Jun 8 2012

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

Sep 8 2011

Leading Ladies Reviewed on BlogCritics.com


There is a lot to enjoy about the film, particularly the dancing, which is capped by a wonderful fantasy number set in the local supermarket. Leading Ladies has a nice, quirky musical score. Dance is well-integrated into the film — these kids gotta dance, whether working at the pizza joint or flossing their teeth.

Sep 7 2011

Leading Ladies Review in Home Media Magazine

[printed September 5, 2011]

The Campari women live and breathe ballroom dancing.

Running the show is overbearing mother Sheri (Melanie LaPatin). She focuses most of her attention on her youngest daughter, Tasi (Shannon Lea Smith), whom she is grooming to win the regional ballroom dance competition.  Waiting patiently in the background is her oldest daughter, Toni (Laurel Vail), the one on whom they depend.  The only stable man in the Camparis’ lives is Cedric (Benji Schwimmer, season two winner of “So You Think You Can Dance”), Tasi’s saucy gay dance partner and Toni’s best buddy. Not the ideal family dynamic, but it works for them.

Soon the family balance is thrown off kilter when Tasi becomes pregnant, putting her chance at the competition in jeopardy.  Further spinning Sheri into chaos, Toni, who finds a companion she can be her true self around (Mona, Played by the charming Nicole Dionne), comes out of the closet.  Sheri is devastated, and it’s at this moment that the audience begins to see her many dimensions.  She’s not just a loud-mouthed nag factory; it’s just that the divorcee envisioned a different life for her daughters and is heartbroken knowing her dreams won’t pan out as she planned.

It’s also in that emotional scene that real-life choreographer LaPatin, making her acting debut, brings her character to life and, surprisingly, shows acting prowess.

After the daughters’ secrets come out, a heartwarming story emerges about how these hurdles ultimately make the Camparis a stronger family unit.

If you enjoy dance as much as I do, then you’ll love the bonus material, especially the outtakes.  The playful “Fruit Stand” sequence shows the cast and backup dancers, many you you’ll recognize from “So You Think You Can Dance,” shimmying atop grocery store conveyor belts, using various fruits as their props –a true visual feast.

–Ashley Ratcliff


Aug 18 2011

Leading Ladies Reviewed by Boston Edge

by Christian Cintron
EDGE Contributor
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.

…link to original…

Jun 25 2011

Frameline Blog Entries from University of Wisconsin Students

This year at Frameline, the festival had student guest bloggers from the University of Wisconsin contribute to the Frameline Blog.  Here are a few of the posts regarding Leading Ladies.

I find it difficult, yet extremely easy to describe the film Leading Ladies because the experience of the film was overwhelming. To be honest, I went into this film not knowing what it was about and I even forgot the title, but the impact that this film left on me was huge. A film about two lesbian dance partners? To me, this was unorthodox and I thought that it was going to completely lose my attention about halfway through, yet it gave happiness throughout.

Besides just watching the film, the director and two of the main actors talked about the film in a sense I had yet to see at the Frameline Festival. Those involved in the film were excited, funny, and were willing to talk to me after the show for a few short minutes. I could not think of a better film, or director to bring back to the Eau Queer film festival, especially because of the mutual understanding of the Midwest attitudes toward queer people. Plus, I may also be slightly biased because of my love for dancing. —Bryton Fredrick


I fell in love with the film Leading Ladies almost instantly. With its carefree spirit and mindless antics what wasn’t there to love about it? I had more likes about not only the story itself but also how the film was produced and put together than I had dislikes. For starters, I loved that the characters were not hypersexual. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched any gay themed film and the main characters or important characters were portrayed as extremely sexual beings. I also loved that the actors, director, and producer all had this amazing chemistry on screen as well as when they came on stage afterwards. The story itself was amazing. It was well written, funny, light hearted, and very fun. After seeing this film I will never look at a grocery aisle the same way again.

Unfortunately, like with all films, there were negative aspects to it as well. Besides a couple personal issues I had with character flaws (ahem, the mother driving me absolutely bananas and the friend/dance partner being a “stereotypical” gay man) there wasn’t too much more to complain about. While the film wasn’t slow paced by any means it did take a bit too long to get to the gay component of it.

