If you are a child of the 1980s or an enthusiast of camp, you may recall the movie Breakin’. Breakin’ told the story of a classically trained jazz dancer who fell in with some street (or break) dancers. She soon found herself immersed in the hip-hop world and impressed with the self-taught dancers’ ability and determination. The movie placed in juxtaposition the snobby practices of the classical dance world and the cool, underground scene of break-dancers. Since movie-dom loves an underdog, you can guess which group of dancers we were meant to root for (and who ultimately prevailed).
Breakin’ was a low-budget hit. It had wit, verve, and exhilarating dance scenes, and it kept coming to mind while watching Beat Girl, a British independent film in which Heather, a piano prodigy bound for Julliard, is introduced to the world of electronic dance music and seeks to become a DJ. Instead of coaxing Mozart and Prokovfiev from the ivories in airy concert halls, she is increasingly drawn to mixing beats in sweaty, glitzy night clubs.
Beat Girl is cute, but cute is what you tell a girl she is when you are not that interested in her. It’s a well-crafted movie, with solid actors and decent production value for an indy, but it only scratches the surface. We are constantly told that Heather, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Claire Danes, loves piano and loves being a DJ, but we never really see it. There are passing glimpses of her at the piano and the turntables, but I never felt drawn into either world.
Directed by: Mairtín de Barra
Cast: Louise Dylan, Craig Daniel Adams, Michael Higgs
Running Time: 93 Minutes
When we are introduced to the world of break dancing in Breakin’, we truly feel sucked in, as if we are being initiated as well. Not so much with Beat Girl, where we seem to be kept at arm’s length. I think part of the problem might be the amount of characters Beat Girl takes on. There’s Heather of course. But there’s also her estranged father and her best friends (an aspiring fashion design duo) and her piano instructor and her brother, who is also into DJing but in hock to dangerous thugs. Finally, there is her mentor and love interest in the electronic music scene Beat Girl is Heather’s story, but that is diluted by the numerous sub-plots. Indeed, the sub-plot with the brother and his involvement with a gangster is compelling, but just as the danger builds it quickly dissolves in a strange and dissatisfying way. There are of course multiple characters in Breakin,’ but their stories intertwine and all move fluidly in the same direction. Beat Girl’s sub plots feel forced and artificially tied to each other.
I don’t mean to be overly harsh with this movie. It’s nicely made, and there is a lot of talent involved. The director is competent, and I could easily see Beat Girl as a stepping stone to some stronger work. Judging it in isolation, however, it feels hesitant, as if it was content to be standard and neat, rather than going all the way to produce the kind of edgy, indy film the description promised.