Sab­rina Car­pen­ter dances like she never danced be­fore in breezy teen com­edy

Chicago Sun-Times - - ENTERTAINM­ENT - BY RICHARD ROEPER, MOVIE COLUM­NIST rroeper@sun­times.com | @RichardERo­eper

The dance-happy teenager played by Sab­rina Car­pen­ter in the Net­flix orig­i­nal movie “Work It” has al­most noth­ing in com­mon with the home­less no­mad teenager Sab­rina Car­pen­ter played in “The Short His­tory of the Long Road” from ear­lier this sum­mer, save for the dead-dad fac­tor.

In the lat­ter film, Car­pen­ter was left on her own and em­barked on a pil­grim­age to meet her bi­o­log­i­cal mother after her fa­ther sud­denly died. In the light­weight and goofy and breezy “Work It,” Car­pen­ter’s Quinn Ack­er­man is a high school stu­dent ob­sessed with get­ting into Duke Univer­sity be­cause her Dead Dad Did Duke and loved ev­ery minute of it, and Quinn be­lieves it will make her he­li­copter mom (Naomi Sne­ickus) oh so happy if she fol­lows in her Dead Dad’s foot­steps and be­comes a Blue Devil as well.

One prob­lem, as Quinn learns from the feisty and col­or­ful ad­mis­sions coun­selor Veron­ica Ramirez (Michelle Buteau): It’s not enough to load up on the Ad­vanced Place­ment cour­ses and have a 4.0 GPA and play the cello and vol­un­teer at an old folks’ home — you gotta do some­thing spe­cial to stand out from all the other ap­pli­cants with sim­i­lar cre­den­tials. Quinn blurts out she’s join­ing her school’s le­gendary com­pet­i­tive dance team, the pink-clad Thun­der­birds (shout-out to the T-Birds and Pink Ladies from “Grease”), and for some in­ex­pli­ca­ble rea­son, Ms. Ramirez nearly ex­plodes from ex­cite­ment over this piece of news. If Quinn Ack­er­man can prove her­self to be a com­pet­i­tive dancer, the keys to Duke Univer­sity are hers!

One slight hitch: Quinn can’t dance a lick. When she tries out for the ac­tual dance team, the troupe’s tal­ented but dic­ta­to­rial leader laughs her out of the au­di­to­rium. Quinn vows to start her own dance team to chal­lenge the Thun­der­birds and com­pete in the fa­mous “Work It” com­pe­ti­tion. That’ll show ’em!

In the tra­di­tion of “Fame” and “Foot­loose” and “Step Up” and what was that Jes­sica Alba dance movie, “Honey,” we get lots of “im­promptu” dance num­bers, as Quinn re­cruits her best friend, Jas­mine Hale (Liza Koshy), to quit the Thun­der­birds and join her new squad, which will be coached by the dash­ing and mys­te­ri­ous and hunky Jake Tay­lor (Jor­dan Fisher), who gave up com­pet­i­tive danc­ing after a dev­as­tat­ing knee in­jury but just might find re­demp­tion and even ro­mance if he teams up with Quinn Ack­er­man. (Note that all the main play­ers in “Work It” have been given full names; that’s how we know they’re fully de­vel­oped, three­d­i­men­sional in­di­vid­u­als and not pa­per-thin stock char­ac­ters.)

There’s lit­tle in the way of orig­i­nal­ity in “Work It,” but there’s a fresh, up­beat, in­fec­tious vibe to the silli­ness, thanks in large part to the tal­ented and lik­able cast of young ac­tors. Sab­rina Car­pen­ter was be­liev­able as a world-weary teenager liv­ing on the far fringes of so­ci­ety in “A Short His­tory of the Long Road,” and she car­ries the day with her en­thu­si­asm, her de­ter­mi­na­tion and, yes, her foot­loose and fancy-free dance moves in “Work It.”


Quinn (Sab­rina Car­pen­ter, third from right) forms her own dance team to give her­self an edge in col­lege ap­pli­ca­tions in “Work It.”

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