Overall, I found this film very easy to fall in love with. It was simple and light hearted without too much “in your face” drama like some of the films that I have seen. And for all those reasons I feel it would be a great film to bring back to Eau Claire. The queer aspect of the film slyly makes it way present and you don’t really see it as “just” a queer film. –Tatjana Trommershauser


When contemplating which films to bring back to Eau Queer Film Festival, Leading Ladies always comes to mind, it would also be a great idea to invite the actors and/or directors to come as well. The film did a great job of presenting the message of LGBT issues in a non-threatening environment. Even though there were sad moments, I would consider the film to be, overall, light hearted.

After hearing from my classmates that the students pursuing a dance minor were not encouraged to create a same sex performance for the use of their capstone, I was saddened and appalled. The films use of same sex dance partners would help to broaden the minds of the Eau Claire community. The dancing within this film is impeccable. I have seen same sex dance partners perform prior to this film, but I had never seen it in such a beautiful, inspiring way. Their movement was so fluid, and clean; every time dancing would begin it literally took my breath away.  —Lindsay Miklya

Original Content: http://blog.frameline.org/2011/06/leading-ladies/

Jun 2 2011

DVD Release Report for “Leading Ladies”

Wolfe Video has captured the domestic distribution rights to filmmakers Daniel Beahm and Erika Randall Beahm’s high-energy romantic musical comedy, Leading Ladies.

If this independently produced film was instead a studio-driven production, it would have had a major theatrical roll-out.  Instead, the filmmakers took the festival circuit approach beginning in April of last year –at small venues such as the Sonoma International Film Festival (where it captured the Showcase Award in its debut outing) and the Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival.

More festivals followed.  More awards.  Then a move to the international circuit, where Leading Ladies was also well-received.  Word spread.  Toes were tapping.  Audiences and critics were singing its praises and now Wolfe Video has a genuine early fall sleeper on its hands.

This early announcement for DVD, coupled with additional film festival exposure (the closing night film at this year’s San Francisco United Film Festival on June 27), gives Wolfe plenty of time to work the streets and build awareness.

In the competitive world of ballroom dancing –think: combat staging grounds for Dancing with the Stars, etc. –there is Sheri Campari (Melanie LaPatin –an actual dancer who handled the choreography and was featured as a dancer in such films as Dance With Me and The Thomas Crown Affair), a stage mom on a mission.  She is a force of nature.

She has two daughters in their early 20’s.  One is Anastasia (Shannon Lea Smith) –known to all as just “Tai –and the other is Antoinette (Laurel Vail –The Echo Game), the “ugly duckling” of the family who answer to Toni.  You can see early on where mom has her priorities, Tasi will be the star and Toni will be her support, even to the point of dressing the role as her partner in the seemingly endless practice sessions (the stand-in lead).

End of story, right?  If you believe that, then you’ve never seen a really good MGM musical from the golden days of such fare.  There will be twists and turns, elaborate dance numbers, wonderful (and original) music, love interests and a certain “leading lady” will shine.  This is a keeper.

Leading Ladies-DVD Release Report-June 3Funny that there was no mention of Benji Schwimmer (season two winner of So You Think You Can Dance) or the fact that Melanie LaPatin is a regular choreographer on the show.  I guess that means the film can stand on it’s own merit!

Apr 14 2011

We are Movie Geeks Review Leading Ladies

Posted by Travis Keune


LEADING LADIES is a quirky but charming comedy with a classical sensibility. Co-directed by Daniel Beahm and Erika Randall Beahm, the film is about two sisters and their overbearing stage mother, once a champion dancer. The light, playful nature of the film is evident from the opening credits. Great care was taken in staging, choreographing and staging the entire film to work whimsically with the musical score.

Shannon Lea Smith plays Tasi Campari, the younger sister and something of a wild princess. Tasi is also the dancer of the two sisters, her mother’s protégé. Laurel Vail (THE ECHO GAME) plays Toni Campari, the introverted and calm sister who often serves as the voice of reason in their family. Melanie LaPatin, a choreographer and actress in real life, plays the Campari girls’ mother Sheri. She’s a colorful, energetic handful of a woman with passion for what she does, whether her daughters always appreciate it or not.

