Feel The Beat – review

Brief synopsis: an aspiring broadway dancer returns to her hometown after a failed audition and incident in the city goes viral on social media. She sees a chance to get back to her dream when the hometown dance school’s teacher asks her to train the student for a national competition. 

Is it any good?: Feel The Beat is a feel-good film in the vein of the Pitch Perfect films. Though it is formulaic and entirely predictable, the cast performs with such heart, committing to the painting-by-numbers premise, that it would take a truly cynical heart not to enjoy it. 

Spoiler territory: Late for an audition, aspiring dancer, April (Sofia Carson) waits for a taxi in New York as rain soaks the city. She is desperate to get the job having received an eviction notice that morning for unpaid rent. Across the road, an elderly woman is also looking for a taxi. They both spot a taxi and run for it. April gets to the taxi as the older woman opens the door. April jumps in, stealing the taxi ride. 

April gets to the audition and performs brilliantly, impressing the judges. She gets picked to join the show with the only proviso being that the successful dancer gets the once over from Ruth Zimmer (Pamela MacDonald), a doyen of dance in the city. A dishevelled Zimmer appears at the theatre, drenched from her journey to the theatre. 

April recognises Zimmer as the elderly woman she took the taxi from. Zimmer also recognises April and warns her that she will never work in the city again. April desperately tries to convince Zimmer that she is not only sorry about the earlier incident but is perfect for the job. She only makes matters worse, encroaching on Zimmer’s personal space which causes the older woman to fall off the stage. 

The incident is caught on film and goes viral on social media. April returns to her apartment and finds that the locks have been changed and she has been evicted. She calls her father, Frank (Enrico Colantoni), who realises something is wrong even as she tries to hide it. He tells her to come home. 

He picks her up and they return to her hometown, New Hope, Wisconsin. A deflated April is spotted in the local store by her old dance teacher, the very excitable Miss Barb (Donna Lynne Champlin). Even though Barb only taught April for her formative years, she considers April her greatest success, telling everyone that she is a Broadway star. 

Barb invites April to come over to the old studio to meet the next crop of young dancers. April lies, saying her father is sick so she is unable to visit. Frank tells Barb that April would be happy to visit the studio. 

April visits the studio. Barb tells a barely interested April about a dance competition that she wants to put the girls in. She hopes, wonders aloud, April might be able to take a masterclass. She is surprised to see Sarah (Eve Hauge), one of Nick’s (Wolfgang Novogratz) younger sisters. Nick had been her childhood sweetheart and the boyfriend she dumped by text when she left for New York. 

She meets the other girls; Barb’s daughter, June (Kai Zen), Michelle (Carina Battrick), Nick’s other sister, Kari (Lidya Jewett), Ruby (Shiloh Nelson), Zuzu (Shaylee Mansfield), Oona (Sadie Lapidus) and Lucia (Johanna Colón). Dicky (Justin Caruso Allan), Coach Buzz’s (Denis Andres) son, sits playing in a corner. 

April gives the girls a short and harsh talk on the difficulties of becoming a dancer and leaves. Barb follows after her, determined to persuade her to teach her young charges. Outside of the studio, April runs into Nick. They catch up. 

Frank sees the notice fro the dance competition and ask April about it. She scoffs, telling him that Barb wants her to teach the girls for the competition. April does not want to teach, she should be performing. Frank reads the leaflet. Welly Wong (Rex Lee), a dance show producer as powerful as Zimmer, is one of the judges. April immediately decides to help the girls, seeing an opportunity for her to get back to Broadway. 

Needing to come third in the local dance competition, April takes advantage and show off during the student/teacher dance. They come fourth. When Barb gets a call the next day, from the competition organisers, telling her one of the other groups broke a rule, it results in the team qualifying for the next round. 

April begins to teach the girls but exhibits little warmth for the task or the girls, treating like adult dancers. After working the girl tirelessly, she quits in frustration, unhappy at their inability to do some of the dance steps. 

April calls her friend Deco (Brandon Kyle Goodman), a costume designer in the city, and vents about her problems. She hears Ruby sobbing in one of the cubicles, Ruby, having left the class after April told her she was not any good, asks her again if she is any good. April tells her no. Deco points out that she has no maternal instincts. 

Out on a run the next day, April sees Sarah practising her dance move in a field. She talks to and realises how much her break with Nick affected Sarah as well. April runs into Nick. He tells her that she needs to remember how it was when she was a girl dreaming of becoming a dancer. April returns to the class and fashions a sort of apology about her conduct, promising to stick with them through to the end of the competition. 

With April pushing them and the help of their families, the girl improve rapidly. The group are forced to move to Frank’s barn to practice after bad weather causes the roof of the studio to collapse. They go to the county competition. Dicky, who was always an observer, save the competition by jumping into the dance. 

