Film Review: Dance Academy: The Movie (Australia, 2017) still knows how to create great teen drama

Dance Academy was one of the shows that defined by teenage years. I was by no means a dancer; yet the representation of real, raw teenage issues was presented in an Australian spotlight – especially on a network that was rather lukewarm at the time (ABC3, now branded as ABCME) was addictive for an entire generation of Australian school kids.

Although now considered a guilty pleasure as an adult, I was excited and somewhat hesitant to see how the 2017 film revival of the series would make the transition from a teenage, bright-eyed drama to one of that dealing of young adult, independent issues. This new instalment, directed by Jeffrey Walker (Modern Family, Jack Irish) manages to sweetly do just both.

The film picks up 18 months after the series finale, and continues to follow protagonist Tara (Xenia Goodwin), now working as a waitress at the Sydney Opera House after a broken back left her unable to dance. Having fully recovered and living with Abigail (Dena Kaplan) while maintaining a steady relationship with permanent will-they-wont-they beau Christian (Jordan Rodriguez), Tara sets off to New York City to reunite with best friend and success story Kat (Alicia Banit), and attempt to impress Madeline Moncur (Miranda Otto) enough to invite her to join her ballet company.

There is a sense of familiarity in the film, as old friends are reunited and paid homage to, yet exploring this new, intense and mature world does have its downsides.

Exploring issues from Tara struggling with almost a PTSD after her accident, to a nude photo scandal ruining someone’s reputation are all incredibly intense, but an incident where a sick main character (if you’re familiar with the series you’ll know who) states that his illness “wasn’t going to be like a John Green novel”, makes the film attempt to remove itself from the teen cliche, but does the exact opposite.

As for performances, there are definitely still weak spots that weren’t able to be as hidden as they were in a television episode. Carrying a feature film is a great weight on the shoulders of young people – specifically for Goodwin, whose first role ever was as Tara. But following with the support of well-established actors, specifically Miranda Otto and the brief return of series regular Tara Morice, the film manages to hold itself together by the support of good writing and direction.

Dance Academy is a new flourish for a matured audience that grew up with the series. It continues to push the envelope as much as it can for its PG rating for the teen demographic, which is one thing that always drew me back to the series. It’s a beautiful, albeit simple reconnection and sendoff that reminds you why Australian school kids fell in love with the series years ago.

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Dance Academy: The Movie is in cinemas today.