Musical Chairs

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Musical Chairs

Armando (Bonilla) is from the Bronx; Mia (Pipes) is from the Upper East Side. Opposite cultures, opposite classes—but they both love to hoof it. So when Mia spies Armando—her dance school’s janitor—busting some moves in the wee hours, it’s clear they’re about to embark on something crazy/beautiful. No sooner have they done the vertical (might as well be horizontal) mambo than a taxi hits the limber lady, severing her spine and confining her to a wheelchair. That’s a curveball.

And it’s not the only surprise. In many ways, this effervescent drama from Susan Seidelman (Desperately Seeking Susan) upends conventions, even when it sticks to a familiar narrative path: Despite the early wrench in the works and a few minor tweaks to genre standards, everything dutifully builds to Armando and Mia’s performance at a wheelchair-ballroom-dancing contest. But Seidelman’s feel for setting (the film makes adoring use of NYC locales) and character is truly spectacular—vivid and specific within the story’s broader strokes, and practically on par with one of Jonathan Demme’s all-creeds-embracing fantasias like Handle with Care. These are people with resonant spirits and souls: You leave remembering Pipes and Bonilla’s fresh-faced purity; Laverne Cox’s galvanizing mettle as a paraplegic transsexual who befriends Mia; Priscilla Lopez’s hard-edged fervor as Armando’s overly devoted mother; and many more besides. Seidelman’s reverential treatment of her performers, and their acutely warmhearted efforts in return, makes you wish all involved had a slightly stronger showcase for their talents.

Follow Keith Uhlich on Twitter: @keithuhlich

By: Keith Uhlich

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Release details

Rated: PG-13
Release date: Friday March 23 2012
Duration: 102 mins

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