While Tasi’s relationship with their mother grows more strenuous, Toni’s gay best friend Cedric (Benji Schwimmer) takes her out to a gay club where she meets Mona, but her sudden, unexpected revelation is dampened by Tasi’s bombshell announcement that she’s pregnant.

There’s an authenticity to Toni that draws the attention to her very aura, a sort of glow to her presence and personality that says “I’m a real person.” Vail scales back her performance as Toni, resulting in a very relatable character with real emotions and real insecurities.

Tasi’s pregnancy comes about abruptly, but LEADING LADIES is primarily Toni’s story and the pregnancy serves as the elastic waistband that pulls the Campari sisters’ relationship back into shape as Toni’s newly found romance is revealed to those around her, but the sisters’ secrets prove harder for their mother to swallow.

The Beahm’s have incorporated a wonderful attention to detail into LEADING LADIES. The viewer’s focus is immediately engaged by the richness of color and detail in the set design, the lighting and the wardrobes. The varied styles of music pair nicely with the film’s visual mood shifts, while the stunning confidence with the camera and composition is impressive for these first-time filmmakers.

LEADING LADIES is a feel good movie with a message and a joy to watch, and quite possibly one of the most endearing and sincerely uplifting movies I’ve seen in 2010 so far.


Apr 8 2011

Leading Ladies gets an “A” from the Palm Beach Post

‘Leading Ladies’ appears to be star of last weekend of film fest
by Hap Erstein

THE FILM: Leading Ladies

WHERE IT’S PLAYING: Muvico Parisian CityPlace, 7 p.m. Sunday

THE REVIEW: Picture Baz Luhrmann’s fairy-tale dance competition flick, Strictly Ballroom, crossed with the Broadway musical Gypsy. Oh, and throw in a sweet lesbian coming-out tale for good measure. There is plenty going on in Daniel and Erika Randall Beahm’s first feature film, but they juggle it all adroitly, including a few high-energy dance turns.

Stage mother Sheri Campari dotes on her prettier daughter Tasi (Shannon Lea Smith), grooming her to inherit the family mantle as ballroom queen. But when Tasi gets pregnant, Shari is forced to focus on her other, plain-looking daughter, Toni (Laurel Vail).

Toni blossoms from the attention, or perhaps it is because she has accepted her sexual orientation with the help of decidedly more experienced club regular Mona (Nicole Dionne).

The performances are very winning, the direction is extremely assured and you have got to see the explosive 11 o’clock supermarket dance number.



Apr 7 2011

LL Review in the St. Louis Vital Voice

From The Vital Voice (Joshua Barton – staff writer):

Love on the Dance Floor
A Different Kind of Romance in Leading Ladies

A dysfunctional family comedy paired with a coming-of-age lesbian musical-romance set on the ballroom floor could be the single-sentence synopsis of this award-winning independent film.

The dysfunction lies in the mother-daughter relationships between sisters Tasi and Toni and their overbearing and demanding mother Sheri. Sheri is a red-headed Italian and a former ballroom dancing queen who chain smokes and bitches as if she were a drag queen. Tasi is the spoiled, prima donna Sheri rides like a stock horse for a ballroom championship while Toni is the more pragmatic, plain jane. The women bicker and butt heads as they prepare for an upcoming championship but along the way Toni finds love on the dance floor with blonde-bombshell Mona forcing her to confront not only her identity but also a stubborn Sheri.

Leading Ladies has floated around the international film festival circuit and for good reason. The film is a refreshing and upbeat take on the traditional “coming-out” story. The choreography and music combined with a lesbian plot line turns what could have been a boring movie into a romantic and charming musical. The acting is fresh and energizing and although it may not be Oscar worthy material the actors pull you into their characters as they move into new territories of relationships and love while dancing across the screen.

Dance buffs will appreciate the bold choreography but even if you have two left feet Leading Ladies is still a feel-good movie with a sweet theme: love leads.

