“What kind of dance do you do?”
There’s something so obviously missing in Work It, and that is a moment which stands out. Comedies need repeatable jokes, dramas need memorable gut punches, and movies revolving around the world of dance need a signature step to call their own. We all know the lift from Dirt Dancing, the corny chair bobbing from Save the Last Dance, the sheer athleticism on display in Step Up. I wouldn’t call any of those great films, but you remember them because they did something worth remembering. Work It, while perfectly fine, just doesn’t leave the same lasting impression. Its routine is….well, very routine. There’s no verve or vibrancy.
The dull star of this story is Quinn Ackerman (Sabrina Carpenter), a busybody high schooler who stacks her class schedule and extracurricular activities as a means of self-financing fancy and well littered curb appeal before her college entry interviews. For Quinn it is Duke University or bust, for reasons we come to learn the more her mom Maria (Naomi Snieckus) enters the picture, and a counselor chat gone awry has the hopeful young lady on her heels. Unable to differentiate herself from the imposing stack of scholars and scribes who study hard yet have no authentic social life, Quinn says that she’s part of her school’s illustrious dance team. In reality she used to operate the switchboards, and not only does she now have to learn her left foot from her right, she must also assemble a team of her own. The misfits come marching. Maybe they can step in unison after they learn a uniform rhythm.
Where the film most misses the mark comes from the lack of work (no pun intended) put into the character writing by Alison Peck. Most of these young people, no matter how intentionally they’ve been cast and dressed and ultimately directed by Laura Terruso, feel completely grey and lifeless. They are individuals bound and wholly restricted by stereotypes. A few break outs get their moments though, including Quinn’s confidant and best friend Jasmine (Liza Koshy, impressively expressive and destined to lead a comedy for the streamer some day soon) and her love interest Jake Taylor (Jordan Fisher), a talented choreographer and dancer whose career was cut short due to injury. They team up, combat the top tier Thunderbirds squad led by the ruthless and typically regaling Julliard Pembroke (Keiynan Lonsdale), and basically adhere to every cliché you could imagine as they clamor for the prestigious dance title. A paint by numbers portrait couldn’t be any clearer.
Despite its brief and attractive charms, the insurmountable issues present in Work It from start to finish only multiply as the film labors and lugs on, making for a story that’s easy to watch yet far too hard to digest or process in one tidy bowel movement. It’s a puzzling ensemble piece where even the dance numbers are oddly built around the weakest performer and where you basically shrug at every forgettable bit. It’s an obvious and occasionally oblivious ode to the likes of Bring It On without having the presence of mind to offer the same sort of substantive and social commentary of that classic, which makes this repetitive Netflix film one to briefly gander at and graze on before being done with it altogether. Work It will meet your most basic need for comedy and romance and heart. Nothing less and not much more. The frills are there but the substance is not.
“You don’t have to be in control all the time.”
Rating: 1.5 out of 5