OK, that's it. I think I'm tapped out on the ridiculously heartwarming documentaries about elderly folks doing things like singing Coldplay songs or learning hip-hop to perform during basketball games. It's not that I'm sick of them, it's that they reduce me to an overemotional puddle on the floor. And movie theater floors are sticky. Of course, I think other people should seek out these movies. I've just learned that they're like my emotional kryptonite. . . in a good way.
Gotta Dance is similar to the recent documentary Young@Heart in many ways. Both focus on groups of older people doing things that most older people don't do: singing "the young peoples' music" and "dancing the young peoples' dances." The joy this brings them, and the sense of self-worth and aliveness is so inspiring it brings tears to my eyes. Gotta Dance differs, however, in that these people are physically pushing themselves to do the dances, so there is a much heavier emphasis on the subject of growing old and what kinds of limitations one faces. More than merely having a difference in taste (Young@Heart features elderly people who, though it's not necessarily their taste in music, sing rock songs) this kind of activity poses physical challenges that end up making the dancers feel both old and young. To see what else happens and for more of my thoughts,
The film starts with the auditions for the first-ever senior hip-hop dance team for the New Jersey Nets. We get to know a handful of the hopefuls who end up getting spots on the team and who we follow throughout the film. The team ultimately consists of 11 women and one man and we watch as they learn the moves for their first show, gradually becoming more confident until the nerve-racking debut on the court.
Of course, the show is a smash hit and they soon find their pictures in the newspaper, followed by invitations to appear on morning shows. As the team becomes more popular, their pride grows and their routines become tougher. By this point, I felt like these people were my relatives and friends, and I could have watched them bond over learning how to shake, swivel and stomp to Jay-Z for many more hours. I also enjoyed watching the team's choreographers and leaders, young women from the Nets dance team who treat the seniors with respect and patience, but also determinedly whip them into shape during practice.
The filmmakers (and the folks behind the Tribeca Film Festival) did well to feature the movie at Tribeca, as New York plays its own part in the film. Most of the seniors live in New Jersey, though a few live in New York City. One of them was even dubbed "Miss Subways" back in the day, and others remembered seeing her face plastered on the subway cars.
So many documentaries are somber, frightening or provocative — and they're often important to see. But this makes Gotta Dance a huge relief within a genre somewhat glutted with fear and sadness. The joie de vivre in this film is completely infectious, and just like with Young@Heart, it makes growing old seem like a damn good time.