Show Dates
Fri, April 15th at 7:00 PM

Feb 1 2011

Review from SDGLN.com

I forgot to post this during Palm Springs… a lovely little write up in the San Diego Gay and Lesbian News.  If you haven’t seen the film, beware: SPOILER ALERT!

These days, dancing is all the rage. "Dancing with the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance?" are among television’s highest rated shows, bringing some of the world’s top performers into our living rooms. But where are the same-sex couples on these shows?

Anyone who thinks that all (or even the majority) of the dancers (not to mention the choreographers and judges) on these shows are straight is deluded. The dance world is notoriously gay, but for some reason the television community likes to pretend it’s not.

Enter "Leading Ladies" (USA, directed by Daniel Beahm and Erika Randall Beahm), a delightfully fluffy film about two very different sisters, their stage mom from hell, and their gay best friend.

Older sister Toni (Laurel Veil) is the classic tomboy wallflower, working double-shifts at the local pizzeria. Younger sister Tasi (Shannon Lea Smith) is the bell of the ball, an engaging but neurotic competition dancer who can’t seem to fit into new her fuchsia sequined gown. Both girls, it seems, are keeping a secret: dancer Tasi is pregnant with twins, and tomboy Toni is a lesbian.

The young sisters’ lives are dominated by their overbearing mother, former dancing queen turned stage mom from hell Sheri (real-life ballroom diva Melanie LePatin). Sheri, who could easily give Mama Rose a run for her money, is perennially focused on molding perky, younger daughter Tasi into a champion performer.

Tasi’s wickedly gay dance partner Cedric (swing-dance superstar Benji Schwimmer) wages an ongoing and vociferous battle against Shari’s control. Toni, meanwhile, serves as peacemaker, stand-in dance partner, and family breadwinner.

The story takes flight when Cedric drags spinster-in-the-making Toni to the local LGBT swing dance club. (If only there really were gay bars like this.) Toni, ill-dressed for the occasion but still fetching, is stumbled upon, literally, by energetic swing neophyte Mona (Nicole Dionne). What Mona lacks in dance knowledge, she makes up for in sultry perkiness. (Is that a real thing: “sultry perkiness”?) Toni succumbs to Mona’s charms, and for the first time in her life she both looks and is happy.

Unfortunately, not all is well in the family. Complications ensue when Toni is unwilling to come out, and when Tasi’s buns in the oven begin to noticeably rise. Eventually, with Tasi sidelined, Toni is enlisted for the upcoming dance competition. Surprisingly, she agrees, but only if she can choose her own dance partner—Mona, of course. Shari is not thrilled by this, and neither are the judges at the dance competition, but everything works out in the end.

The film’s dual love-story/dancing plot is engaging, the characters are likable, and the script is reasonably witty—even if the lines are not always delivered with the sparkle they deserve. The movie’s main appeal, however, is the dancing. Cedric, played by US and World Champion swing dancer Benji Schwimmer, is worth the price of admission all by himself. His same-sex West Coast Swing routine in the local gay dance club is jaw-dropping. But the terrific choreography doesn’t stop there. Early on, Toni and Tasi brush their teeth in a cleverly conceived, wonderfully shot bathroom pas de deux, and rehearsal scenes are also enjoyable.

Most of the dance numbers occur in naturalistic settings with the dancing linked to the story and milieu. The lone exception to this, and the film’s dance highlight, is a full-blown Broadway caliber showstopper in the local grocery store.

After Sheri has exiled herself to the bedroom, no longer cooking for her daughters, Mona and Cedric lead the supermarket virgin sisters on a food buying spree. The imaginative song-and-dance piece centers around Tasi’s insecurity about her burgeoning belly. She complains that everyone wants a piece of her while high-kicking shoppers and store employees grope her tumescent tummy. It’s wonderfully fun.

In one sense, "Leading Ladies" is an old-fashioned dance-musical, complete with family strife, a comedic foil, and a love story that overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles. In another sense, it’s a retelling of the standard ugly duckling/beautiful swan transformation tale.

In yet another sense, it’s a relatively straightforward lesbian coming out film. In the end, though, Leading Ladies is a lighthearted, well-intentioned, enjoyable film that will appeal to not only lesbians but gay men, and, perhaps more importantly, to mainstream filmgoers.