Saturday, March 24, 2012

“Musical Chairs” – Movie Review


This week, the Spring semester of my movie class began with a screening of Director Susan Seidelman’s new romantic comedy – drama “Musical Chairs” . 



When a young dancer falls in love with a woman who recently became a paraplegic, can he restore her will to live by renewing her interest in dance?



While working as a waiter in his parents’ South Bronx restaurant, Armando dreams of a better life as a professional dancer – toward that end, he teaches the tango to a bunch of elderly women at a Manhattan dance studio while secretly hoping he can break into show business.  His proud Puerto Rican mother, Isabel, thinks his dreams are unrealistic and instead tries to play the role of matchmaker to set him up with a nice Hispanic girl from the neighborhood. 

Unknown to Isabel, Armando is in love with Mia, a fellow dance instructor at the studio where he works part-time.  A beautiful young woman with a promising future in dance, her career is abruptly cut short when she suffers a severe spinal cord injury as a result of a traffic accident; suddenly finding herself a paraplegic, she is confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life.  Unable to walk much less dance, she falls into a deep depression and completely loses interest in life. 

Armando eventually learns of a rather unique ballroom dancing competition – one that involves dancers whose partners are wheelchair-bound.  Inspired, he enlists the aid of his friends and co-workers to teach Mia and her fellow paraplegics how to dance on wheels so that they may enter the competition.  But with Mia questioning both her own abilities and Armando’s motives, will his efforts go for naught or will he somehow manage to help her find a reason to live?



In “Musical Chairs”, director Susan Seidelman appears to be trying to seek both the success and notoriety she achieved with her hit “Desperately Seeking Susan” around a quarter of a century ago.  Unfortunately for her, this movie lacks the cleverness and charm that characterized her breakthrough film, not to mention the fact that it is also missing a Madonna-type character who is on the brink of being a huge star.  Instead, this is a movie with a painfully corny story, replete with clichés and attempts at humor that totally fall flat. 

With trite dialog (does anyone actually use the word “scram” these days?) and situations that challenge viewers to suspend their disbelief far beyond any reasonable degree, “Musical Chairs” feels more like a made for TV movie – not to put too fine a point on things, but likely a Movie-Of-The-Week that would wind up on the Lifetime network.  While the romance angle is intended for women, the dancing designed to appeal to the youth and the Puerto Rican protagonist directed towards an ever-increasing Hispanic market, there are plenty of business reasons why this movie got made.  Whatever creative or artistic reasons that may be for this movie to exist, however, remain something of a mystery. 

Following the screening, our instructor interviewed both Seidelman and actress Priscilla Lopez, who played Isabel, Armando’s mother.  Seidelman spoke about what it was like to film the movie in New York City on a small budget; she said that a number of the street scenes were so-called “stolen” shots in the sense that they were done somewhat spontaneously and without getting the proper permits from the city, which are expensive.  Lopez discussed her character; as a mother herself, she said that she could relate to Isabel’s wrong-headed but nevertheless good intentions as she merely wanted the best for her only son.  She compared this character to that of the mother she played in “Maid In Manhattan”.   Ms. Lopez said that this character was easier for her to play because Isabel, although something of an antagonist in “Musical Chairs”, was nevertheless more sympathetic than the character in the J-Lo movie. 


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