Review: Musical Chairs

There’s no dramatic suspense to anything about this by-the-books romantic saga.

Musical Chairs
Photo: Paladin

Susan Seidelman’s Musical Chairs is the schmaltzy and benign tale of a ballroom dancer who accepts and transcends her unexpected disability through the power of art and love. Despite his mother’s wish that he settle down and marry neighborhood beauty Rosa (Angelic Zambrana), Armando (E.J. Bonilla) dreams of tangoing his way around the world and wooing studio queen Mia (Leah Pipes). That latter desire only increases after Mia is accidentally hit by a car and paralyzed from the waist down, a traumatic incident that barely fazes Armando, whom Seidelman’s film presents as such a noble and altruistic soul that any trace of inner conflict spurred by this turn of events proves nonexistent. Consequently, there’s no dramatic suspense to anything about this by-the-books romantic saga, just the turning of predictable plot gears as Armando slowly but surely helps Mia come out of her depressive shell by organizing evening wheelchair dancing classes at her rehabilitation facility. Those events are initially uninviting to Mia, but naturally, turn out to be therapeutic not just for her, but the gaggle of colorful patients whom she befriends, including a wounded soldier (Morgan Spector), a brash punk (Auti Angel), and a black transvestite (Laverne Cox).

The film pretends that Armando’s mom will stand in the way of his relationship with a handicapped Caucasian in the same way that it feigns suspense about whether Cox’s transsexual will be accepted by her doting new love interest. Armando is such an unimpeachably good guy, and Seidelman’s story so diligently smooths out any rough edges (even the teasing and objections of Armando’s relatives are jovial and toothless), that the film maintains a firm distance from anything approaching prickly emotions. Still, opting for innocuous levity is still no excuse for not even bothering to provide real insight into the world of wheelchair ballroom dancing, which is here treated as a cute-and-funny pastime, but never explored in any sort of substantial depth, so that the hardships of adjusting from dancing on feet to dancing via wheels, or the logistical issues involved with performing in a chair with an upright partner, are ignored. That superficiality also holds true for Mia’s struggles to come to terms with her newfound circumstances, which are cursorily addressed (mainly with regards to her forthcoming difficulties living alone), but, as in the dance-competition finale, treated as obstacles that can easily be overcome so long as there’s an angelic hunk there to pick her up should she ever fall down.

 Cast: Leah Pipes, E.J. Bonilla, Priscilla Lopez, Jaime Tirelli, Laverne Cox, Nelson Landrieu, Angelic Zambrana, Morgan Spector, Auti Angel, Jerome Preston Bates, Dominic Colon, Joey Dedio  Director: Susan Seidelman  Screenwriter: Marty Madden  Distributor: Paladin  Running Time: 100 min  Rating: PG-13  Year: 2011

Nick Schager

Nick Schager is the entertainment critic for The Daily Beast. His work has also appeared in Variety, Esquire, The Village Voice, and other publications.

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