For me, one of the few positives to come out of the years of upheaval that we as a planet have experienced in this post-Covid age is the weekly remote watch-date I now have with my childhood best friend, Megan. She lives in another state, and I am often elsewhere anyway, so for years, spending quality time together has usually meant my visits to her, or the occasional dinner and karaoke session when she is back in our hometown.
But since the pandemic, with its attendant lockdowns and social isolation, we began a tradition of Wednesday night online viewing, where we would make our way through a couple of episodes of our show du jour, or the occasional movie, with Netflix on our screens and each other on our phones. We have thus made our weekly way through four seasons of Virgin River, three of Never Have I Ever and all 16 episodes of Megan’s first ever K-drama, Forecasting Love and Weather, as well as indulging in some of the very flimsiest of Hallmark rom-coms—because who doesn’t love a flimsy Hallmark rom-com?
For our first remote watch of the new year, I suggested a film, given my current project, and Megan readily agreed. I dug around in My List until I found a likely candidate:
“How about Into the Beat?” I suggested, reading the Netflix synopsis aloud: “’A teen ballerina discovers hip-hop by chance and is faced with an impossible choice: Does she follow her parents’ footsteps… or her newfound passion?’”
“That sounds like us,” Megan said – dance films being a genre we have loved since we first discovered Grease as starry-eyed 6-year-olds – and so it proved to be, even if it did turn out to be a German film, which came as a surprise (though not an unpleasant one) to both of us.
Our story centres on Katya (Alexandra Pfeifer), an accomplished teen ballerina destined for greatness. She comes from a renowned ballet family, with both parents stars in the field. Her mother died three years since – we know not how – but her surely-too-young father (Trystan Pütter) still performs, until a tragic on-stage accident that someone must have gotten fired over puts his career in jeopardy.
Around this time, Katya encounters some free-wheeling and high-spirited underground hip-hop dancers, and gets swept up in their joyful world, mostly because of the expected disdainful-yet-interested-handsome-dance-prodigy-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks, Marlon (Yalany Marschner), and there follows many a highly choreographed group dance scene and getting-better-at-it montage until, of course, Katya’s two worlds inevitably collide and she must choose between auditioning for the New York Ballet or for a street dance crew, thereby following her bliss but breaking her wounded father’s heart. (Megan grew very concerned about Katya’s career prospects here, feeling ballet the safer option of the two, upon what evidence I am not sure. Centre Stage, maybe?) There is much teen angst, and teen romance, and teen rebellion and teen tears, but it all makes sense – except maybe for the scene on that ship full of merchant sailors; what was that about? – and everything wraps up very satisfactorily.
Sure, tropes fly around the place like the obscenely acrobatic break dancers, and there isn’t much that is new here—and Marlon’s a bit of an unfair jerk in his first interactions with Katya (because, again, tropes). But for all that Into the Beat is very familiar, it is still rather captivating, with the timeless beauty of Pfeifer’s Katya and hard-won smile of Marschner’s Marlon lighting up the screen alongside some notable side characters, like their friendly hip-hop rivals, and the kindly hip-hop teacher who first brings Katya into their world, and the genuinely caring carer sent to help out after Papa’s injury.
There is conflict, of course, but basically, it’s all very nice—which should not have surprised us about a German film, but absolutely did.
Another pleasant surprise: the dancers can not only dance, they can also act. And our ballerina can even dance hip-hop without looking ridiculous. (Take note, Cooper Neilson!) Which, despite its familiar – ahem – beats, makes this dance movie a very original entry into the genre indeed.
Written by: Hannah Schweier, Stefan Westerwelle
Directed by: Stefan Westerwelle
Starring: Alexandra Pfeifer, Yalany Marschner, Trystan Pütter, Helen Schneider, Katrin Pollit, Nadja Stübiger
WHERE I WATCHED IT: Netflix.