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Copyright 1999-2001 3BlackChicks Enterprises™. All Rights Reserved.

Bams' review of
Dancing In September


Dancing In September (2000)
Rated TV-MA; running time 106 minutes
Genre: Drama
Official site: http://www.hbo.com/dancing/
IMDB site: http://us.imdb.com/Details?0219636
Written by: Reggie Rock Bythewood
Directed by: Reggie Rock Bythewood
Cast: Nicole Ari Parker, Isaiah Washington, Vicellous Reon Shannon, Jay Underwood, Marcia Cross, Jenifer Lewis, James Avery, Michael Cavanaugh, Mel Jackson, Malinda Williams

Review Copyright Rose Cooper, 2001

(click here to skip to this movie's rating)

It's deja vu all over again: first Bamboozled - and now, the extremely similar Dancing In September - failed to drive in that desperately-needed Home Run Of Black Social Consciousness, as it pertains to the entertainment industry.

The Story (WARNING: **spoilers contained below**)
As a kid growing up in the Boogie Down Bronx, Tomasina "Tommy" Crawford (Nicole Ari Parker) learned early on that television had the power, if used right, to bring folks together. As she grew up, she focused her energies on being the kind of writer who could make a difference on the shows on which she was a staffer. Tommy lived for the day when she could write for Black characters who were both funny and meaningful.

Enter George Washington (Isaiah Washington), who, like Tommy, grew up watching way too much TV; George's strengths, though, led him towards the business side of Show Business, which then led him to the startup WPX Network (read: The WB), where he was hired by Perry Harbor (Michael Cavanaugh) to work under Michael Daniels (Jay Underwood) and Lydia Gleason (Marcia Cross) to develop new shows for the network. George emphasized the importance of a strong Black audience to Perry (interesting, indeed, that George was hired just as a boycott was being organized against television networks for lack of positive minority representation on-screen), and set off to find The Idea.

Tommy finally got her wish when she sold her script idea to George: "Just Us", a show starring street hustler cum new actor James (Vicellous Reon Shannon) as Maurice, a semi-thuggish ruffian who was adopted by the Judge (Jenifer Lewis) who saw him in court, and the Judge's husband, Mr. Warner (James Avery). Tommy is thrilled that her funny, yet thoughtful, "Just Us" is Dancing In September (a term used by Black writers when their show is picked up by a network for the Fall season). But when trouble erupts with the struggling young James and his babymama Rhonda (Malinda Williams), well, as the saying goes, "be careful of what you wish for; you might just get it..."

The Upshot
Issues, Issues, everywhere. Let's start with my basic Issue: these actors had no chemistry together. I'm not just talking about Isaiah Washington and Nicole Ari Parker (I'll get back to them in a minute); no, the whole cast - with the exception of some flares by Parker, Jay Underwood, and for a brief moment, Vicellous Reon Shannon - seemed to be just going through the motions. The fault doesn't totally lie with the actors; writer/director Reggie Rock Bythewood seemed as ironically uninspired as his actors and characters were - but with all that talent on the set, you'd think something would Ignite.

And speaking of Igniting...you could take a blowtorch to the Love Story between Tommy and George, and still not start a fire. Isaiah Washington usually exudes strength of character, and not a little sex appeal; but Nicole Ari Parker's bark as Tommy, strong Black writer, was much more convincing than her bite as Tommy, George's lover. Their whole love duet felt tacked on to the story, as if Somebody Up There (at HBO Executive Towers, perhaps?) just wasn't diggin' on Bythewood's "State Of Black TV" groove, and - as Perry did to Tommy - demanded more from Bythewood, by way of that top ten hit, "Sex!Sex!Sex!". Woulda helped, though, if Mr. Washington and Ms. Parker didn't come off on-screen as if they couldn't wait to get away from each other. Sorry, y'all: zero chemistry there.

