by Christian Cintron
Thursday Aug 18, 2011
"Leading Ladies" is a sweet coming out story that explores the world of competitive dance. Given the current trends of musicals and ballroom dancing, this film couldn’t have come at a better time. There are lots of hilarious laugh out loud moments and tap your feet dance numbers that make the movie super approachable to all audiences.
Toni Campari (Laurel Vail) is the tomboy workhorse of her family. She spends all of her time supporting her eccentric mother, Sheri (Melanie LaPatin) and her dancer sister, Tasi (Shannon Lea Smith). Her only ally in her crazy world is her sister’s gay dance partner Cedric, played by "So You Think You Can Dance" finalist Benji Schwimmer. When she treats herself to a night out she meets Mona (Nicole Dionne), who changes her whole world. Tasi becomes pregnant, and all hell breaks loose when Toni decides to join the family business.
Vail is endearing as a girl just trying to find her voice in a family of loud eccentrics. She is able to capture the suppressed spirit of a dancer and make you root for Toni. LaPatin’s Sheri is part drag queen part soap opera vixen. Her over-the-top portrayal steals every scene she is in. Schwimmer also shines as the lovable best friend who not only offers funny quips, but also dances his way through the film.
The pacing of the film can be a little grating at times, given the length of some of the music numbers and montages. However, the blend of large-scaled choreographed dance numbers, show-stopping numbers, and even an original song or two will keep you thoroughly entertained.
It’s rare for a film to be so approachable to all audiences. The film may focus on a lesbian relationship but the story at its heart is about family. Where do you fit in a family of loud and crazy eccentrics? Toni’s mother and sister are such big personalities that they stifle her; it’s no wonder she can’t come out of the closet.
The movie also offers a sweet metaphor for what meeting your first love can be like. Toni had no idea she was even into women but when she meets Mona they engage in an elaborate dance number that would change anyone forever.
"Leading Ladies" is sweet, smart and funny. Like a great date the film will keep you entertained and full of fuzzy feelings. Part family melodrama and part first love story, it transcends the "coming out" genre by offering an entertaining film with a main character that just so happens to be coming out. It’s a definite must see for fans of dance, musicals and lady love.
Choreographer Dances Into First ‘Leading Lady’ Role
15 Aug, 2011 By: Ashley Ratcliff
Melanie LaPatin (center) stars in Leading Ladies alongside newcomers Shannon Lea Smith (left) and Laurel Vail.
As a choreographer with decades of experience, Melanie LaPatin knows her way around the stage. When the Brooklynite signed on to create ballroom and swing dance routines for the lesbian-themed comedy Leading Ladies, LaPatin was in her comfort zone.
But co-director Erika Randall Beahm, who also co-wrote and co-produced, had a different role in mind for LaPatin. She asked the dancing queen to audition to play Sheri Campari, the overbearing stage mom to two twentysomething daughters whose entire lives revolve around ballroom dancing.
“I said, ‘Why not?’ I’ve never done anything like that before, and I’m always open to new ideas and new things. … I knew I was dramatic,” LaPatin said with a laugh. “But I had no idea it would lead to that. I would do it again in a minute.”
Wolfe Video releases the film on DVD ($24.95) Sept. 13. Bonus material includes a blooper reel and alternate and extended scenes. [purchase]
In Leading Ladies, the Campari family is preparing to have one of its own compete in an important regional ballroom dance championship. However, Sheri spins out of control when her youngest daughter, Tasi (Shannon Lea Smith), gets pregnant and her oldest daughter, Toni (Laurel Vail), falls for the free-spirited Mona (Nicole Dionne).
LaPatin said she drew inspiration for the part from her real-life mother, Barbara LaPatin, whom she called “very high-strung and controlling.”
“I would describe Sheri as the person that I really don’t want to be, but I have a feeling that I’m a lot like her,” LaPatin said. “I was definitely obsessed about the dancing, more than she was, actually. It was myself that I was criticizing and nothing was good enough and had to be the best, so I really understood where she was coming from. If I had children, I probably would have been the same.”
While working on Leading Ladies, LaPatin had the opportunity to reunite with several dancers she’s gotten to know through “So You Think You Can Dance,” the Fox dance competition series that she and her longtime partner, Tony Meredith, choreograph. They included season-two winner Benji Schwimmer, Katee Shean, Kherington Payne, Courtney Galiano and Sara Vongillern.
As for the film’s message, LaPatin said people should take Leading Ladies’ tagline — “Let love lead” — to heart and not judge others based on whom they fall in love with.
“Live and let live,” she said. “Don’t we have more important things to criticize? I just believe that you are who you are, and who are we to decide who you should be?”