The Rise of Dance: Honey (2003) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Rise of Dance: Honey (2003)

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Andrew COMMENTARYHoney was not the kind of film expected to make a big splash and the box office reflected those sentiments exactly.  Shot for a modest 18 million it ended up taking about 70 and further established Jessica Alba as the kind of cute actress who just can't carry a movie.  But, for the purposes of this feature, it did do something important and finally shuck off the baggage associated with modern hip-hop dance.

That's of some interest, the plot is something scripted together to get Alba out of her shirt and shaking around.  It's the kind of rags to riches tale told so many times the only reason to watch the film is in the morbid hope it might have some thought, any thought, in it's head to justify its existence.  But it doesn't, having finished rewatching the movie only minutes ago I can't recall a single line of dialogue.

What's weirder, especially since it's a movie about dancing, is that I can only barely recall any of the routines.  There's nothing high impact or impressively athletic about the dancing.  It's all kept pretty confined, and that's not to the benefit of a dance film.  The problem with these scenes is showcased pretty clearly in the opening dance club where we see Alba from the top up serving drinks behind the bar and then follow her out onto the floor where we mostly see her from the same angle.

It's fair to say this movie has a surplus of attractive performers.

It's an attractive angle but it's not the best way to shoot a dancer.  There are too many bodies, too many colors dancing around the screen and too many distractions to really pay attention to what she's doing.  Even when the film starts mixing in more professional dancers later on it's all shot in the same enclosed style.  It's almost as if the film is so afraid of missing a shot of Alba's midriff that it doesn't even bother admiring the dancers as they work.  It's not too grand a theory to pursue, a quick gander at the poster with her face concealed in her hair establishes exactly what the selling point of this movie is supposed to be.

So it's a dreadful bore of a film centered around your general assortment of sleazy business types and anchored around some sweet chemistry with the poorly used Mekhi Pfeifer (who, after O, 8 Mile and Dawn of the Dead should really have a better career).  The dance scenes aren't memorable, Alba slips in and out of an accent of indeterminate origin, and the soundtrack is filled with generic club shakers instead of anything really worth dancing to.

So why Honey instead of Save the Last Dance?  The latter film, while unquestionably smarter about relationships, still tried to "safely" integrate the form by making hip-hop dance equatable with ballet.  Plus, StLD was more about the romance and less about the dancing.  Dance was the leads tool for attraction in that film, in Honey it's at least supposed to be the star.

Fun to watch, but not as exciting as it could be (and we'll see some great kid dancers soon).

Yes, there's still the subplot where uptight mother has to talk down to her daughter with lines like "I don’t see why you can’t teach ballet at a nice uptown studio".  But there's no pandering to this idea outside of this poor, cliched mother and dialogue she's supposed to spew.  In this film Alba's hip-hop dancing is at least her exact means to an end instead of having to cater to any other dance form for "legitimacy".  I don't think that the film is entirely successful in showing how and why some of the best practitioners have to put in such demanding training.

Despite the somber attitude that permeates much of Honey (there are so many pensive stares from Alba you might think she was trying to channel Meryl Streep) this is important.  Keep in mind this film was released nearly twenty years after Breakin' and Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, two films that are fun and are at least creative enough to think of the catchiest sequel title in history.  But those films were regarded as charming curios and spawned wave after wave of bad low budget successors.

Hip-hop, overall, gained a ton of legitimacy as a potent art form in music (Public Enemy was just around the corner, quickly followed by N.W.A. and De La Soul amongst many others) and has since established itself as a cultural force unequaled in America.  Honey, as dull as a movie as it is, at least shows that people were finally willing to try and take the hip-hop dance more seriously and present it in some fashion without watering it down with "artier" forms.  It's a shame the dances themselves don't take this opportunity to really showcase some great work, but as a film I have to commend it for trying.

Questionable accent aside, someone should have gotten wind that the film needed less silent shots of Alba staring very intently at something sad happening off-screen.

It also laid the groundwork for other directors to start trying their own stabs at incorporating modern hip-hop dance into their films.  Next weeks film has a title as catchy as Electric Boogaloo, and spawned imitators that sought to improve upon, instead of belittle, the form.

I'm talking about You Got Served, showcasing the form in such a direct fashion it's like taking an acid bath after a particularly soft perfume scrub.

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Honey (2003)

Directed by Bille Woodruff.
Screenplay by Alonzo Brown and  Kim Watson.
Starring Jessica Alba and Mekhi Pfeifer.







The Schedule
August  23rd – You Got Served
August 30th – Rize
September 6th – Roll Bounce
September 13th – Step Up
September 20th – Take the Lead
September 27th – Feel the Noise
October 4th – Planet B-Boy
October 11th – Stomp the Yard
October 18th – How She Move
October 25th –  B-Girl
November 1st – Make It Happen
November 8th – Step Up 2 the Streets
November 15th – Dance Flick
November 22nd – Step-Up 3D

Posted by Andrew

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