DIR: Darren Grant • WRI: Duane Adler, Nicole Avril • PROD: Brad Luff, Anthony Mosawi, Duane Adler • DOP: David Claessen • ED: Scott Richter DES: Ray Kluga • CAST: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Riley Smith, John Reardon, Tessa Thompson
Make It Happen is the next film to arrive out of the recent trend of dance-until-your-dreams-come-true feel-good flicks but interlaced within the subtext is a frighteningly appealing mistruth.
One of the things I find most thrilling about the experience of cinema is the almost magical escapism inherent in films made for the purposes of entertainment. Escapist films often mask more nefarious socials texts. Cinema itself is capable of binding people together in a chorus of phenomenal harmony, the likes of which is reminiscent of the principles articulated in Expressionist art – the audience experiences emotion as the mood of the film dictates. Cinema can inspire any response, from tears and laughter to revolution. More often than not, this great force of inspiration is used to satisfy the status quo, feeding conventional mythologies rather than truly challenging the way in which we think about our society and perhaps our own place in it. It is an overtly Hollywood practice to produce films about hard-working individuals, especially young people, making good on personal ambitions. Films like these fan the flames of the ‘American Dream’ mythology: ‘You can be anyone. You can do anything.’ You just have to sweat. Films like these forget entirely problems of racism, classism, ageism, sexism and all the terrible violence of our world.
Make It Happen is just the type of overly commercial and hyper-sentimentalised film that inspires young fame seekers to follow their dreams, arguably, to their peril. What might be most problematic about Make It Happen, in addition to its recycled theme, is the film’s friendly dishonesty. The film attempts to tell a tale of a hard-knock life, but in reality the majority of the films woes are brought upon itself. While the young, tragic, female protagonist of Make It Happen ends up dancing in a burlesque club after being rejected from one of the most prestigious dance schools in America, somehow she is cushioned from exploitation by an extraordinarily giving and supportive cast of players. These players seem to appear and disappear as is convenient to the plot and consistently work to bring a bubblegum sensibility to an already watered-down and tired story. If you get a sense of déjà vous while watching this film, don’t worry; you’re not having a mini seizure. You saw this all before when you sat through Save the Last Dance. Only this time there’s more white people…and significantly more pouting.
The only redeeming quality is the energetic dance sequences, which increase in choreographic dynamism before, of course, reaching a climax toward the end of the film. The well-staged dance routines are reminiscent of a Broadway musical and several even pay homage to the respectable tradition of burlesque dance, a point which is made loud and clear to the audience, as if to say ‘She’s not a stripper – it’s much more classy than that!’ The unconventional spectacle of burlesque was at one time a naughty gentleman’s dirty pleasure but today the tradition is quite tame compared to our ever-increasing exposure to obscenity. In this way, the burlesque can be viewed with the type of fascination with which we might view the cancan dances in Paris: the tradition holds cultural and historical significance and should, therefore, be kept alive. Unfortunately, what could have been an original twist to the same old story becomes a lesson for our female protagonist on being more feminine – a skill she apparently must acquire before the Chicago School of Music and Dance will allow her dreams to come true.
Despite some high points, Make It Happen is sub-textually problematic, focusing perhaps on marketability rather than message. What we are left with is an unoriginal, sappy and borderline offensive film that inspired me to do nothing but cynically quip: wouldn’t it be great if it were really that easy?