A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
"Take the Lead" begins with rudeness, ends with good manners, and argues that poor inner city schools can be redeemed by ballroom dancing. The only thing wrong with this vision, I suspect, is that it works for the ballroom dancers but not for the gangbangers, who continue on their chosen careers. There is a more pessimistic view of urban high schools in another movie opening today, "American Gun," and I fear it's closer to the truth.
But "Take the Lead" is said to be based on a true story, it tells a heartening fable, and Antonio Banderas is uncommonly charming as a dance teacher who walks into a high school and announces that he will improve it by his very example.
Public manners have degenerated in recent decades. It is now routine to hear obscenities shouted in public, and by all sorts of people, not just in traffic but even in Starbucks. I am as fond of colorful language as anyone, but I try not to inflict it upon strangers. I suspect many people sense they should have better manners, and need only a nudge. In high school, I was addressed for the first time in my life as "Mister Ebert" by Stanley Hynes, an English teacher, and his formality transformed his classroom into a place where a certain courtliness prevailed.
In "Take the Lead," Banderas plays Pierre Dulaine, a Manhattan ballroom dancing instructor who rides the streets, impeccably dressed, on his bicycle. One day, he witnesses a student named Rock (Rob Brown) attacking a teacher's car with a golf club. Rock has his reasons, but never mind; instead of calling the cops, Dulaine walks into the school the next day and announces to the principal (Alfre Woodard) that he wants to teach ballroom dancing to the detention class.