In Leading Ladies the Campari family is trying to get ahead in the world of competitive ballroom dancing. Sister Tasi (Sharon Lea Smith) is the main attraction, partnered with Cedric (Benji Schwimmer, 2nd Season winner from So You Think You Can Dance). Tasi may wear all the sequins in the family, but sister Toni (Laurel Vail) is just as accomplished a dancer — she just usually fills in for Cedric during rehearsals, dancing the lead.
Cedric is gay, but that doesn’t stop the girls’ overbearing and controlling stage mother Sheri (Melanie LaPatin) from suspecting that he is carrying on with Tasi. She gets even more irate when Tasi finally admits that the reason she can’t fit into her latest spangled ensemble is because she is pregnant — with twins.
While all of this mother/daughter wrangling is going on Toni is slowly but surely coming out. She meets a young woman, Mona (Nicole Dionne), she literally sweeps off her feet, at a local dance club.
There is a lot to enjoy about the film, particularly the dancing, which is capped by a wonderful fantasy number set in the local supermarket. Leading Ladies has a nice, quirky musical score. Dance is well-integrated into the film — these kids gotta dance, whether working at the pizza joint or flossing their teeth.
But there is also a problem. The character of Sheri (which she pronounces like the French Chéri) is over-the-top, annoying, and practically sabotages the whole production. Every time she is on screen her outsize mannerisms, which include a lot of head and hennaed hair tossing, are frankly too much.[SPOILERS]
Also bothersome is how the story introduces Toni’s coming out story and then abandons what could have been a very effective potential dance number — Toni taking the lead with Mona as her partner at the ballroom dance competition — and instead shifting gears into tired sitcom territory with a mad rush to the hospital to deliver Tasi’s twins.
This defeats the feel-good, everybody should dance message that the film seemed to be building towards. Leading Ladies is a decent first effort from director/producers Daniel Beahm and Erika Randall Beahm. It will be a nice notch on the resumes of Vail and Schwimmer — we should be seeing much more of both of them in future. And if the Beahms keep their focus in future on dance rather than overly melodramatic stage mothers, we should see more from them, too.
The film runs 102 minutes with subtitles available. DVD extras include:
Blooper reel – which all he entries seem to have been correctly deleted
An extra dance number set in the supermarket — “Fruit Stand”
A dance number that should have been in the film instead of the extended hospital sequence — “Tango”
Ballroom competition hallway — actually a funny scene with Sheri, mostly because for once she’s not yelling
Me, me, me — an intro to a scene already in the movie
Morning tango practice — a longer scene that maybe should have been included, as it shows how Toni fills in as a lead quite often at her sister’s dance practice
Extended scenes (longer versions of scenes already in the movie):
The Camparis go shopping
The Campari kitchen