Director: Laura Terruso
Writer: Alison Peck
Choreographer: Aakomon Jones
Cast: Sabrina Carpenter, Liza Koshy, Jordan Fisher, Keiynan Lionsdale
Streaming on: Netflix
The film, in its opening montage, briskly quotes Albert Einstein — “Dancers are the athletes of God.” The rest of this hip, funky movie, on dance, spends its time trying to give that quote some visual meaning. We are meant to look at the dancers’ delicate command over their art — the grace with which they move their leg from one side to another; how they articulate every inch of their body in harmony with the beats of a song. And for quite some time, dance has often been regarded as an art form that purges most forms of pleasure — that enduring pain will get you one step closer to perfection. Work It instead suggests that dance, if untrammelled by said convention, can be pleasurable and perfect.
The lead, Quinn (Sabrina Carpenter), embodies the film’s philosophy. She’s the kind of high-school senior who will perfunctorily carry out every part of her life in order to get into her dream university — that means watching TED Talks, scoring straight A’s, and community service. The script, probably not intentionally, does bring out an interesting relationship between her life and dance — both of them are deliberately choreographed. The only difference between the two is that one’s devoid of any passion and emotion. Quinn is pert and exceptionally upbeat. And even when the script fails to move past the stereotypical and trite look of a teenager, Carpenter plays her character with great energy and vivacity.
The story, as a whole, is rather banal — fundamentally replacing the striking songs in Pitch Perfect with pyrotechnical dances. After lying in her admissions interview about being a part of her school’s celebrated dance troupe, Quinn is forced to create her own team for a dance competition that her interviewer is going to attend. Everyone in the group is a certified oddball that looks schematic and dated on paper — there’s the Nietzschean, mascara-applying nihilist; failed athlete; contemporary plus classical Indian dancer; and a karate student who can backflip. This ossified high-school trope — where a ragtag bunch of misfits take on the elite clique — is largely predictable and forgettable. Thankfully, however, not much attention is given to them individually. The tight one-and-a-half hours’ runtime leaves no room for any inert, long-drawn scenes on these corny characters.
Quinn’s team is led by her childhood friend and aspiring dancer, Jasmine (Liza Koshy). She isn’t quite the typecast bare-bones best friend — her drive and desire really complement her aesthetic and seemingly effortless dance movements. Koshy, who adds charm to Jasmine, never appears overly rehearsed in her performance. As you see her leap and flit across the stage with slender elegance, there may just be a part of you that excuses the lacklustre narrative. However, Jordan Fisher, who plays Quinn’s romantic interest, manages to put on the most seductive performance. Every small step and gesture of his is carried out with a certain degree of sensuality. Together, Koshy and Fisher suffuse the film with much-needed lightness and fluidity — this is also where choreographer Aakomon Jones deserves a mention.
As the teenage comedy chronicles Quinn, who strives to dance to the best of her abilities, we are presented with a fascinating dichotomy between the mind and body. Can an uptight, ramrod-straight individual really let loose? In trying to answer that, we see some groovy and toe-tapping freestyle dance numbers. Her group’s overall performance is fairly scattershot — it is riddled with missteps and is never squeaky-clean. And as this gears towards a more synchronised and harmonised team, the perky film grows far more enjoyable. Barring the predictable ending and shoddy plot, the dance numbers in the movie provide a rather soulful balm.
Work It is available on Netflix.