Swing Into a Truly Traditional Rom-Com in ‘Ask Me to Dance’ (Movie Review)
Ask Me to Dance
Director: Tom Malloy
Writer: Tom Malloy
Style: Romantic Comedy
Time: 93 minutes
Official Website: www.askmetodancemovie.com
Review by Mike Szymanski
Mixing together the best tropes of classic romances and putting them together into a new and original romantic comedy, “Ask Me to Dance” is a delightful surprise for people who believe in the magic of romance at any age.
This is definitely one of those films they don’t make anymore, and it’s too bad. When they are enjoyable, heart-felt with just a touch of magic, it gives you the exact kind of feeling that you want to go to the movies to experience. Like the days you went to see a Bogie and Bacall film, or even Hanks and Griffith.
I found “Ask Me to Dance” completely lovely from start to finish, and it mixed in some great dancing from something called West Coast Swing, (which evolved out of 1930s Swing Dancin and is actually California’s state dance).
The movie takes you on a journey where you already know the ending, but like all good trips, it’s the getting-there that’s the most fun. Sometimes the coincidences and the kismet is too right-on-the-nose in the film, but that makes it even more charming in this day of cynical cinema. There’s not a murder or shoot-out anywhere in this movie.
The main characters of Jack and Jill both work for the same large computer company, but they’ve never met each other. Jack’s longtime friend is getting married, and Jill is the bridesmaid of the wife-to-be. Both Jack and Jill are getting older, and looking for love in all the wrong places.
Sounds like you’ve heard it before? Sounds like a rom-com you may have seen? Well, as predictable as you may think it is, hang on to your dancing shoes before you hang up on this movie. It will surprise you.
Jack and Jill also both love to dance. Jack used to teach ballroom dancing, and he keeps reminding people he doesn’t do it anymore as if he’s ashamed of his dancing past. Now he’s in a boring profession as an I/T programmer.
Jill goes out to swing dancing nights with her gay best friend Patrick (delightfully played by Mario Cantone) who protects her from unwanted advances by other guys.
Cantone is perhaps among the most famous in the cast, and he’s not far from recreating his hysterically funny character Anthony from “Sex and the City.” Always on the prowl for a handsome guy, he also shows what an accomplished swing dancer he is, too.
Also in the cast, nostalgic television fans will remember one of the three sexy roommates in “Three’s Company” from the 1970s, Joyce DeWitt, who is now playing Nana with gray hair. Yes, if you remember her in the show, it will make you feel old.
But the true charm comes from the leading guy and leading gal who are not well-known faces, but they are both charming nonetheless and deserve to be stars.
Jill is played by actress Briana Evigan, a dancer all her life in real life, who appeared in “Step Up 2: The Streets” and also the second season on TV in the “From Dusk Till Dawn” series. She has an irrepressible smile and is a fine leading lady.
Jack is played by Tom Malloy, who wrote and directed this sweet film. He really did used to teach ballroom dancing, and is an accomplished West Coast Swing dancer. It’s amazing that he performed all three duties to create this movie, but it truly shows his skills in every realm. He also wrote the book at financing movies by writing “Bankroll: A New Approach to Financing Feature Films” which is a bible of sorts for indie film financing. And, that’s how you get a movie like this made.
Malloy wrote and starred in a previous West Coast Swing movie called “Love N’ Dancing” directed by Rob Iscove and starring Billy Zane, Amy Smart and Bette White (yes, Malloy got to dance with her). He loved swing dancing because “it was smooth, and slinky, and I danced to hip-hop, R&B, country, and pop,” he says. “I was instantly obsessed.”
But that movie had some bad timing, and wasn’t released like Malloy wanted, so he took control and tried again to create a romantic film that involved West Coast Swing that is now this film.
The writer/director/actor said, “I used to tell people there were only two types of dance films: 1. Rich kid/ poor kid, male or female, encounters dance and it changes their lives. And, 2. There is a place closing and they need to put on a dance show to save the place.”
Malloy wanted to create a modern-day movie that shows how dance fills what is missing in people’s lives. It will make you want to take up dancing.
The main characters’ names are no mistake. A “Jack & Jill” is a dance contest in the Swing Dance world where you don’t know who is going to be your partner or what the music will be, so you have to improvise on the spot. Of course, that’s all incorporated in the film.
Both Jack and Jill on one starry night are approached individually by a gypsy-like woman carrying a cat who tells each one of them that in five days, on New Year’s Eve, they will each meet the love of their lives. Jack takes the cat home. It’s ridiculous enough and intriguing enough to both of them that they each being to start looking for that possibility.
But like all true good romance movies, like “You’ve Got Mail” which is seen playing on the TV in the background of the film, the leads are always passing each other in the night and never meeting, although their paths come very close to crossing over the next five days.
The opening of the film shows a dance competition where the Mario Cantone character and Jill watch a few pairs of unremarkable couples come onto the dance floor to show their dancing skills. They may not look like your idea of fantastic dancers, but when they dance, fast or slow, they are spectacular. The dancing truly makes the movie work.
The cast of actors are perfect for each of their roles. A few of them are unnecessarily distracting and irritating, but hey, they can all dance. A few moments seem like they don’t belong in this otherwise sweet and memorable film.
In this world where anything can happen, there’s an extremely odd scene where wrestling champ WWE Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist Kurt Angle comes into a restaurant and stares dumbly at Jill. She notices the stare, and she recognizes who the guy is, but neither of them say anything. It’s rather unnerving when he keeps coming back and looking her direction. The answer is predictable and obvious, but it’s truly an awkward moment that seems unnecessary except to remind people that we’re talking about the present time period, and not some nostalgic past.
The camerawork is notably incredible, including some camera turns that are remarkable when you consider that people are dancing all around. The choreography by Robert Royston, who is an eight-time U.S. Open Swing dance champion, is particularly noteworthy, making it look like anyone can get up there and swing dance, too. It looks like so much fun.
The movie opens in 30 cities nationwide on Oct. 7, including Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Las Vegas, Miami, Nashville, Pittsburgh, and Minneapolis. It will also be released on VOD everywhere Nov. 8.