Directed by Thomas Carter. Starring Julia Stiles, Sean Patrick Thomas and Terry Kinney.
Sara (Julia Stiles) is a white, suburban girl who goes to live with her father in a poor neighbourhood in Chicago following the death of her mother. Once a keen ballet dancer, she hits culture shock head-on when she enrols at a predominantly black high school. She is taken under the wing of Chenille, a streetwise teenage mother, who introduces her to her brother Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas) an intelligent, gifted guy who also happens to be black. After some initial tension, the duo realise they have a lot in common - including a mutual love of dance. But Derek dances to a very different beat, and the film details the developing relationship between ballet girl and breakbeat boy amid the hustle and hustlers of downtown Chicago.
'Save the Last Dance' resurrects the late-seventies/mid-eighties dance movie genre, with elements from classics such as 'Grease' and 'Dirty Dancing', as well as dashes of 'Fame' and 'Flashdance'. In order to attend the trendy garage/hip-hop club, Sarah has to work on her dancing to impress the kids at Steppes nightclub. B-boy Derek agrees to show her some moves and in turn reignites her passion for ballet, and her desire to go attend Juilliard, the prestigious performing arts school. In a modern-day version of the 'Grease' dance-off scene, Sara's place on the dance floor with Derek is usurped by vampy villainess Nikki, (Bianca Lawson), and she fears she will never quite fit in.
Her dilemma is multitudinous: as well as fighting for respect on the dance floor, she has to fight for acceptance of her relationship with Derek from her peers, a battle that spans the school corridors and her neighbourhood. Culture clashes, racial tension, and the issues affecting black teenagers are well handled, although at times the film teeters on the brink of 'Dangerous Minds'. The infectious soundtrack reads like a who's who of hip-hop, garage and R'n'B, with Faith Evans, Puff Daddy and Donell Jones representing the more commercial elements of these genres and some of Hip-hop's favourite players (Snoop, Ice Cube, Q-tip) adding a dash of menace to the musical proceedings.
This ultimately uplifting tale of boy meets girl includes a well-handled interracial angle, as well as boasting its share of funky, fresh tunes and phat dancing. Beware of the beats.