STORY: Quinn Ackerman‘s (Sabrina Carpenter) only dream is get into her late father’s alma mater Duke University, but for that she needs to win a high school dance competition called ‘Work It’. The only problem – she doesn’t know how to dance. Will she find her beat?
REVIEW: Quinn is a straight ‘A’ student but when it comes to dancing, she self-admittedly has two left feet. In her desperation to get into her dream college, Quinn inadvertently ends up lying about being a part of the elite Thunderbirds dance group. She then tries to make this true by trying to land a spot in the group but fails. Quinn then goes on to form her own motley group of dancers that is eventually named ‘TBD ‘. During the course, Quinn also discovers her true passion – dancing. While that is not a spoiler, the film’s predictable screenplay surely is. Yet there is quite a bit of high school fun to be had as Quinn goes about balancing her work, life and finding her groove.
There’s a familiar charm in the proceedings as writer Alison Peck uses tried and tested dance flick tropes. She gives her protagonist Quinn the relatability of a 20-something ambitious yet socially limited youngster. In her own words, Quinn “has plenty of troubles and no friends.” But her life isn’t as bad as what Quinn makes it look like. She has a bestie in school named Jasmine played by the lissome Liza Koshy, who gets readily poached from the Thunderbirds to join Quinn’s rag-tag dance troupe. Their interactions feel real and sans any needless drama. Ditto for Quinn’s slightly tricky relationship with her mother Maria (Naomi Snieckus) who is a single parent. Quinn’s meet-cute love at first sight with her dreamy choreographer Jake Taylor (played by the equally charming Jordan Fisher) also doesn’t come as a surprise, but the narrative becomes far more interesting with his entry. Director Laura Terruso keeps the dance portions either short or plays them out in montages. The dance-off routines performed on catchy numbers are full of young energy and easy choreography (Aakomon Jones of “Pitch Perfect” franchise). While they are certainly not overwhelming (à la the ‘Step Up’ franchise), the film doesn’t quite convincingly show how Quinn breaks out of her box and manages to suddenly turn into a super dancer with slick moves.
It’s Sabrina Carpenter’s honest and effortless portrayal of Quinn that brings in the conviction here. Her chemistry with Jake (Jordan Fisher) is refreshing. The other characters in her racially rich and colourful dance group do not get any backstory. But they are well-cast including Quinn’s arch-rival – the flashy and dramatic Julliard played by 28-year-old Keiynan Lonsdale. With a colourful hairdo and shiny white costumes, he looks every bit the pompous dancing diva but not so much as a high school student.
Just like its protagonist Quinn, ‘Work It’ trips a few times before finding its beat, but with a likable cast of young actors, this one eventually gets its four-count just right.