Synopsis: When, Mia, a dance teacher, lands in the hospital after an accident, Armando, a would-be dancer who admires her from afar, persuades her to train for an upcoming wheelchair ballroom dancing contest. (c)IMDB
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For whatever reason I had this movie pegged wrong. It’s evident from the title that Musical Chair is a movie about dancing. What I wasn’t aware of that it deals with wheelchair ballroom dancing. Directed by Susan Seidelman, Musical Chairs is a story of love, dancing, and will power.
Armando(E.J. Bonilla) has a flare and passion for dancing. He skips to his own beat, literally. He works at a dance studio in Manhattan as a custodian. That’s introduced from the opening minutes of the film. Armando instantly falls for beautiful dancer Mia(Leah Pipes). Tragedy strikes swiftly after Mia is involved in a life-changing accident that leaves her confined to a wheelchair. Armando makes it his mission to gain the affection of Mia, while inspiring hope in her competing in a wheelchair ballroom competition.
Surprisingly Musical Chairs is one of those films that has been sitting on the shelf for years. Released in 2011, it recently had a run on HBO. I appreciated the fact that this film covers a subject (wheelchair ballroom dancing) that isn’t familiar to most. Seidelman does a great job adding a cultural flair to the movie. There is a heavy Puerto Rican flavor in this film. Armando and his family are a all vibrant and loud characters. The city of New York is portrayed as a character in itself. You can feel and hear the Bronx from the way the film depicts it. Lots of energy and life.
The cultural aspect is what fuels this movie. As interesting as the depictions of the cultures (Puero Rican in particular) are, it’s also what adds to the stereotypes of the film. Armando’s mother Isabel (Priscilla Lopez) is an entertaining character in the film, she’s also the one that’s most stereotypically portrayed. She’s loud and feisty. She pushed Armando to date a Purto Rican girl. She also tries to steer Mia from being with her son. It seems that Armando’s family is plays into character stereotypes in order to make Armando look like a progressive modern outsider.
The character of Armando has a little more depth. He’s charming and sweet. He doesn’t want to be stuck working in the family restaurant, instead he wants to pursue his passion for dancing. He doesn’t want to date who his family pushes on him, instead he wants to date Mia, who is a white girl. Being mostly known as a CW teen drama actress, Leah Pipes gives a rangy performance that showcases her best work on-screen. Pipes is hard to look-away from, she looks stunning in the movie. You feel for her and understand her struggle of a previously able successful dancer being bound to a wheelchair.
The film also includes a a real-life Transgender person in Laverne Cox, who plays a transgender character named Chantelle. Also playing supporting roles are Autie Angel as Nicky, the alternative rebellious wheelchair dancer, and Morgan Spector plays the skirt chasing, ex-soldier Kenny. They add a unique blend of personality. The group of wheelchair dancers that Armando teaches comprises this blend of different cultures and personalities.
Wheelchair ballroom dancing is something I wasn’t aware of prior to seeing this movie. It’s a really great way for disabled people to participate and continue or develop a passion for dancing. The cultural aspect added a lot of to the overall presentation of the film. The Latin music flows alongside the rhythm of the film.
Musical Chairs is a charming and sweet movie. The ending left me desiring more, and was a bit abrupt. The diversity of the characters is refreshing, even though they borderline stereotypes. The movie has a nice pace going for it, though the humor seems forced at times. Overall, it’s charming, enjoyable, and heartwarming. It’s a feel-good, quirky, and sometimes sad romance that highlights dancing as a linking point between cultures, genders, and races.
Musical Chairs – 6.5 out of 10!
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