There’s an easy sleepover movie charm to Netflix comedy Work It, a charm that’s proved harder to find in their many other teen offerings of late. It’s a familiar package – dance, romance, parents just, like, not getting it – but it’s a slick and engaging construction, directed with more skill than one would usually expect from a Netflix original. Admittedly, that bar is low (and sinking by the week) but arriving with little to no buzz near the end of a grim summer, it’s a warm and welcome surprise, one that feels like an actual movie and one that should find an enthused young audience eager to rewatch over the coming weeks.
Produced by Alicia Keys and starring a cast of recognisable twentysomethings pretending to be high schoolers, Work It follows the misadventures of Quinn (singer and Disney star Sabrina Carpenter), a studious and socially limited teen desperate to get into Duke University after she graduates. She’s doing as much as possible to make herself seem like an appealing candidate yet still, it doesn’t appear to be enough. During an initial college interview, a misunderstanding leads her to pretend that she’s part of her school’s award-winning dance crew, a lie that she must maintain in order to gain admittance. The small problem is that she can’t dance and so recruits her best friend Jas (YouTuber turned actor Liza Koshy) to help.
In bright, zippy fashion, the film speeds through its cute, if convoluted, setup and lands at a place that requires Quinn to form her own dance crew, a ragtag group of also-rans, while trying to nail the work-life balance she’s been struggling with through school. Throw in a bitchy rival dancer (Love Simon’s Keiynan Lonsdale, fully 28 but playing 18) and a handsome love interest (singer and Hamilton star Jordan Fisher) and director Laura Terruso has just about enough to fill a fast-moving 93-minute runtime with space for some extraneous dancing at the end.
It’s winning no prizes for originality (you can definitely already guess the ending) but as an assemblage of tropes and plot developments cribbed from elsewhere, Work It manages to lift itself through sheer energy. The spirited cast, who might be less familiar to those over the age of 30, have a well-matched chemistry together, especially believable BFFs Carpenter and Koshy. The latter in particular is both an impressive dancer and a talented comic actor, enlivening some of screenwriter Alison Peck’s less effective one-liners. There’s also a sweetness in the scenes shared by Carpenter and Fisher, again a great dancer and also a charming romantic lead. Often when casting a music-centric film, directors end up going for great dancers or singers who can’t act or great actors who can’t sing or dance. So it makes for a refreshing change to see a cast of skilled double threats and Terruso wisely coerces them into a great many dance numbers which jolt to life thanks also to a lively, stacked soundtrack.
As the film hurtles towards its predictable finale, Terruso and Peck do find time to cram in a few bum notes. Carpenter’s road from clumsy geek to dancer extraordinaire is a little too easy and while she’s a likable presence, it’s hard to believe her as anyone but a popular girl with swarms of friends. With limited time, the other members of her crew are barely given a look-in and at times, with the amount of characters we’re being swiftly introduced to, the film feels more like a pilot episode. There’s also some confusion over the film’s many life lessons (especially a scene where a pensioner explains why education doesn’t necessarily matter?) and it’s unclear what teens should take from the film other than some generic “be yourself” fridge magnet quote.
But Work It is a fun, mostly entertaining and easily digestible concoction that does everything you expect but well enough for its lack of ingenuity not to matter. The teen movie standard on Netflix might be low but this one easily rises above.
Source: The Guardian