Directed by: #LauraTerruso
Written by: #AlisonPeck
For a film whose main message is how dance can help express the uniqueness of one’s self, Netflix’s latest teen comedy Work It lacks any sense of individuality. Following the predictable structure of misfit leads band of misfits in underdog effort to win a popular competition, Alison Peck’s screenplay goes for every stereotype and cliché in the book, making the character’s journeys feel rhythmless. It’s not entirely hopeless though, with a few standouts in the cast and some marginally entertaining dance sequences. Work It is passable in the spectrum of Netflix teen comedies but it's not as if that bar was high, to begin with.
Following the story of Quinn Ackerman, a bright overachieving student who in applying for her dream school, gives the impression she is participating in the Work It dance competition which has her stand out in her application. Pinning her academic future on this despite not knowing how to dance, Quinn teams up with her dancer best friend Jas to form a ragtag team to win the competition. Director Laura Terruso and Peck are going all-in with the formula but add nothing to make it their own beyond modern references (some coincidentally being to Netflix properties). The dance team itself is comprised of underdeveloped stereotypes (nerds, goths, a guy with mixtapes) with Jas being the only member to have any form of character development. Of course, there is a romance to try and make it interesting as Quinn begins a courtship with former dance champion now choreographer Jake Taylor and that also falls into the predictable traps of the genre.
It’s a lack of authenticity, nothing reflected in the filmmaking beyond the overly sentimental notions of family, friendship and the importance of being yourself which just makes the only thing feel only more mediocre. Without realistic truth in its characters, the dancing can feel hollow; the choreography is impressive with its large group numbers and variety but Work It never finds its unique flow. The cinematography feels flat, keeping to mostly wide angles like a television talent show, making sure to capture all the action. The progression of the ‘TBD’ dance crew’s skills isn’t particularly noticeable either due to the lack of character development. The memorable moment for Work It comes from its diversity representation, where Quinn and Jake watch a dance routine by a troupe of disabled dancers. The scene is dynamic, captivating, excitingly displays the power of dance through perceived limitations being used in artistic expression. You wish that this was the focus of the film as its a more sincere and compelling take on the themes. However, it's used as a passing visual to further the romance subplot, with Work It always committing to the tired, uninspired ideas.
The enjoyable moments are there however as Work It has bright spots in its performance with Liza Koshy as the passionate Jas and Keiynan Lonsdale as antagonistic rival dancer diva Juilliard stealing the spotlight with their comic relief. For its target audience of teenage girls Work It probably ticks all the boxes with its dance moves and heartthrobs to make it enjoyable, but it’s this formulaic approach that will make it forgettable right after. There’s no spirit to Terruso and Peck’s work beyond the Netflix algorithm predicting what combination of teen stars and clichés may entice a click. It’s not good, not terrible either, its caught in a dull middle that doesn’t inspire much of anything.