Feel the Beat (2020)
Updated: Sep 2, 2020
There is a lot to unpack here.
Feel the Beat is a one hour and forty-nine minute family film, exploring the dance career and experiences of April (Sofia Carson). The movie starts with our protagonist waking up on the day of an audition. She warms up, receives an eviction notice and fights an old lady for a taxi, all in a morning’s work. Of course the lady that she leaves in the rain, is none other than RUTH ZIMMER (Pamela MacDonald). Oh? You don’t know who Ruth Zimmer is? She’s the producer of the Broadway production that April is auditioning for, and apparently everyone on Broadway is TERRIFIED of her (this is never really explained). Predictably, Ruth swears that April will never appear on Broadway, Off-Broadway or Off-Off-Broadway for the rest of her days! April tries to calm Ruth down, but instead accidentally pushes the woman off the stage, breaking her wrist and her leg. Of course a video of this encounter goes online and “nearly 30,000” people have watched it by the time April gets back to her apartment…which she’s been evicted from. I thought you had to wait more than a few hours after serving an eviction notice, before you forcibly remove your tenant?
Anyway, alas, poor April sits on the floor of her apartment hallway. She is sad, she is locked out and she has milkshake in her hair, due to an ugly and embarrassing incident with an innocent pedestrian (that I do not have the time to recount right here and now, but it did involve dancing). It’s okay though, because her dad rings her on her iPad. This is where I take a short break from reviewing Feel the Beat to highlight the importance of keeping a budget. April has an iPhone, April has an iPad, April is living in her own apartment in New York City and is using taxis to get to her destinations. In addition to all of this, April has a pair of gorgeous eyebrows, a fashionable space suit and straightened hair that is immune to frizz during rain. All of this has to be costing a small fortune, which she could instead be dedicating to paying for her accommodation. I will give her some credit though, as she’s still using a boom box with a cassette deck for her random street auditions. So that’s something?
Anyway, because April is out of money she moves back to her hometown, New Hope (Go Churners!), with the intent to lay low and eat cheese…literally. Alas, her cheese-feast is interrupted in the checkout line, when she runs into her old dance teacher, Miss Barb. April agrees to stop by the old dance studio and is of course asked to coach a team for a national dance competition…you know the one: Dance Dance Dance Dance Competition. April is incensed! How could her teacher expect her to teach? She is a Broadway superstar after all. Then she finds out that there’s a category that allows teachers to dance and that Broadway director, Welly Wong will be judging at the national finals! April turns that truck right around and agrees to coach. This is her ticket back to Broadway! After all, everyone knows that Welly Wong is the only person on Broadway who isn't afraid of Ruth Zimmer! Is it unusual that this film seems to name drop fictional Broadway producers and directors like they're real and as though the children watching the film will know who they are? I don't know...
This is one of those classic tales where the protagonist grew up in a country town, moved to the big city, developed a crazy ego, goes back home, treats everyone like trash, realises the error of their ways and then has a total Dorothy Gale moment at the end. In Feel the Beat though, the main characters are predictably unlikeable at the start, and in the end, I must admit, haven't grown much more likeable. April is a bad teacher. She choreographs a routine in which she is literally kicking and stepping over the children. She shouts at them and refuses to call them by their real names. When she initially moves back to the town, she is incredibly rude to the woman who instructed her for eight years. This could be excused, but later in the film she has a really meaningful moment with the same teacher, where she discusses what a huge influence this woman was on her, throughout her upbringing, and in particular after her mother left. She says, "I just don't think I ever told you what a difference it all made". Did it though? Why weren't you thinking about this huge difference when you returned home after living away for years and were standing beside a cashier, eating cheese? Then there's the fact that she dumped her ex via text. This is brought up repeatedly throughout the film. April and Nick (Wolfgang Novogratz) almost joke about it and eventually he uses it as a way to ask her out again? It's kind of painful and strange. Throughout the whole movie I just wanted them to kiss and get on with it. I was entirely disinterested in the love story and either wanted them to remove it entirely or have Nick and April get back together in the first five minutes of her return. It is really obvious that this is what the characters want. There is nothing in the way, and it distracts from the cool dance moves. Anyway, long paragraph short, April's character development is extreme and it doesn't always feel earned. I don't think she had to be nasty to everyone from her old life, even if she does think she's better than them.
This film attempts to be quite inclusive. The New Hope Dance Studio features a dancer who is hearing impaired and relies on sign language to communicate. Rather than seeing this as a disadvantage, the other dancers and Miss Barb all actively sign during class. One of the defining moments in April's character arc is when she begins to sign as well. In addition to this, the film includes a moment that breaks gender stereotypes, in that (SPOILER) a young male dancer is lifted in a 'star lift' (what I had previously referred to as the Dirty Dancing lift), rather than doing the lifting, which is what is rehearsed. However, there are still some pretty uncomfortable and somewhat backwards moments. One instance being when a group of dance dads, from rival teams, meet in a carpark. Their interchange includes the line, "Our boys have been kicking your butts on the field for the last decade. Now our girls are kicking it onstage". The film's inclusivity in some moments, is undermined by several moments like this.
Finally, there are some really bizarre plot-points in this film, that are either never followed through on, or are resolved too rapidly to really develop the tension at all.
April gets a part on Broadway because of her performance on day one of the Dance Dance Dance Dance Competition. Judge and Broadway director, Welly Wong, loves her, and he isn't able to fulfil his commitment to judge the Dance Dance Dance Dance Competition, because he has to get back to rehearsals, so he takes April with him, in a limo. April leaves, but is in conflict about not fulfilling her commitment and leaving before day two of the Dance Dance Dance Dance Competition. During her rehearsal with Welly Wong, she opens her script and some of the decorative crepe paper that covered the stage during her dance performance, the previous day, in a different state, is inside her script. WHAT? Are you for real? This of course triggers her to go back, but HOW DID IT GET THERE? This is a question I'll be asking myself twenty years from now.
This is the most bizarre of all the bizarre moments. The crème de la crème of bizarre, and what I initially thought was the film's climax. One of the dancers, Sarah, has a crush on a footballer named R.J.. During a rehearsal, April has Sarah and R.J. practise the star lift together. They achieve it, and all seems well in the world. But alas, mid-star-lift, one of Sarah's chicken fillet bra cups, falls out of her top and onto the floor. Everyone laughs at her, and she runs away to cry in a field. April chases her. We have a shot of April hugging Sarah as she cries. Then we cut away...AND IT IS NEVER MENTIONED AGAIN. WHAT?!? WHAT JUST HAPPENED? WHAT IS THE PURPOSE?! Is it meant to show that April is a better person? That she cares enough to hug someone when their chicken fillet falls out in public? Who thought this up? Also, April hasn't advanced that much, otherwise she might have picked up the chicken fillet and taken it to the adolescent girl who is running around a field in half a bra! RANT OVER.
I know I've done a lot of complaining, but this film isn't bad. It's highly likely that children will really enjoy it. There is no doubt in my mind however, that this film has a very simple plot, but is overladen with complications that it doesn't need. I'd like to see a ninety minute Feel the Beat, possibly without the character of Nick, and with more time focused on the dances and April's relationships with the students that she is teaching. When I pressed play on this Netflix Original, I would never have envisioned that my main complaint would be that I wanted a simpler plot, but I honestly think that in this instance, less is more. Case in point: that dastardly chicken fillet.