Before watching the movie:
I just found out this movie existed. I know it’s a musical, but is it a jukebox musical (all preexisting songs), or is it new numbers and the somewhat-related song they got so they’d have a recognizable title? It’ll be interesting to find out.
I strongly suspect that the “Dance TV” alluded to in the summary is a stand-in for MTV.
After watching the movie:
Janey Glenn’s father just retired from the army and has moved the family to Chicago, the latest in a long string of relocations. Janey quickly makes friends with her rebellious schoolmate at the Catholic girls’ school Lynne, and they bond over their love of dancing and Chicago-based DTV, the afternoon dance and music news show. DTV announces a dance contest where the winning couple will be the new featured dancers on the program. Janey’s father forbids her to go out in a “strange city” alone, and so she has to sneak. But despite attempted sabotage by Natalie, entitled daughter of the wealthy industrialist JP Sands, Janey advances to the finals, and gets partnered with Jeff Malene to work out a routine together. Not only does Janey have to hide her dance practicing from her father, but Janey, Lynne, Jeff, and their friends get in a war with Natalie. And also Janey and Jeff fall in love and the external forces make things rocky.
DTV is clearly modeled after MTV in branding, but the function of the show seems a lot more related to American Bandstand. It’s a showcase show that plays to teens who want to be on the cutting edge of music, rather than a network that plays like radio but on TV. Thus, it’s easy to see this plot set twenty years earlier (perhaps when the writer was in high school), just with very 80s trappings.
This is one of those non-singing musicals. There are several music montages and dance numbers, but none of the vocals come from the characters. I think the only song not written for or at least debuted by the movie is the title song, which is a cover performed by set musicians. Well, and a cameo by Banana Boat Song as a riff on “In Excelsis Deo” because Catholic school pranksters.
To me, the production quality of the music holds the movie back. It’s a delightful little story, so much as I understand what constitutes skilled dancing, it’s fun to watch, and the music is enjoyable enough, but there’s some kind of quality to the music that makes it seem cheap, and by extension, shows the limits of the movie’s budget. They couldn’t even afford to work out the licensing for the Cyndi Lauper original of the song they titled the movie after.
This movie deserves more attention, even if it doesn’t reach the heights it intends to achieve. It shows up on time and hits all its marks. It’s still a perfectly fine 80s teen non-singing all-dancing musical to me.