Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing and Charm School is one of those films with a familiar setup: An array of damaged characters find salvation through dance. It’s exasperating, from the way dance is used like a Hollywood quick fix for suffering, to Mark Adler’s unbearably sentimental score.
The story, told through a series of long-winded flashbacks, involves Frank Keane (Carlyle), who is consumed by grief over his wife’s death. His life changes the moment he aids a stranger, Steve Mills (Goodman), trapped in his car after a horrific accident. While in an ambulance, Steve asks Frank to go to the dance school where he made a promise to reunite with his childhood sweetheart. While dying, Steve even manages to choke out a few pearls of wisdom: “Ever look back on your life and imagine how it could have been different? You only get one life.”
Steve’s date is a no-show, but that’s okay because Meredith (Tomei) is there, paving the way for the film’s clichd message: One man’s ruined fate might be another’s destiny. One brief, bright spot is Steenburgen as Marienne Hotchkiss, who manages to lend the hokey writing some cheeky sexiness: “Dance,” she tells her students, “is a very powerful drug.... It can exorcise demons.” But there are few worse demons in a film than triteness—and Marilyn Hotchkiss can’t be saved by a jarringly cut Lindy Hop. (Opens Fri; see Index for venues.)—Gia Kourlas