At first glimpse, Center Stage looks like a cross between Fame and Beverly Hills 90210, but once this film gets rolling, it’s more like an after school special that lasts too long.
First timer Amanda Schull plays Jody Sawyer, a ballerina hopeful who struggles with life, love, and her capabilities as a dancer in the prestigious American Ballet Academy. The whole goal behind the Academy is to train its students to get jobs. As it turns out, jobs are limited and the competition is something fierce. Okay, so it sounds better than it really is. Trust me on this one; it’s not that good. The plot is so overloaded by one teenage problem after another that the simple but sweet focus of dance is lost.
Schull’s portrayal of a naive wannabe is pitiful, yet her true-life talents as a dancer make up for her lack of skills as an actress. And I guess she’s not completely to blame, seeing how the script itself is dripping in cheese. It just makes it worse when a corny line is backed by stale delivery.
Schull isn’t the only one here who struggles with character development and expression. Susan May Pratt (10 Things I Hate About You) is absolutely laughable, and not in a good way, as the bitchy bulimic, Maureen. Her stoic representation of a distressed teen pushed to her limits is rather comical, and I don’t think that was the intention. Even when her tears are falling, she still can’t seem to get out the lines with enough conviction. And Ethan Stiefel (chief dancer for the American Ballet Theater) who plays Jody’s love interest, Cooper, is anything but a leading man. The only young hopeful in Center Stage that’s worth much is Zo Saldana. Her spunky portrayal of Eva is one full of attitude and realism, making her empathetic and dynamic. All in all, she’s pretty much the only character with some depth.
What Center Stage needs is more dancing and less dialogue. After all, these young actors are really dancers, and that’s the only thing they’ve got going for them in this movie. It’s undeniable that the moves are great, but when there’s a weak plot overshadowing it all, some fancy footwork just isn’t enough.
+ Ashley Adams