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Film / Save the Last Dance

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"We spend more time defending our relationship than actually having one."
Sara Johnson

A 2001 romantic drama directed by Thomas Carter, starring Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas, Save the Last Dance is widely regarded as a modern teen classic.

The story, which parallels Romeo and Juliet, is about a white ballerina named Sara (Stiles) who moves to inner-city Chicago to live with her distant father after her mother dies in a tragic accident. At her new school, in which she is one of the few white students, she befriends and falls in love with Derek (Thomas), a popular black student with a bright future, but their romance meets some obstacles from some of his friends who don't approve. Derek, a talented hip-hop dancer, teaches Sara his style of dance and inspires her to continue ballet and audition for Julliard.

This film provides examples of:

  • Alpha Bitch: Nikki, Derek's beautiful, popular ex-girlfriend who bullies Sara for being white and "stealing" Derek.
  • Black and Nerdy: The lunchroom table at which Sara is stuck before Chenille "rescues" her and invites Sara to her friends' spot.
  • Cat Fight: One breaks out in PE class when Sara accidentally hits Nikki in the head with a basketball.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Nikki made no effort (speech or body language) to hide her feelings towards Sara, put it that way.
  • Dance Party Ending: The film ends at STEPPS with, you guessed it, dancing.
  • Dancing Is Serious Business: We get a Training Montage that encapsulates both Derek teaching Sara hip-hop and Sara relearning ballet, both of which are played completely seriously.
  • Disappeared Dad: It's implied that Sara's father was this, given their awkward relationship throughout most of the movie.
  • The Fool: Chenille says of Snook: "They call him Snook 'cause Fool was taken."
  • Fish out of Water: Sara goes from a suburban predominantly white neighborhood to a poorer neighborhood with a dominantly black community.
  • Frozen Dinner of Loneliness: Sara is coming to live with her estranged father after her mother's death. When she arrives, he shows her his freezer which is full of frozen Hungry Man dinners, indicating that he's unused to cooking for other people.
  • Genre Mashup: As is the case for much of modern ballet, the final dance auditions blend ballet with jazz and more modern styles.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Nikki, just look at her face when Sara is doing the balance beam exercise.
  • Heel Realization: Chenille has this moment when she admits to Derek about what she said to Sara. She realizes that just because she didn't had the best relationship with Kenny and didn't want to look after their child, that doesn't give her any right to take it out on Sara, which caused her to break up with Derek. She encourages him to get back together with Sara since they care about each other, despite the backlash they get from people around them
    Chenille: Derek, there's something I ought tell you. I said something to Sara.
    Derek: What? What did you say?
    Chenille: Stuff. About how maybe Nikki had a point about black men and white women?
    Derek: What? You said what?
    Chenille: I'm sorry. I-I don't even like Nikki. I was tripping off Kenny. You can't help who you love, Derek. You're not supposed to. When you love someone, you love them. Look at me. At least you found someone who loves you back.
  • I Miss Mom: Why Sara refuses to practice ballet anymore.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Played with. To a certain extent, what Nikki has to say about Sarah and Derek's relationship makes Sarah reflect why so many people have negative opinions on the both of them as a couple. Even Chenille lampshades this to Derek when she had a Heel Realization.
  • Parents Walk In at the Worst Time: In the original script, Sara's father comes home early from work to find Sara and Derek post-coital (while he's fully dressed, she's in a robe, making it pretty obvious that sex took place.
  • Their First Time: It was likely Sara's, but it's uncertain if it was Derek's also.
  • Scary Black Man: Derek's friend, Malakai, who beats up a girl in restroom for money she owed him and intimidates Sara when she tried to make him stop.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Sara and Derek embrace, begin to undress... and we Fade Out to a shot of the Chicago skyline.
  • Token White: Invoked heavily as part of the story. Sara, who is moving to a dominantly African-American heavy community and school, ends up being this, which people are not shy about pointing out.
    • Sara's status as this is Played for Drama regarding her romance with Derek - a lot of the reason people have an issue with Sara being Derek's girlfriend in the first place is because Derek is explicitly such a good guy within their school (read: a scholarly black man not involved in a gang) and Sara is perceived to be "stealing" him from an already limited pool of eligible black men.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Sara gets one from both Nikki and Chenille for her relationship with Derek (interestingly, the one from Chenille her friend is much harsher) and then Derek when she breaks up with him due to the backlash being too much to handle.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Malakai to Derek. Derek has stayed out of trouble for the most part, but he seems determined to believe Malakai is a good guy despite much evidence to the contrary.
  • Training Montage: Twice. First when Derek teaches Sara to dance hip-hop, then when she decides to resume her ballet training.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Derek and Malakai. They spend most of the movie fighting but before the events of the film they were both involved in a crime for which Malakai didn't give up Derek to the police and Derek defends Malakai to Sara's summation that he's 'scary' and tries to help him throughout the film.
  • Where da White Women At?: Nikki, Derek's ex, who takes a disliking to Sara right away, says she hates how white girls always snatch up the good black men, leaving black girls with the black men that are criminals and gang members.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Malakai slaps a girl who owes him money and seemed to very nearly hit Sara at STEPPS too.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Derek tries to tell Malakai this to draw him away from a drive-by. It doesn't work, and he's arrested.
    • He also says similar things to Sara about her ballet.