Reviews — May 24

This week’s pick comes by way of my wife, Melissa, who — despite an onslaught of technical difficulties with our home video system — soldiered through the 2011 documentary “First Position,” which chronicles the stories of dancers training for the Youth America Grand Prix. That’s a fiercely competitive ballet competition held annually in New York, where winning gets you into a prestigious classical dance school, or even a job with a professional company.

Watching a graceful ballet dancer, it’s easy to forget how grueling this form of artistic expression is on a human body, but Bess Kargman’s behind-the-scenes film shows what hard work it really is. The stories, which focus on half a dozen kids ages 8 to 19, are varied and inspiring.

Most have their hearts in it; one does not. Appropriately, an epilogue provides an update on everyone’s post-competition life.

It’s not hyperbole to say that any parent whose child aspires to a dance career should show him or her this amazing film. A TV show like “So You Think You Can Dance” creates an impression that these young dancers just show up possessing natural talent; this film intimately immerses a viewer in the years of intense physical and mental preparation required to pull off even a decent audition for a show like that.

“First Position” (2011) Directed by Bess Kargman. Featuring Michaela DePrince, Miko Fogarty, Joan Sebastian Zamora, Aran Bell, Rebecca Houseknecht, Gaya Bommer Yemini, Jules Fogarty,Elaine DePrince, Ryan Bell, Michelle Bell. 94 minutes. Unrated.

David Bates / News-Register



Samantha’s husband packs up and moves out as “Open House” begins, and we’re left to ride beside Sam as she negotiates an emotional whitewater river as a result. But first, we shop, or at least Sam does, because A. she wants to run up her ex’s credit card bills, and B. choosing silver patterns is easier than figuring out how to support herself and be a single mom to her 11-year-old son.

It’s quite a funny, sweet and heartwarming book, actually. Sam is likeable, self-deprecating yet stronger and more capable than she realizes, and the other characters — son Travis, best friend forever Rita, mother Veronica, even estranged husband David — all are drawn with loving care by author Elizabeth Berg.

Sam clears out her ex’s office and puts up a “roommate wanted” sign. Her first applicant is Lydia, a grandmotherly type who arrives for an interview escorted by her elderly boyfriend.

“The woman is carrying a black patent leather pocketbook by the handle, using both hands. She is smiling. Her boyfriend cradles her elbow, guides her tenderly along. He has a white mustache, neatly trimmed, and he is wearing a bow tie. This woman can move in tonight. They both can.”

Sam befriends not only Lydia, but also King, the mover who brings the roommate’s possessions. King encourages her to sign on with a temp agency, which leads her to a series of odd but interesting jobs.

And soon she’s collected a whole new family of friends, weathered crises with their help and learned to see others — even her often-pushy mother — in a whole new light.

Still, through every eye-opening experience and success, Sam yearns for what she once had, or at least thought she had, before David walked out. She tries reasoning with him, begging him, seducing him. But finally, she realizes that what looks so good in hindsight actually wasn’t all that great.

It’s an uplifting ending to a novel that shows us that what we see, or want to see, may not be what’s really there.

“Open House,” Elizabeth Berg, Random House, 2000.

Starla Pointer / News-Register

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