mild language by kids and also by the principal (dance teacher is very proper): one f-word; a couple of uses of s-word, "hell," and "damn," plus gender/sexual slang ("punk ass," "p---y," "ass") and other colorful phrasing ("screwed up," "I suck").
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
One boy's parents are alcoholics; another deals drugs; reference to "crack dealer."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this film includes some images of violence, as well as references to painful past deaths (two kids' siblings were killed in gang violence). A frustrated boy smashes his principal's car with a bar; a gun is drawn near the film's end, and a crew who deals drugs and stolen materials beats up their reluctant member (some blood visible on his face, as he finally makes it to the ballroom competition). The dancing is sometimes very formal, often very sexualized (especially the tango, salsa, and hip-hop moves). Characters deal drugs, threaten violence, smoke cigarettes, and drink.
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What's the Story?
In TAKE THE LEAD, New York ballroom dancing teacher Pierre (Antonio Banderas) begins teaching a group of troubled high school students. He's first stymied, then embraced by the flinty-then-warm principal (Alfre Woodard). Though his students -- assigned to detention hall for various infractions -- resist his initial efforts to "express themselves" through dance (and especially, disdain his romantic oldies music), they do come to appreciate his dedication, and the fact that he brings in one of his upscale, white, and very snobby students, Morgan (Katya Virshilas), to show the proper execution of the tango. The boys' eyes predictably pop ("It's like sex on hardwood!") and the girls appreciate Morgan's deft athleticism. Pierre and his toughest student, Rock (Rob Brown), test one another, learn to trust one another, and come up with a mutually respectful relationship by film's end.
Is It Any Good?
Liz Friedlander's fiction film is well-meaning and energetic. It skews older than the documentary Mad Hot Ballroom (though both are inspired by the same NYC program), and features more acrobatic camerawork and slicker editing. This means the movie grants the kids an inevitable endpoint: an entertaining dance competition where they combine hip-hop and ballroom strategies.
Yet while Rock is "developed" in relation to several characters, most of the students never get out from under their initial stereotypes. The film alludes to the students' complex lives and "issues" but they're resolved in the fiction more simplistically than are the younger kids' dilemmas in the documentary. And the Michelle Pfeiffer plot is corny. Even the diligent, compassionate widower Pierre gets a girlfriend by the end.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the options available for the dance students. How might their dance training help them in other aspects of their lives (getting a job, looking after children and parents, continuing their educations)? How does the film set up a connection between their home-life conflicts and their work in the dance class?
- In theaters: April 7, 2006
- On DVD or streaming: August 29, 2006
- Cast: Alfre Woodard, Antonio Banderas, Rob Brown
- Director: Liz Friedlander
- Inclusion Information: Black actors
- Studio: New Line
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 117 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic material, language and some violence
- Last updated: March 31, 2022
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