Review: First Position

May 10, 2012, 6:21 am
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Remember all the hubbub surrounding Black Swan? Did she or didn't she? The impassioned debate over whether Natalie Portman was the one who performed the film's ultra-advanced ballet skills remains unsettled to this very day. 

That authenticity argument will not be occurring with First Position, an arresting documentary about the dedication and sacrifice it takes to be able to spin around like a whirling dervish on the tip of your toes without getting sickeningly dizzy.

Following six dancers from across the globe, director Bess Kargman delves deep inside the insanely-competitive world of ballet and its Super Bowl, the Youth America Grand Prix. Youths toeing the line for a shot at a full scholarship to the snootiest ballet schools on planet Earth.

Army brat Aran seems like a normal kid, skateboarding around his Italian apartment complex, showing off his BB gun. But low and behold, the 11-year-old spends more time stretching the arches of his feet with an arsenal of torturous contraptions than he does with an Xbox. His parents making the requisite moves - driving from Naples to Rome daily for lessons - to make certain their son continues his ascension up the dancing ranks.

Aran's parents are by no means alone in their laborious efforts to see their offspring succeed. The mother of 14-year-old Michaela - an adoptee from Sierra Leone - dyes her daughter's tutus darker due to the fact the things aren't manufactured to match African Americans' skin tone. 12-year-old Miko's mom home-schools the youngster so the girl can practice four-plus hours a day.

Behind every child prodigy is a near obsessed parent - or in Miko's case, a Tiger Mother.

Considering the juggling act required to keep things moving along, Kargman keeps her sextet of subjects in play with impressive flow. Whereas last month's Bully had a bit too much bouncing around for my taste, First Position manages to largely stay on point.

From the get-go, picking the winners and losers isn't altogether that difficult - the film would be more satisfying with a few more failures given its embarrassment of riches. After all, authoring a successful life is all about learning from your mistakes - which Kargman didn't make many of.

Grade: A-

It was many moons ago in a darkened theater that my love of cinema took root as I snuck in to see my first R-rated film, Blade Runner. The futuristic vision that Ridley Scott unleashed on the screen was simply soul-expanding — spiritual even. From that moment, my mission to have that kind of magic strike again began in earnest. My hope is to be able to shine a light on films that may just have that kind of effect on you — films that may be lesser known, but not lesser in impact. 
- Erick Weber

Final Cut Scoring System
99-95% Opening night
94-90% Opening weekend
89-86% In theaters
85-83% On Demand
82-80% Netflix/Redbox
79-75% If desperate
74-70% If dozing off
69-65% If intoxicated
64-60% If comatose
Below 60% If brain dead

Erick's reviews
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