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Musical Chairs (2012) final scores are admirable

May 18, 2014
A young Bronx-bred studio handyman Armando (E.J. Bonilla) aspires to be a dancer. When Mia (Leah Pipes), the studio's star performer is involved in a car accident, her dreams of a dance career are dashed. Armando befriends her, and as they fall in love, team up with other patients at the rehabilitation facility to compete in a New York City Wheelchair Ballroom Competition.

Director Susan Seidelman (Desperately Seeking Susan) produces a charismatic film of young love and persevering when life throws a curveball. Starring E.J. Bonilla and Leah Pipes, Musical Chairs is a feel-good romance in which to escape. Both actors radiate charisma and delightful star quality. As the ambitious Armando, Bonilla exuded captivating passion as an enthusiastic young man transforming a tragedy into dreams. And, Pipes as his counterpart is eloquent and vividly expressive as her character grows from her life-changing ordeal. Together, their performances transcend the film and are a promising duo illuminating the film's ambition.

Next to the performances the film most succeeds with its music, the romantic escapism, and its message on the emotionality of dance. Inviting and upbeat, Seidelman compiles a charming cast to transport the audience to a world where life is managing to find the beat to your drum. Part of its romantic escape is perhaps forgetting about the logistics of such a life-altering accident that would leave you immobile from the waist down. In the film world a cast of characters confined to wheelchairs train for a ballroom championship competition in a matter of weeks defies a bit of realism. The most connective and enjoyable scenes are shared when the characters are training; particularly Armando and Mia whose relationship is tested by her adaptability. The emotional connection carried by Armando and Mia drives the film to a poignant ending wherein the final scores aren't as important as their achievement of not giving up.

The story runs smoothly, however, cannot avoid a few cliche hiccups here and there. Like an Old Hollywood musical some of the conflicts are too conveniently ended for happy-go-lucky results. The script felt limited in terms of effectively showcasing the vivacity of New York City's melting pot of characters, and seemed to a bit to determined to recycle cinematic stereotypes. A shining performance by Laverne Cox (Orange is the New Black) delivers as Chantelle - who is a transgender woman falling in love with Armandos' old-fashioned uncle. However, Cox's strong heartfelt performance was presented in a finite view of her struggles. Although the supporting cast was indeed engaging, their storylines were trite.

Helmed by two fine rising actors and eccentric supporting cast, Musical Chairs should as a cinematic buoyant expression rather than a documdrama on disability. On that note, I found it quite enjoyable and worth a watch despite its script issues. Focused as an inspiration take on moving through the upswing and downbeat of life, this movie certainly achieves its goal of drama and dreams with appropriate cheeriness.

Rating: ★★☆

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