Bravetown

Posted on May 7, 2015 at 5:41 pm

C-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some language, drug use and brief sexuality
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drugs, and drug overdose
Violence/ Scariness: Battle scenes, extended discussion of war dead
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 8, 2015
Copyright 2015 Lighting Entertainment
Copyright 2015 Lighting Entertainment

If only salutory intentions and one good performance could save a film so fundamentally wrongly conceived. “Bravetown” starts out as “Footloose,” veers into “Ordinary People,” and ends up as “Swing Kids,” with jaw-dropping shifts in tone and focus and total misreading of the import of its message.

It really is a shame, because it has a good heart and an important point to make about the devastation of small towns with very little opportunity but a lot of patriotic spirit, and the devastation when so many of the town’s young men go to war. And the always-welcome Josh Duhamel as always gives a performance of enormous heart and intelligence. He plays Alex, the small town’s psychiatric social worker assigned to Josh Harvest(!) (Lucas Till), a sulky teenager who has been sent to live with his father following an accidental drug overdose.

Josh barely knows his monosyllabic father (“That Thing You Do’s” Tom Everett Scott). And the log cabin in the small, depressed North Dakota town is the other side of the world from Josh’s life as a hot — and usually high — young DJ, living with a single mom (Maria Bello) who struggles with substance abuse. Josh’s entire life is music, having sex with his girlfriend, and watching “Platoon” while smoking weed. Until he takes one pill too many and finds himself in court one time too many. Thus, a one-way ticket to a town called Paragon, where the only place that seems to do any business is the recruiting office.

It follows the “Footloose” formula closely at first. The Chris Penn role of only local kid who will talk to him is played by Jae Head (“The Blind Side”). It’s a little weird that he looks about eight years younger than Josh and begins by talking about how pretty his sister is, how she just broke up with her boyfriend, and how she’s in a dance team that is terrible. It is a lot weirder when Josh decides to attend the school dance and the dance team gets up to perform and they are, in fact, terrible, and then, as soon as Josh gets behind the turntables and starts spinning, they magically snap into shape instantly develop a whole new perfectly synchronized routine.

I am not kidding. I mean, even in “Footloose” and “Flashdance” and all of that genre, we at least get to see them practice and slowly get better.

And then it gets really crazy.

Back to the “Footloose” template: The sister (Kherington Payne as Mary) is pretty but troubled and has a dead brother. Her ex-boyfriend likes to hit people and tells Josh to stay away from her. Mary takes Josh to her special place, in this case a tribute to the young men the town has lost to war.

And for the “Ordinary People” part: Alex is an offbeat but insightful therapist who gains the trust of the recalcitrant Josh by letting him spend their court-ordered time watching soccer and eating pizza. These are the only scenes in the film that have any warmth.

Alex, like everyone else in town, is hurting, too. So is Mary’s depressed mother, played by Laura Dern. She seems to be relegated these days to struggling mother roles but is always watchable in them.

Things go completely nuts when we get to the dance team competitions, with a couple of disturbingly clueless examples of cultural appropriation. The Indian (as in Asia, not America) dance number is insensitive, but even worse is the one that has the group dressed up in sweat suits and gold chains like one of those awful fraternity “ghetto” parties.

And then it gets really really crazy as the teenagers start telling the grown-ups what’s wrong and it affects them the way Josh’s magical DJ-ing affected the dance team. Instant cure! Followed by the most insanely mis-imagined — wait for it — dance number on film since the Swing Kids fought Hitler with some swell big band music.

Parents should know that this film has some strong language, an explicit sexual situation, drinking and drug use, some racial and cultural insensitivity, bullies and fighting, wartime battle scenes and discussion of casualties and fatalities.

Family discussion: Why did Alex watch soccer games with Josh? Can you think of a time when you wished you had shared more about yourself?

If you like this, try: the “Step Up” movies, “Footloose” and “Flashdance”

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3 Replies to “Bravetown”

    1. I’m always glad to hear from someone who sees more in a movie than I do, Mr. Lemor! But without some specifics about what it is you liked about the film or did not like about the review, it is difficult to respond more specifically.

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