While it might sound somewhat cheesy, I had just as much fun watching seniors dance to hip-hop music than I did watching Iron Man over the weekend. Seriously. Of course, they're two completely different films -- one is a mega Hollywood blockbuster with loads of special effects, while the other is a sweet documentary about older folks who refuse to let age keep them down. And yet, both have a lot in common; mainly, that each film doesn't pretend it's something it's not. Gotta Dance is not out to mock these folks for wanting to add a little hip-hop to their lives; this documentary exists to celebrate that fact and invite us along for their wild ride.
Essentially, the New Jersey Nets basketball team came up with a PR stunt that includes forming a hip-hop dance crew made up entirely of senior citizens (or folks over the age of 60). From day one of auditions, cameras are allowed backstage to document this entire process -- which includes choosing the team, learning the different routines (with help from the current crop of Nets dancers) and performing them in front of live audiences during halftime at six Nets games. The cynical side of me kinda feels this whole documentary was dreamt up by the Nets organization in an attempt to get them some more good press. Regardless of those original intentions, Gotta Dance is still a fun film for the entire family. Director Dori Berinstein takes the route one would expect: We begin by meeting several seniors during auditioning rounds before the Nets dancers (some of which invited their grandparents down to try out) get together to decide who will make the team. From there, Gotta Dance becomes all about the 13 folks (twelve women and one man) chosen to participate in this wacky and wild PR stunt. One of the group's more interesting and comical members is Betsy, who's created an alter-ego for herself called Betty. During the day, Betsy is a simple school teacher who helps children color inside the lines and what have you. But then as a member of The NETSational Dance Team, Betsy becomes Betty -- a wild woman who loves to let loose and dance. Joe B., the only male on the team, is close to being a professional swing dancer who has a hard time picking up the hip-hop moves -- and Fanny, an 80-year-old grandmother, is two steps away from falling over, and yet she's perhaps the spunkiest of the bunch.
Like This Is Not a Robbery, Gotta Dance runs into length issues. Once we've met this crew, watched them audition, watched them practice and watched them perform that first number in front of a live audience, there's not much left to anticipate. Thus, we're back at another practice -- this time the routine is a bit harder. Can they get the moves down? Should we care? When the group is not involved in some form of hip-hop dancing (be it practicing or performing), we're inside their houses or eating dinner right beside them as they talk about how important dance is in their lives, and how they're afraid of disappointing their Nets bosses. And while the challenges they face grow somewhat harder, unfortunately the documentary doesn't become that much more interesting. Great for the first half hour, 40 minutes, and then there's not a lot of room left to grow.
Gotta Dance would make for a wonderful double feature alongside Young @ Heart, and while the former is not as captivating all the way through, both films prove it's now hip to be over 60. And that's pretty damn cool.