Film Review: Bravetown

Uninspired, unoriginal coming-of-age drama is instantly forgettable, except for the parts wince-worthy enough to stick in viewers' heads.
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Josh (Lucas Till) gets shipped off to a small town called Paragon and a father (Tom Everett Scott) he's never known when his drug-taking extracurricular ways as a DJ land him in hot water one too many times. Everyone in this burg seems to have lost someone to war recently, and hardheaded Josh finds it difficult to fit in with his new high school. 

Regular visits to a psychotherapist, Alex (Josh Duhamel), don't seem to help much until Josh becomes reluctantly involved with the school's failing dance troupe. To place in the all-important competition, they need Josh's musical talent, something even their initially Josh-hating captain, Mary (Kherington Payne), has to admit. Inevitably, hate turns to love, Josh finally opens up to the infinitely bored Alex (who harbors secrets of his own), and the dance group twerks its way to finals.

From a desperate, Nicholas Spark-wannabe script by Oscar Orlando Torres, director Daniel Duran has fashioned a movie we have all seen before. Many times. Watching Bravetown, one's heart goes out to the actors, who are giving it their all, as you just know how aware they are of the shoddiness of the material. The mash-up of a war-bereft town—an exploitative device for instant pathos—and the by-now-threadbare dance competition shtick feels particularly synthetic, and you wait and wait for something, anything, fresh and unpredictable to happen.

Josh's techno music—lots of Avril Lavigne—and the dance routines which are set to it have verve and style... if this was ten years ago. Just when you think the photography of dance on film has improved, here comes Bravetown, which reverts to that ghastly chop-chop editing which gives you little sense of the actual choreography. The film is overwhelmingly white, save for one dancer who's big, black, obviously gay, but really nothing but a mysterious token, like those big-voiced, bodacious African-American ladies who regularly get trotted out to save every other show on Broadway.

Till and Payne manage to get some winsome chemistry going, but the earthshaking, passionate fervor needed to get this particular "Notebook" off the ground is just not there. This film is so youth-centric that you never get to know much about the older, easily more interesting characters. Maria Bello and Laura Dern are totally wasted as two mothers (of Josh and Mary, respectively), themselves battling drug addiction. They at least have a few lines, which is more than one can say for the attractive but largely mute Everett. 

Duhamel, obviously trying to ease into character-man status, remains too mannequin-pretty to be convincing either as an avuncular high-school therapist (whom the girls would undoubtedly call "Dr. Dreamy") or a weary, seasoned war vet. He throws himself into the shambling, low-key amiability of this pizza-scarfing, soccer-watching shrink, but a Bill Murray or Michael Keaton he ain't yet, and his later heartfelt scenes have a soap opera-ish veneer to them.

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