Although the title in itself is quite clever, Musical Chairs as a film is nothing short of cheesy. Directed by Desperately Seeking Susan’s Susan Seidelman, this romantic drama follows the charming Bronx native Armando (E.J. Bonilla) and his Upper East Side crush Mia (Leah Pipes) in a predictable story of rediscovering joie de vivre after serious loss.
We quickly learn that Armando has dreams of competing in dance, as seen by his random hip gyrations while walking down the streets of New York. His controlling Puerto Rican mother (Priscilla Lopez), however, has other aspirations, like trying to marry him off to the sassy Rosa (Angelic Zambrana) while also making him play busboy at the family restaurant. Armando escapes his large, boisterous family by working as a handyman at a dance studio where his high-class eye candy, a cold yet seriously talented Mia, teaches ballroom.
The film wastes no time bringing these two together. Within the first 15 minutes, a car accident confines Mia to a wheelchair, and Armando comes to the rescue, convincing her that not all is lost, by introducing her to the lesser-known world of wheelchair ballroom dancing. Angsty and bitter Mia resists, while her fellow wheelers—including a hypermasculine jackass, a sourpuss punk and a feisty transsexual—are more willing to test out the tango.
But after hearing of the upcoming wheelchair ballroom competition in New York City, Mia opens up and joins in. And from here on out, we don’t really see much practice. What we see instead is Armando clinging onto Mia like a lost puppy while his meddling mother tries to (figuratively) roll Mia away.
Instead of what could have been an inspirational take on the intriguing concept of wheelchair dancing, Musical Chairs falls short. Bonilla is charismatic and easy on the eyes as Armando, but the others stay somewhat bland and one-dimensional, making this yet another disappointing dance film.
Director: Susan Seidelman
Writer: Marty Madden
Starring: Leah Pipes, E.J. Bonilla, Priscilla Lopez
Release Date: Mar. 23, 2012