Some very good actors speak in some very funny voices in Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing and Charm School. Mary Steenburgen, as the daughter of the titular dancing instructor, sounds as if she’s slowly backing into a dildo with each new sentence, and John Goodman, as a dying schmuck who gives a widower played by a day-of-the-dead Robert Carlyle a ticket to the dancing school where he’s supposed to meet up with his grade-school crush, speaks as if he were hiding behind a curtain at a funeral parlor trying to affect a talking corpse. These choices are symptomatic of the film’s Romper Room psychology: As soon as someone tells Marienne to stop invoking the spirit of her dead mother before each and every class, she suddenly starts speaking like a human being again. It’s at the Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing and Charm School the woman instructs a group of really horny secretary types, including one-legged travel agent Meredith Morrison (Marisa Tomei), and a line of castrated men, none more overcompensating than Donnie Wahlberg’s Randall Ipswitch, one of those dipshit characters in the tradition of Stanley Tucci’s Link from Shall We Dance 2.0 who threaten blindness if you stare too intently at their lord-of-the-dance shtick. Director Randall Miller doesn’t succumb to the strains of the typical indie-quirk tempest, instead reconfiguring the film in funny little ways—juggling back and forth between one man’s past and another’s present, the film is like a precious little child trying to impress with a whole lot of nothing—as to suggest the first rom-com directed by Alejandro González Iñarritu.
A gorgeous transfer, from the excellently speckled-and-grained faux vintage footage to the spotless present-day material, free of edge enhancement with no noticeable combing, ghosting, or digital artifacts. Sound is almost as good-which is probably way more than the film deserves.
Finally, the 34-minute Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing and Charm School short that inspired it all. All sarcasm aside, the short is superior by virtue of excluding all the present-day junk that bogs the feature. The commentary, by director Randy Miller, his co-screenwriter and wife Jody Savon, and actor Eldon Hensen, is of the there's-my-dog-Uncle-Bill-and-the-car-from- Far-Away-Home variety. If that's your thing, enjoy it.
There's dancing all right but not a whole lot of charm.