My top Issue, though, has to be with Reggie Rock, veteran Hollywood writer. He, of all people, should know the Truth in the saying "Show, don't Tell". Yet, he leaves no subtle meaning in his wake, instead choosing to include way too many scenes where Hollywood Exec-types speak to the camera, explaining How Things Are Done In TeeVee Land. This, along with the flat love story, had me tearing out my hair at its nappy roots. All of those good actors (as Jenifer Lewis' character said, "I've won Tony Awards!") left unused...for that? The underdeveloped potential, pissed me off. Where were the scenes of James becoming a Hollywood Monster? What about the hypocrisy rampant in the CPAA (come on now, Reg: just call it the NAACP, dag) Awards? Where were the tension-filled moments when James eclipsed his co-stars? Why did Tommy change her tune in mid-song so quickly? Oops, sorry: time for another love scene. And don't get me started on those piss-poor Earth Wind & Fire ripoffs; you tease us with The Elements, singing the song from which the movie's title is inspired...then throw in way lame renditions of "Reasons" and "Can't Fight Love" by Somebody Else? ARRRRGH. Just make me go look for my CDs, whydoncha.

So why'd I give this flick such a high rating? First, because, as a Black writer who hopes to do more than be the next Ms. Stepin Fetchit, I can very much identify with Tommy's struggle, especially now that 3BC is gaining some notoriety within publishing circles. I Feel Tommy, because I've heard - from people who share my hue and gender - many of the same lines that were thrown at her; and I rail at them just as Tommy did. The day I stop fighting for my integrity as a writer, is the day that I will have made a bunch of money - but lost my soul.

And though "Dancing" came off like a high school production at times (man, did I groan during the almost-comical "Semaj = James, backwards" scene), and left little room for the audience to use its imagination (hey, I like looking at Mel Jackson as much as the next woman, but was Malik's "Tommy, Jr." really necessary? By the time he was introduced, I had long since Gotten The Point), Bythewood's insight into an industry for which many of us are on the outside, looking in, is an important perspective of which to take note. For like Bamboozled, Dancing In September as a Lesson, was all-too-real, and very much on-point; the "Maurice learns about his real mother" scene was as painful to watch as it was spot-on, and where more scenes like this occurred, I was with "Dancing". Too bad that Lesson got buried until it was all but unrecognizable, under the unnecessary love story, and the silly camera asides.

The "Black Factor"    [ObDisclaimer: We Are Not A Monolith]

The plain fact is, I don't watch Black sitcoms anymore. I haven't, on a regular basis, since shows like Cosby, early A Different World episodes, and Living Single went off the air. Living Single was, for me, the last (semi)intelligent Black sitcom about people with whom I had something in common, culturally and chronologically, on the national airwaves. If it were left up to the W "Ghetto Network" B and BE "Gangsta Central" T, there wouldn't be much Black presence on the boob tube beyond their cooning clowns and psuedo-thugs; and frankly, I'd rather read a book. Maybe, in the end, that's why Bamboozled and Dancing In September failed to reach me where I live. I just don't live there no mo'. But - and here's the kicker - apparently I'm in the minority of my Minority. And as long as My People keep eating this kind of programming up, the nets will keep shoveling it to them.

Bammer's Bottom Line
Like Bamboozled before it, Dancing In September has a important message but suffers from two things: boring, uninspired acting, and the very bad decision to play up the Obligatory Love Story at the cost of not getting to know the other characters' motivations better. I could almost hear the Dancing In September studio execs saying "this needs more Sex". Not unlike the "Just Us" TV execs bellowing "this needs to be more coonish". And you see where that got them.

Two outs, bottom of the ninth; batter up?

"Dancing In September":


I'll ask what the brother writer asked: is it possible for Us to be funny and honest? I'd like to think so; for my own sake, I'm counting on it. Unfortunately, though, Dancing In September doesn't quite fit the bill.

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And that's the way I see it.

Rose "Bams" Cooper
3BlackChicks Enterprises™
Copyright Rose Cooper, 2001
EMAIL: bams@3blackchicks.com    ICQ: 7760005

Use the feedback form below to send your comments to Bams

More 3BlackChicks...™ review(s) for this week:
(movies released week of 2/9/01):
Bams' reviews:
Dancing In September

The Diva's reviews:
Hannibal | Saving Silverman

Cass' guest reviews:
Dancing In September | The Thomas Crown Affair

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