out of five
Running time: 105
Enjoyable documentary with some lovely moments, but it lacks the focus of something like Spellbound.
If you’re the sort of film fan that likes to keep their finger on the cinematic pulse, then you might already have heard Mad Hot Ballroom referred to as this year's Spellbound
. In fact, that honour belongs to an as-yet unreleased film called Pucker Up: The Fine Art of Whistling
, but there are obvious similarities between Mad Hot Ballroom and Spellbound
. Both films deal with a competition and both films feature children.
The film follows three New York state schools, each of which has a range of ethnic and economic backgrounds. In each school, classes of 10 to 12 year-old kids are brought together via a government-funded dance programme designed to help them develop social and artistic skills.
As the various classes prepare for a state-wide competition, we gradually see the success of the programme, although it’s clear that it doesn’t work for everyone.
Some interesting characters do emerge in Mad Hot Ballroom and one of the teachers takes it all a little too seriously, providing a few laughs. There's also a good balance of highs and lows. It would be unfair to say anything else but the final competition is nail-bitingly tense.
The main problem is that the pleasures of Mad Hot Ballroom are all the same. It's basically almost two hours of Awww, aren't those ballroom-dancing kids cute? The film is too long and the focus is too wide. By deciding to focus on three entire classes of children we don't get to know the kids as well as we should. Spellbound would have been a useful model here.
In short, Mad Hot Ballroom is a very enjoyable film, but it's not as flat-out delightful as Spellbound. That said, it’s delightful to see the kids enthusiastically cheering each other on and they are terrific dancers. It’ll make you want to take ballroom dancing lessons.
Mad Hot Ballroom (U)