Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 96 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 12+. This dance movie is very firmly of that genre, with a lot of dance-offs and competition between college students and young adults who have committed themselves to the arts. Some kissing and various characters described as “sexy,” some shirtless guys, some cleavage, the implication of sexual activity and some very-hard partying (and possible drinking or drug use, but it’s a very, very light implication), some crass jokes, a few discussions about social mobility and social class, and scenes set in pubs and dance clubs.
Arts movie ‘High Strung’ has a goofy script and a clichéd plot, but the dance sequences and musical performances are memorable, ambitious, and highly enjoyable.
By Roxana Hadadi
It feels unfair to fault dance movies for being bad at things that aren’t dancing. The genre is so single-focused, so committed to one thing only, that it seems wrong to knock dance movies for not paying as much attention to their scripts or their characters. Who cares about all that stuff if the people in the movie can really dance? And so it goes with “High Strung,” in which the protagonists are pretty silly but the music and dance performances are pretty good.
The film takes place in New York City (of course) and focuses on two dissimilar young artists who eventually fall for each other (of course) and have to prove their skill and their relationship to their peers (of course). This is all pretty typical stuff for the dance movie genre – think of “Step Up” and “Make Your Move” – but “High Strung” hits the right notes and the right steps to entertain audiences, even if the material is overly familiar.
“High Strung” centers on dancer Ruby (Keenan Kampa), who arrives in the city from a small country town and is immediately taken with New York. Although she excels at ballet, she struggles with contemporary dance, and is concerned about maintaining her scholarship at the Manhattan Conservatory of the Arts. One day on the subway she crosses paths with the British violinist Johnnie (Nicholas Galitzine), who is busking in the train station to make rent. In the United States illegally and hoping to obtain a visa, Johnnie steps in to protect Ruby from a scuffle and turns around to find his priceless violin stolen. They don’t exactly start off on the right foot.
But is Ruby is convinced in the goodness of people, and Johnnie needs a friend, and so they tentatively begin an acquaintance. Aside from their burgeoning relationship, there are other issues at play. Ruby’s perfectionism and belief that her education will help her career are in contrast to Johnnie’s skepticism of formal training and more spontaneous playing style. Johnnie befriends a dance crew that lives downstairs, but they all have to work for a living, unlike most of the rich conservatory students. And Ruby’s roommate, also on scholarship, starts staying out all night with her new boyfriend, jeopardizing her education and causing a rift between her and Ruby.
All of this is standard not only for dance movies but also for coming-of-age films, and Ruby’s friction with her roommate or Johnnie’s struggles with Ruby’s wealthy classmates could be straight out of any Very Special Episode of a teen-centered TV show. It doesn’t help, either, that Ruby or Johnnie don’t really have personalities or chemistry with each other; words like “sexy” are thrown around a lot, but their pairing is curiously passion-less.
But perhaps that’s because there is so much passion for dance and music in “High Strung,” which is what you want from a genre movie like this anyway. There are various dance crews and all of their face-offs are invigorating, especially one set in the subway and another that breaks out during a fancy dinner party. Kampa’s performances during ballet class are stunning, and the fluidity of her movements are unforgettable. And how Galitzine holds his own against the conservatory’s top violin player during a violin-off – yes, that happens! – will make you root for the underdog.
That good stuff can only cancel out so much hokey stuff, like Ruby lecturing her roommate that “Dancers dance” and a wealthy society patron gasping “Who are these people?” when her mostly-minority catering staff break out into a routine. The clichés are certainly prevalent in “High Strung,” but at least the genre movie knows its strengths, and sticks to them.
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