Some of the Right Moves

See Mao’s Last Dancer for the fancy footwork, not the plot

Director Bruce Beresford (Tender Mercies, Driving Miss Daisy) has carved out a career crafting sturdy films with just enough pulse to shuffle his audiences out of theaters with a half-smile and a bland compliment. Mao’s Last Dancer -- a tender, gawky, and, at times, gorgeous true story about an impoverished Chinese kid plucked from his village to be trained as a ballet dancer -- is pleasant in the most Beresfordian meaning of the word. Star dancer Chi Cao plays Li Cunxin as a gentle soul, nationalistic yet a romantic who dances with power and sorrow. He’s selected as an exchange student to come to the U.S. – the oil-swaggering 1970s Texas, to be exact – and train with the Houston Ballet. Before long, he succumbs to all the capitalistic tendencies his Chinese handlers warned him about, falls in love, and decides to stay in the U.S., setting off an international incident. When Dancer focuses on the dancing, it’s intoxicating. Cao’s musicality is truly remarkable -- to the point where it’s a bit ungainly that he’s surrounded by far inferior dancers. But the political angle comes out of nowhere. Still, just enough goes right for Beresford’s unremarkable track record to remain intact. He can still put together a tepid film with no aftertaste -- --Justin Strout
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