High Strung: Free Dance (2018) had been a been not a dull showmance

A formulaic follow-your-dream pic built around starry-eyed performance sequences. Michael Damian’s High Strung Free Dance will play best with those who’ve never seen a backstage musical before or are still in the thrall of their first teenage encounters with the world of the theater.

Lacking the personalities and attitude that have led some other unassuming productions to commercial success. The film has little to boast about beyond some fine dance sequences — none of them more transporting than what can be found easily on small screens.

Harry Jarvis is Charlie, a piano player who lives in the kind of artfully decrepit one-person apartment that — sorry. Kids — hasn’t been an option for penniless newcomers to Gotham in several decades. He makes bike deliveries for a bakery while fruitlessly looking for auditions.

Not far away, an irrepressible young dancer named Barlow (Juliet Doherty). That is being evicted from her too-good-for-reality apartment. Fortunately, two dancers she meets at an audition have a spare room. These two characters, browner than the film’s extremely white leads, barely have names. And exist solely to tell Barlow things like “we got your back” and “we’re so hot.”

The dancers meet while trying out for a musical created by Zander (Thomas Doherty, no relation)

Who sits midway back in a darkened theater and scrutinizes performers. That with a piercing gaze he has clearly practiced for many hours in a mirror. Zander is British, prone to tantrums, and appears to have missed the last couple of years of showbiz news about sexual opportunism: Immediately after he casts Barlow as his show’s lead dancer, he kisses her.

When he later fires her inappropriately, a stage manager explains things to us: “Listen, Zander doesn’t mean to be insensitive. He’s just so insanely gift that when he’s creating. There’s no room left in his brain for anything else.” Lest we get the wrong idea, he continues, “and I don’t mean to make any excuses for him.”

While the actual New York City has been appall in recent months. That by a spate of accidents in which cars kill cyclists, in Damian’s NYC, distract drivers are a godsend: Zander’s SUV hits Charlie as he dashes to an unpaid gig, leading eventually to Charlie becoming the feature soloist in Zander’s show.

Charlie’s a sweet kid, and is smitten immediately with giant-eyed Barlow. He must watch during rehearsals as she’s exploit by her boss. Then chastely try to rescue her from heartbreak — wooing her with a Satie composition. That should really be retire from the movies for a while, lest we forever associate its beauty with treacle like this.

Damian and his wife/co-writer Janeen Damian pile the script high with glory-of-art cliches

But ignore the textures and credible conflict that allow us to enjoy these romances with a straight face. The only surprising thing in the pic is the number of U-turns. The screenplay expects us to accept along the ingenue’s path to the spotlight. That zig-zaggy path may delight a few young dance students for whom performing careers remain a far-away prospect. But anybody who’s actually been an understudy. That will more likely be laughing until they’re in the parking lot, and not in a good way.

It’s hard to make music in the keyboard equivalent of a Ford Fiesta when you’ve got a Ferrari in your sights. As deli delivery boy Charlie (Harry Jarvis) discovers at the beginning of High Strung: Free Dance. Dropping bread off at an elderly woman’s stately home, he comes face-to-face with a gorgeous grand piano and dares. That to play the keys beckoning to him in the dimly lit study. And once Charlie gives into temptation, his skills make quite an impression on the reclusive owner. Who first complains that her previous bread order was dry before telling him that next time, he should play something by Schubert.

A delightful opener to an otherwise forgettable movie that’s as bland as the rolls at Charlie’s deli

Free Dance uses the same building blocks of a “let’s put on a show” set love story between a burgeoning dancer and musician that serve as the backbone of the pleasant 2016 original. Proof that like a xerox machine, if — as they say in Multiplicity — you make a copy of a copy, the result isn’t nearly as sharp, while the first High Strung picture was construct from bits and pieces of dance movies of decades gone by, this one feels as though it’s just going through the motions to try to duplicate its success.

Yet while High Strung’s new musician Charlie is an entertaining new character, the same cannot be said for the rest of the people who populate Free Dance. Unfortunately, this includes our dancer and female lead Barlow (play by Juliet Doherty), whose direct worth seems to be derive from whichever guy is standing nearest to her — whether that’s bossy choreographer Zander (Thomas Doherty) or Charlie — and neither of whom address her with any real conviction.

From getting cast and kissed by Zander within the same thirty seconds — and with all the sizzle of a toothpaste commercial

That to having clich fights with her mom (Jane Seymour), screenwriters Janeen and Michael Damian (who also directed) can’t be bother to give her or anyone else onscreen anything resembling a personality. And with time, this also applies to Charlie who, despite starting strong, seems to fade into the background as Free Dance continues.

Recommend only to dance movie obsessives and even then with the caveat not to expect too much, with the wooden dialogue only accentuating the film’s amateur performances, Free Dance wisely breaks the tedium with dynamic music and jaw-dropping dance choreography that routinely bursts onto the screen so suddenly that it feels as though we must’ve accidentally change the channel.

Serving up various styles of modern dance with creativity and verve, in the end, I can’t help but wish that Free Dance had been a been not a dull showmance but a That’s Entertainment! like showcase of back-to-back free dance. While ultimately a Ford Fiesta — as Charlie might put it — thanks to the impressive work of choreographer Andreea Dumitrescu and the talent dancers on the screen, it’s evident that there’s enough talent behind the films that someday the High Strung franchise might just deliver its viewers a Ferrari.


Rating: PG (for some language)
Genre: Drama, Musical & Performing Arts, Romance
Directed By: Michael Damian
Stars: Jane Seymour, Thomas Doherty, Ace Bhatti
Written By: Janeen Damian, Michael Damian
In Theaters: Oct 11, 2019 Limited
Runtime: 103 minutes
Studio: Atlas Distribution


Gary Goldstein
This follow-up to 2016’s “High Strung” has its visual dazzle and performance highs but the story and characters are just too fake, chaste and grit-free to take seriously.

William Bibbiani
The glossy fakeness is a signal to the audience that every single thing about these stories will stand in abject defiance of reality, and it’s best just to accept them at face value.

Betty Jo Tucker
‘High Strung Free Dance’ simply bowled me over. It’s a must-see movie for all dance fans! Think ‘A Chorus Line’ meets ’42nd Street.’

Tara McNamara
Sensational music/dance numbers rise above so-so romance.

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