MAO’S LAST DANCER

Permission requested to make an un-PC joke: they could have retitled
this Birry Erriot. But while MLD has numerous similarities to that
earlier dancer-goes-from-boy-to-man drama, it adds an overcoat of
history and politics. It's a true story that works because of a
wonderfully diverse cast, most especially Chi Cao, who is foremost a
dancer, but who is both convincing and moving as the (grown-up version
of the) peasant boy taken out of his Shandong Province village,
groomed for the ballet and “lent” to Houston's renowned company, where
he then defected. Also a standout: Bruce Greenwood, in a rare part
that lets him really show off his talent. (A nice touch: his character
is gay, but there's nary a mention of it; it's just organic.) And
many of the smaller Chinese roles are played by actors you hope will
return after their scenes end: the parents, the first dance teacher,
the Houston consul. The backdrop sometimes feels like a CliffsNotes
version of Modern China and the movie's feel-good qualities can turn
sentimental. But sometimes it feels good to get a little choked up. —
Jeff Schultz

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