At one point in the film A Dance for Grace, a character suggests that one of the benefits of residing in a small town is that “everybody cares.” Expounding on this sort of sentimentality – amidst an energized blend of drama and dance routines – the makers behind the film try to tug at the heartstrings but, sadly, their efforts to appeal in this fashion fall terribly flat. Instead, weighed down by mediocre performances and a style of amateurish filmmaking more suited to documentaries, A Dance For Grace (Tower Isle Productions) comes off as a project aiming to be too much at once but not much, really, in the end. Still, considering the dignified (though formulaic) intentions behind the film’s execution of its primary subject of redemption and second chances, its hopeful heart seems to be in the right place.
Spearheading the project, Jamaican-born Orville Matherson dons the triple crown of star, director and executive producer to bring to life the story of Ricky Myers, a paroled drug dealer ordered to take over a dance class at a mostly-white high school in small-town rural Georgia. When Grace, a beloved senior townie, ends up in hospital desperately in need of money for a life-saving operation, the students (under Ricky’s leadership) decide to enter a national dance competition to use the prize money to fund Grace’s urgent surgery. Elsewhere, a hot-blooded cop is trying feverishly to nail Ricky for anything that will land him in jail; a strong-willed woman cop, on the other hand, appears to be in his corner.
Matherson, an actor with some degree of conviction, tries gallantly to fit into Ricky’s size 11 shoes, and the enthusiastic response of the cast, particularly the students, to the conflict at the centre of the story is admirable – a trip to Jamaica to learn of the country’s rich dancehall culture (and the latest dance moves) is a delightful, if momentary, highlight. But the production suffers from many of the same problems as other films in its class; a regularly unfocused script and the absence of attention-worthy acting blunt the film’s purpose. And for a movie with a considerable portion given over to dance choreography, the energy comes in irregular spurts. If A Dance For Grace is meant to be an inspiring, affecting ode to change and salvation, the audience is eventually robbed of an emotional payoff. Tyrone’s Verdict: C