Scrolling through Netflix yields a treasure trove of binge-worthy dance movies, some refreshing and some not so much. The vast majority of them, however, follow similar storylines revolving around a singular dancer who happens to find love while competing in a dance contest, or while performing in a musical. “Feel the Beat” checks both of these boxes, combining a wholesome love story, a dance competition and as a bonus, a Broadway musical. However, what differentiates “Feel the Beat” from the plethora of feel-good romantic comedies on Netflix is the fact that it aims to empower young girls of all shapes, sizes and walks of life to dance their hearts out with the hope of winning the “Dance Dance Dance Dance” competition (no, that’s not a typo).
The film opens with April Dibrina (Sofia Carson), a chorus girl, preparing for a larger Broadway role. However, this is disrupted when, before auditioning for her big break, she is ostracized from the performance industry by a woman she offends and has no choice but to return to her hometown. Within the first few minutes of her return to New Hope, Wisconsin, she has a run-in with her devilishly handsome high school boyfriend Nick (Wolfgang Novogratz) — with dimples large enough to cuddle in — at her lowest point (chomping on a block of cheese in a grocery store) and gets roped into visiting her old dance studio, much to her selfish chagrin.
As the gears of April’s scheming brain turned upon realizing that Broadway producer Welly Wong (Rex Lee) is judging the nationwide “Dance Dance Dance Dance” competition, she decided to train a group of young, misfit dancers of the New Hope Dance Studio to try to impress him and hopefully make a triumphant return to Broadway.
The hodgepodge group of dancers that April reluctantly trains is often the target of frustrated and vicious critiques, but the eclectic tots remain authentic and true to themselves. Despite being a rote revision of other dance movies, there are a few heart-warming moments in the film that make it somewhat special. A mute dancer named Zuzu (Shaylee Mansfield) — who communicates with her fellow dancers via sign language — and cheery Miss Barb (Donna Lynne Champlin) — who wins every scene with her characteristic Midwestern idealism and “Cheese and Crackers” wide-eyed exclamations — are both heartwarming characters. These scenes add small-town authenticity to the film and give a distinguished flair to some of the otherwise mundane and stereotypical characters, such as April’s doting and forgiving love-interest, Nick.
The characters in the film are, for the most part, conventional, including April’s supportive single father Frank (Enrico Colantoni), who encourages April to return home after her banishment from Broadway. Colantoni’s character plays a very small role in the film, acting primarily as April’s get-out-jail-free card in her time of dire need. The only exception is Deco (Brandon Kyle Goodman), April’s flamboyant costume designer friend from New York City who utilizes his fashion-forward attitude to bedazzle the group’s dance costumes for nationals to add some extra sparkle to their performance. Deco’s choice of eccentric costumes made me chuckle during the film and his “Yas Queen” personality was quite refreshing in a Midwestern town setting. An interesting yet subtle twist occurs when the town football coach’s toddler son, Dicky (Justin Allan), begins dancing with the girls, an empowering scene that seems to blur the gender binary. This sweet scene made me blush and reinforced the central theme of the movie, which encourages people of all colors, shapes and sizes to simply “Feel the Beat!”
Unfortunately, April’s character is quite unlikeable and, honestly, distasteful until the very end of the film. I equated her self-pitying expressions, brooding wardrobe choices, sullen prioritization of her phone over inspiring young dancers and demands for perfection during the first practice, with Gru (the Despicable Me supervillain). Not only is she dismissive and apathetic toward her class, but she also lies to the entire town, claiming to have a large part in a Broadway musical. She cites her perfectly healthy father’s made up illness as the reason for her uneventful return to New Hope.
Egotistically, the only reason that she even agrees to train the girls is to try and impress Welly Wong and use their performance as a career booster. Her self-centered tendencies are visibly apparent when she overshadows her students by consuming the entire stage during the group’s first competition while her students lay on the ground as scaffolding to her high-rise self. I found myself rooting against April in the superficial climax of the film and wanted to let her go back to eating another block of cheese instead of cake.
“Feel the Beat” does not make your heart skip a beat with its somewhat cliched love story of a cosmopolitan woman returning to her rural hometown and being romanced by her selfless and forgiving high school boyfriend, whom she broke up with over text messages. It also leaps over certain beats with its perfunctory symbolism, namely April’s “New Hope, Wisconsin,” hometown, since “Self-Pity-ville, Wisconsin,” and “Atonement, Wisconsin,” were likely too on target.
Ultimately, “Feel the Beat” allows you to escape quarantine and enter an optimist world where it is possible for a sassy dancer to be welcomed back with open arms. But it doesn’t justify its nearly two-hour runtime. The subpar and unimpressive dance performances and narcissist main character create an unfulfilling experience that will not find you rooting for the intended protagonist. Aimed at younger audiences, “Feel the Beat” may be a mediocre and satisfactory PG-rated experience for our (much) younger siblings, but our more sophisticated selves deserve more than yet another cheesy (pun intended) dance journey. “I would suggest skipping the beat on this one and immersing yourself in another Netflix movie instead.”