It’s pretty remarkable how many dance movies Hollywood has churned out over the years. What’s even more remarkable, though, is how godawful terrible most of them are. (Did you enjoy Center Stage too? We were so young!). I guess what I’m saying is, anyone who grew up watching Save The Last Dance will spent the first 30 minutes of Matt Besser’s Freak Dance cringing in recognition. Cringing and laughing. Craughing. But you’ll have to do it quietly because the Freak Dance score is part Jesus Christ Superstar, part Rent, and every note is worth hearing.
In the latest movie from UCB, Megan Heyn stars as Cocolonia, a spoiled rich girl who must learn how to be poor enough to be a truly great dancer. Seriously, in retrospect Julia Stiles should hang her head in shame. Luckily for Coco, her new street dancer friends Barrio, Sassy, Egghead and the hunky Funky Bunch are willing to see past her wealth to the artist inside. However, things are not all pelvic thrusts and leg warms at Fantasies, the dance studio that is their second, and in some cases first, home. Their teacher Asteroid has run his body down dancing on the ceiling, in addition to accidentally killing his wife doing the forbidden Freak Dance. Matt Besser is a delight as the Housing Inspector General, a Gestapo-esque figure who closes down Fantasies due to a number of code violations, all of which he lists in the rollicking “The Bathroom’s Too Dark To Pee.” As if that wasn’t bad enough, the villainous (and deeply unsettling) Dazzle drops by to root for Fantasies’ demise, as well as lure Colcolonia to work at his “private dance club,” which he willfully admits is just having dry sex with strangers. Drew Droege, preening and leering in frosted white lip gloss during his big strip club number, calls to mind King Herod in Superstar, in the best possible way.
Sadly, as musicals are wont to do, the movie loses momentum when the characters stop belting and start talking. After a high-energy onslaught of several excellent song-and-dance numbers up top, the middle starts to sag, despite the fact that the jokes remain solid. It seems particularly hard to shoot musicals in a way that doesn’t come across as boring or stilted. Freak Dance is no Chicago, but it is also worlds away from, say, the movie version of The Producers (Did you see that in the theater too? We were so young!). That being said, I bet seeing it live on stage would be even better/eliminate that slack completely.
As for the music itself, Brian Fountain’s words and music are pitch perfect (“Come on rich bitch, move that butt” is one song’s exceptional chorus), the tone is satisfyingly absurd (is Dazzle actually some sort of wizard or fairy? We will never know) and the cameos are played to the hilt (Amy Poehler as Cocolonia’s cock-bulge-fearing mother, Matt Walsh as Adolph Hitler Jr. and Tim Meadows as…well, I don’t want to spoil everything for you). By the time the film reaches it’s climax at the big underground dance competition, you know there is no other option but for Cocolonia and Funky Bunch to risk the structural integrity of their genitals and attempt the potentially-lethal Freak Dance. I’m not going to spoil the final filthy move that wins them the cash prize needed to keep Fantasies open, but it both elicited sounds of disgust from some audience members and made me want to spring into a standing ovation. When it comes to freak dancing, you’ve got to dance big or dance home.
It’s hard to combine the elements of musical theater, dance movies, and Airplane!-like spoofs without ending up with a complete clusterfuck, but Freak Dance wins out. Despite the film’s flaws, I’d call it an overall success, with moments of real silly genius sprinkled throughout. If you liked Cannibal: The Musical, you will like this movie. If you have the slightest desire to see two dewy young white people fall in love while covered in hog’s blood, then this film is for you. And if you still want to defend Save The Last Dance, you need to sit yourself in front of a mirror for a long, long time and think about what you’re doing with your life.