Where do quirky talents with a strong eye go, like the director of “Desperately Seeking Susan,” (1985) Susan Seidelman, when the film industry shuts its doors to all but the largest-budgeted and micro-budgeted of productions? The low-simmer “Musical Chairs” is the answer, a likable yet earnest semi-musical about a Puerto Rican dancer-in-training in the Bronx who works as a handyman in a Manhattan dance studio. From across the divide, he winds up teaching the studio’s star pupil after an accident breaks her spine and confines her to a wheelchair. Dreams of ballroom dancing turn toward New York’s first wheelchair dancing tournament. “Murderball,” it’s not, despite some tense competitors, nor is it of the punk pattern of her Lower East Side chronicle, “Smithereens” (1982), but Seidelman does yeoman’s work: the movie is good-looking, with colors that pop and the director’s customary sensitivity to location—and also a penchant for casting interesting-looking actors and covering them with bold, even cartoonish costumes—”Musical Chairs” feels lived in. That applies both to nicely cluttered decors and the script’s rote patterns and checklist of tried-and-trusted clichés: rich girl, poor boy; sudden setback; culture clash; dialogue like “I thought being a dancer was my dream, now I’m not so sure.” Older audiences may smile warmly. Seidelman’s previous film, “Boynton Beach Club,” appealed to a swathe of the senior set, and it’s a good chance, based on the title, that her currently filming “Hot Flashes” will appeal to that increasingly responsive moviegoing demographic. With Leah Pipes, E.J. Bonilla, Priscilla Lopez, Jaime Tirelli, Laverne Cox, Nelson Landrieu, Angelic Zambrana, Morgan Spector, Auti Angel, Jerome Preston Bates, Dominic Colon, Joey Dedio. 100m. (Ray Pride)
“Musical Chairs” is now playing at River East and City North.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.