I've been a fan of dance for my entire life. From as long as I can remember, I've taught myself to dance by watching old VHS tapes of Michael Jackson, movies that starred Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, and concerts of Motown legends that showcased a lot of dance numbers. Later in life, I even took some classes to learn how to move better. Needless to say, movies that involve dancing make me happy. I'll rephrase that. Movies with a great plot, solid acting, and great direction that involve the art of dance make me happy. I will leave the 'Step Up' films on the side of the road any day.
However, with this film by Susan Seidelman called 'Musical Chairs', this is one dance movie that you can add to one of your favorites, despite some of its clichés. Seidelman has rounded out her movie with an amazing cast and a good script that tells the story of love, tragedy, and dance, all from a beautiful perspective. Unfortunately, 'Musical Chairs' only came out in a few theaters across the U.S. during a weekend when a big blockbuster movie came out. Almost no critics or the viewing public saw this movie and thus, it was swept under the rug very quickly. Luckily for us, HBO is giving it a run on their cable network to give this great film its deserved spotlight.
The film is set in New York and follows Armando (E.J. Bonilla), who is a man who has a passion for dance and wants desperately to do stage work, but can only find custodial work at a local dance studio to make ends meet and possibly get his foot in the door. While working there, he takes notice of the beautiful Mia Franklin (Leah Pipes), the star ballroom dancer who is secretly having an affair with with studio owner Daniel (Philip Willingham). Mia catches Armando dancing by himself one day and sees that he is actually quite good and gives him a few lessons.
One day, Mia leaves the studio and ends up getting hit by a taxi, which leaves her a permanent paraplegic. Being madly in love with Mia, Armando persuades her and a few other people in the therapy hospital to join and compete in a wheelchair ballroom dancing competition. I know, this has Oscar written all over it, right? As Armando and Mia are falling love with each other, Armando's mother would rather see her son with another beautiful girl without a severe handicap, and she goes to great lengths to sabotage their relationship. Sometimes to comical outcomes.
Through a lot of struggles, training, and dancing, Mia and Armando work towards winning that dance competition, but in fact, they might have already won, as they have found in each other their soul mate. I know it seems like there is a heavy layer of cheese throughout, but Seidelman's direction and Marty Madden's script hits the right steps every inch of the way, despite some of the clichés and story arcs you've seen in these types of romantic films before. Bonilla and Pipes give great performances and their chemistry on screen is infectious. 'Musical Chairs' is a very rewarding movie.