Having watched this film for what seems like a million times, it has become one of my favorite films, yet at the same there is so much to pick apart about it. Save the Last Dance involves a plot centered on a white girl, Sara (Julia Stiles), who moves to a predominantly black neighborhood in Chicago’s South Side to live with her estranged father after her mother suddenly dies. She comes from a small white suburban town, barely accustomed to the lingo and culture of her new city home.
Sara feels out of place until she is befriended by a black classmate, Chenille (Kerry Washington) and her handsome brother Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas). The friendships blossom and sparks fly between Sara and Derek as they learn they have a shared interest in dance, leading them to a romantic relationship that creates opposition from family and friends. Having an interracial relationship, Derek and Sara must confront one of the biggest challenges of their young lives—to stay true to their dreams…and to themselves.
Throughout the film, the couple continuously runs into barriers trying to prevent them from having the kind of relationship that means something to them. Her father thinks Derek is responsible for Sara for getting into a fight at school with Nikki, Derek’s old flame. Nikki and Malakai, Derek’s best friend, conspire to pit Derek and Sara against each other and break up. Through every angle, every aspect of the relationship, the couple realizes they must make difficult decisions in order for their romance to survive.
Throughout the film though, the actors appear to be more like best friends than boyfriend and girlfriend. Only through a couple scenes do they show true compassion and emotion for each other.
Sara’s relationship with her father improves when he reveals her refurnished bedroom to her. It finally comes to light that she doesn’t hate him, she misses her mother. Strong emotions fly, beginning a new relationship between father and daughter. This seems to be the only realistic relationship portrayed throughout the entire film, or maybe the only one I can relate to on some level.
The acting wasn’t all that great—revealing what they were actually doing—acting, not making the story seem realistic like it should have been portrayed.
There was a great idea for a story line, yet the actors failed to make it seem realistic, unless it was the intention of the director to make the film formalistic, which was a bad choice because the story is far from being formalistic. Stories like these do happen and they need to be portrayed as realistically as possible.
One thing that was done well had to do with editing and it happened twice during the film, once in the introductory scenes and once toward the end. In the beginning of the film, Sara is shown riding on a train, destination unknown to the audience at the time. She is staring out the window and flashbacks are revealed to explain why she is on the train—the flashbacks are of her pressuring her mother to come watch her audition at Julliard. Even though her mother was busy she still rushed to see her daughter audition, but on the way there she is involved in an accident, changing lives forever. Editing was done well with cutting from the mother rushing to Sara dancing and cutting from the accident happening to Sara falling.
The same sort of editing was used later in the film as well in correspondence with Sara’s dancing. She worked hard enough and gained enough self-confidence to audition again at Julliard even though her mother wouldn’t be there. Shots were cut between her dancing and situations taking place in the city—revealing decisions made based on experiences throughout the movie.
The storyline and editing are what made the movie, not the acting. The shots told the story.