The group advance to the regionals and onto the state finals. They qualify for the national competition. The town comes together to help get the girls ready for the competition. April recruits Deco to help with the costumes. At the nationals, April is seen by Wong and he asks her to be the star of his new show. April accepts even though it means she cannot finish the competition. 

April leaves the competition. The next day, as rehearsals for her new show for Wong are about to begin, April tells him she has to go back to the competition because she made a verbal commitment to the girls. She pushes the girls through the competition and returns to Wong’s show. 

Wong’s show is a hit and April is a star. Wong gets the whole town to come and visit April at the theatre after a show. The end. 

Final thoughts: Feel The Beat is an easy feel-good film, that is an enjoyable 109-minute watch. Directed by Elissa Down and written by Michael Armbruster and Shawn Ku, the film bumps nicely along, zipping through its runtime in an amusing fashion. 

Carson is an able lead, believable as the initially haughty April whose ambition masks her humanity. The young actors are very good in their roles also and are directed well enough so as not to overshadow the adults. 

The dance numbers are entertaining without being overly long and serve more as a backdrop to the central story rather than the film being built around a few musically or dance talented individuals. 

If you are looking for a filmic masterpiece, Feel The Beat is not the film for you. If you want a couple of easy hours of entertainment, Feel The Beat is worth a look.

Quiet Suppression – We’ll Take That

Back in the mid eighties I and many of my friends, in our mid to late teens, listened to the same music. This was around the time I started going to clubs and meeting people who would become life long friends. One of the commonalities among us was music.

Being black and having attended a predominantly black school, musical leanings were divided between two types; you were either a reggae person – most of the black people, children, I grew up around hailed from Jamaica, pretty much the birthplace of reggae – or you were a soul person. I was a soul person. Michael Jackson, on the brink of superstardom with Off The Wall, Luther Vandross in his fat phase, Stevie Wonder before the lazy, comedic impressions. I had a perm, I danced like I was about to fit and I loved music.

Music was – and still is – a great leveller for a black person growing up. We may not of had much in social status, or many role models, there were no faces to relate to on a regular basis on television – Sir Trevor was a lone, regular, face – and in my part of the world, urban south London, there was no mass expectation of going to ‘uni’ or getting a job that became a progressive career.

This was pre-internet, MTV was in its infancy, phone boxes still existed and vinyl was still the dominant musical format. Music mattered to us. It gave us identity; reggae was and will always be associated with Jamaica, but soul music was black. it embraced all of us, regardless of island origin, we could come together under the umbrella soul of music.

As ever, a lot of black cultural references come from our Stateside cousins. Film, music, fashion, even role models, have ever had blacks enviously looking across the pond. Of course we do not envy their everyday fear of being shot or living in some shitty hovel. We never had to – or our parents – face segregation or sitting at the back of a bus. No, we had any of that to contend with. We were lucky in that regard. Though there is something.

I was listening to Kiss 100 this morning, a commercial radio station that is not dissimilar from any other countrywide, 18-25 demographic driven station. In 1990 I was, as were many of my clubbing friends, at the Kiss fm launch party. The reason we were at the launch party was because we had been supporters of the station and knew many of the deejays that would populate its roster. Kiss was one of the pirate radio station that had helped to promote black music, the music we clubbed to and embraced. We felt like, in some part, it was our station. Fast forward fifteen years and any notion of it being a ‘black’ music station has all but disappeared. It is largely indistinguishable from any other popular music station, pumping largely white produced dance music. So what happened and what does this have to do with anything? The answer to that question is twofold and a little controversial.

Anything that is seen as black and popular, whites have tried to take it away and make it their own. In the States, with such a vocal section of blacks and with their natural inclination as a people, Americans, to highlight an issue, such a thing is not easy to do. Also, such is the number of blacks in America, they can influence at a level that matters; financially. In the UK that is not the case. Anything that is thought as being ‘black’ is not generally viewed as sellable or desirable. Unless it is repackaged as white. This is not a new thing, in fifties and sixties America the excitement initially generated by Elvis Presley was the notion of a white man who could sing ‘black’. Here in the UK the likes of UB40 and Culture Club in the eighties made a fortune singing reggae and ‘black’ music respectively. Jamiroquai also made his fortune adopting a black sound, yet black artist in this country have always struggled to make an impact. As recently as last year, Sam Smith, a soul singing depressive, white kid, garnered award upon award in black music categories, his beautiful ‘soul’ sound embraced by the masses.

Growing up, an insult that would sting any would be clubber was ‘you dance like a white person’. They really could not dance. Not to soul and funk and boogie anyway. Waltzes? Absolutely, but not stuff with a beat.  But as the decades went on and increasing amounts of whites got into soul music, mixed with blacks, clubbed with blacks, they got the beat. Now every talent show features a funky, all white, dance troupe.

There is no field, profession or area where black people are embraced, as leading, within the UK. After over five hundred years of immigration, integration and population, how is that possible? A quiet suppression. The powers that be say: Thank you, I’ll take that!