Leading Ladies Reviewed by GLBT Library Association
A publication of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender
Round Table of the American Library Association
Vol. 23, No. 4 Winter Supplement 2012
Leading Ladies is an infectious combination of a dance movie marrying an LGBT coming-out and love story. The movie places you right in the midst of the all-female Campari family as the comically obsessive mother pushes her two daughters to compete in the Midwest Regional Ballroom Competition.
Along the way both daughters end up discovering things about themselves which finally may cause them to seek independence from their well-meaning but suffocating mother.
The cinematography and choreography are excellent and convey
the rhythm and dance of everyday life. The movie is visually stimulating and engaging at every turn, showing the sisters in a dance-like routine even as they simultaneously get ready for bed. Dance is incorporated into every part of their lives and that feeling is wordlessly conveyed on screen.
Unlike other comedies that attempt (and fail) to keep a lighthearted tone while incorporating drama, Leading Ladies nails the steps of an effective drama-comedy with ease, leaving the viewer to enjoy a rare glimpse into the more positive aspects of the coming out process. The romance between Toni and Mona feels authentic in the context of the story and is a surprisingly lighthearted affair for Toni’s first relationship and realization she is a lesbian.
Realism is not the main goal as much a sense of cute amusement, so the lack of believability can be forgiven in the context of the film.
There cannot be enough good reviews of Laurel Vail as the main character Toni. Toni’s ability to find joy even in the mundane such as her pizza place job radiates from the screen. She is a rare lesbian character who waltzes between incredibly realistic and impossibly adorable and charming. She is a character young lesbians will crush on and emulate at the same time. Toni’s deadpan sarcasm makes a strong contrast to the high-drama of the other characters that function as dramatic caricatures of the theater scene. Dramatic caricatures for the sake of comedy are not every viewer’s cup of tea but they work in this film.
Leading Ladies is not without imperfections, notably a musical number towards the end which finally breaks the fourth wall along with the flow of the film. It would be nice to see more gay male best friends who are not flamboyantly effeminate, but with most of the characters functioning as walking stereotypes this fits
the tone of the film. The movie loses steam tying up all its subplots without providing a satisfying resolution, which will leave some viewers wanting a much stronger ending.
Despite these grievances, Leading Ladies fills an empty niche in LGBT films by combining a lighthearted dance movie with a family comedy. Leading Ladies is recommended for larger public libraries, especially those housing larger LGBT collections and/or with demands for movies incorporating dance.
Reviewer: Tracy Gossage
MLIS student, Dominican University