Don't be fooled. This film is not about Missy Elliott's hit song Work It, which was number two on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart for ten consecutive weeks. Instead it is about a rag-tag gang of high school seniors, who form a dance troupe and enter a competition.
Work It follows a high school senior who desperately wants to attend Duke University, her father's alma mater. Unfortunately, her admission interview doesn't go so well. Quinn (Sabrina Carpenter) has a lot of things on her high school transcript, but alas and alack, it's a lot of the same stuff that other Duke applicants have. In a last ditch attempt to be accepted into Duke, Quinn convinces the admissions intake officer that she is a member of her school's award-winning dance troupe: The Thunderbirds. (Anyone else getting strong Grease vibes?) The only problem is, she's not. And also, her dance skills are akin to mine...
Quinn is a hard worker and has a great study ethic. So, naturally she asks her best friend, Jasmine (Liza Koshy), a member of the Thunderbirds (Seriously, Thunderbirds. T-Birds. Ringing any bells?) to teach her how to dance. INSERT DANCE MONTAGE.
At the end of the dance montage, Quinn's dance skills have improved, however not enough for her to be inducted into the award-winning Thunderbirds team. (C'mon, they even have matching jackets!) Naturally, Quinn decides to start her own team. She convinces Jas to leave the Thunderbirds and become the leader of TBD (their name). The friends then set off, to recruit a band of miscellaneous students, who may not be dancers, but show promise.
I'm not usually a fan of dance films. And I'm still haunted by the infamous chicken fillet incident of Feel the Beat. However, credit where credit is due: I didn't mind this movie. The thing that really stood out to me the most in Work It, is that they've clearly hired dancers who can also act...or actors who can also dance. Or they've done a better job of hiding their one-trick ponies than other dance films I've seen. The dance numbers are interesting and exciting to watch. There is no obvious use of stunt doubles or wires. It's true that sometimes the camera or editing is used to highlight their dance skills. But despite neon animations emanating from the bodies of Thunderbirds, there's no doubt, that there's dance skill there. And the acting is believable. Oh, and a huge shout out needs to be given here to Carpenter, who is not only believable as a non-dancer, but also as a decent dancer. I can't imagine how tricky it would be, to be a dancer, and convince viewers that you can't dance.
The camera is used in interesting ways, particularly throughout the dance sequences. Obviously we have our fair share of montages. However, during performances, we often get shots from point of view angles, as well as low shots and high shots, zooms and tracking shots. The camera isn't used to hide flaws, it's more so used to highlight exciting moments in the dance numbers. It makes for a more dynamic and interesting viewing experience.
Work It has clearly drawn inspiration from a number of classics, (yes, I'm looking at you Grease). But in addition to clear references to the T-Birds, there's some clear Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit at the Work It dance competition, and a rivalry between TBD and the Thunderbirds, that is comparable to Daniel-san and Johnny Lawrence (#yourealrightlarusso). Obviously, all of this inspiration is bundled into a film set in the 21st century and exploring the concept that it's never too late to try something new. The hint of nostalgia, mixed in with the modern teens and their high stakes dance competition, makes this movie relevant to a very wide audience. Essentially, it's one that parents could watch with their teen-aged kids (or reviewers could watch with their teen-aged sister).
...I will say, I was a little confused about the setting upon introduction to the character DJ Tapes, who is in charge of their music. Do kids use cassette tapes these days? Are cassette tapes cool again? Do dance competitions accept music on cassette tapes? Will discmans make a comeback as well? I'm so confused...
There is one unforgivable flaw in this film. Look, I'm no electrician, but if you spill coffee on a lighting board, I'm fairly sure you won't blow up the lights in the rig...which is what Quinn does at the start of this flick. I feel like singing Dem Bones as I explain this, but I'll just include a link instead (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVoPG9HtYF8). The lighting board is connected to the dimmer. The dimmer is connected to the patchpoints in the rig. And the lights are connected to the patchpoints...It's silly that this has any bearing on the outcome of this review, but I felt an intrinsic need to correct public understanding of how tech booths work...I should probably do more research on how to blow up lights in a rig...but this does not seem to be the way.
In short, Work It is a teen dance flick, where the performers can act and dance. It is for this reason, that I'd recommend this one (if dance movies are your style). Unlike most of the young adult films that I review, this is one that I might watch a second time, when my sister comes to visit.