Musical Chairs (2014)

“Cheer Up. You’re Alive.”

While Susan Seidelman’s musical drama is contrived and formulaic, it gets a free pass mainly for being such a charming romance that at least tries to break its predictability. “Musical Chairs” is the celebration of dance, despite physical disabilities, all the while focusing on a couple that find love through their hardships and their passion for the dance floor. It’s very interesting that “Musical Chairs” really dodges the more conventional aspects of films of this ilk, and also seems to strive for more diversity in characters beyond skin color.

It’s charming and sweet, and that thankfully outweighs the story’s twists and turns that are telegraphed from miles away. Armando is an aspiring dancer who works at his family’s restaurant to make ends meet and wiles his free time away at a dance studio. Forming a secret crush on the gorgeous dance instructor Mia, he befriends her when she’s involved in a horrible car accident that robs her of her ability to walk. Mia has altogether given up on life, but Armando is insistent on giving her back her zest for life, despite being incapable of doing what she loves. Leah Pipes and EJ Bonilla have great chemistry as the young couple that find a connection in their passion, and Armando is a likable protagonist who manages to look beyond the wheelchair.

He has a surefire love for Mia, and is willing to do whatever it takes to win her over, despite his badgering mother who is anxiously trying to marry him off with a neighborhood girl. This becomes beneficial when he begins teaching a dancing class for the physically disabled at the local hospital which gives Mia back her enthusiasm for her talent. Writer Marty Madden really focuses on diversity, exploring a vast array of unique and interesting characters with their own flaws that also find confidence in Armando’s dance class. One student is a bitter ex alcoholic who learns to communicate with people, another is a bigoted homophobe who learns to accept, and another is a transgender woman who finds herself falling for Armando’s uncle.

Though the film is primarily centered on Mia and Armando’s love, the beautiful Laverne Cox is a bonafide scene stealer as the wheelchair bound transgendered woman who hasn’t lost her passion for life, and is tasked with revealing to Armando’s uncle about her past, terrified she may lose his love. Cox is dazzling as Chantelle, being given a large amount of screen time, and becomes a very important moral center for the cast of characters. “Musical Chairs” isn’t without its flaws though, as it tends to linger on the overly sweet, while also writing in very goofy plot twists written in to resolve story lines that feel all too abrupt. Take for example the uptight hospital administrator. That said, “Musical Chairs” works because it’s sweet, entertaining, and garners a slew of truly good performances.

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