Some days, you need a movie that’ll make you smile, maybe feel a little better about the world.
It can be a teen dance comedy, built on a formula that was old when Channing Tatum was young.
Give us another plucky, cute and clumsy white girl who needs to get schooled by the talented kids of color.
Make the villain a diva who’s taken the name “Juilliard” and who no-no-no just isn’t HAVING your all-elbows/head-turned-the-wrong way “audition” for his team.
“Trinity? Could can ‘sage’ the space?”
Give us some sass, some dance trash talk quick to cross that line when Juilliard dons a white tank top and pink sweats as costume.
“This isn’t over. And you look like a tampon.”
Point us toward the “big competition,” hit Netflix “play” and let the TV stream, because we could all use a “Work It” break.
Sabrina Carpenter, alumnus of TV’s “Girl Meets World,” makes a star-statement as Quinn, rising high school senior, born klutz and thus determined to get into Duke University, the self-described “Harvard of the South.”
Carpenter’s gift isn’t that she’s latest in a long line of such white-girl-needs-help characters in dance/cheerleading comedies. It’s that she’s a damned genius at being just-bad-enough at dancing to convince us that the reason we don’t see her ripped midriff for most of the movie is that girl-can’t-dance and hasn’t rehearsed her ass off.
Quinn’s Duke (“Dook,” as we actually call it down South) dreams take a hit when one of her extracurriculars goes wrong — shorting out the lighting board for the Thunderbirds dance squad at her school. “BANISHED.” And damned if the shallow, dance happy admissions officer (Michelle Buteau, a hoot) isn’t underwhelmed by her GPA and resume.
Cellist? “Everybody plays the cello.” Nuts about TED Talks? “Girl, that’s sad.”
But let the lady who holds the keys to your future think you’re on a dance team? “THAT’S breaking out of the box!” She might be Dook-material after all, because they’re short on hyper-focused middle-class white girls, you know.
Too bad Juilliard (Keiynan Lonsdale, hilariously bitchy) has banished her. Nothing for it but to try out, and when that fails, research, recruit and run her own team with the help of BF and dance-career-driven classmate Jasmine (Liza Koshy, dazzling) and this once-promising dancer/hunk-choreographer who tore up his knee and now teaches kiddie classes (Jordan Fisher).
Oh, it’s SO on.
“Ugly Dolls” screenwriter Alison Peck finds her niche with this picture, throwing just enough plot wrinkles and smart-ass banter into the mix to make the formula — if not exactly fresh — at least fresh-adjacent.
Quinn NEEDS this team to do well, so she prays to the Dance Goddess — Queen Bey, Beyoncé, of course.
You KNOW if Quinn’s volunteering at a nursing home, there’s just got to be some aged hoofer wandering the halls, ready to pop it and lock it. You DON’T expect little old lady to bark “Turn that S— UP!” when she hears her jam.
Some of that HAS to come from director Laura Terruso. I mean, “Good Girls Get High” as a credit conveys a certain…edge. Not that this is “out there,” but the teen “types” and salty speech feel real enough.
And the dance numbers themselves are well-shot and edited without going all music-video-overboard.
Forgettable, disposable, one-among-many, all those labels apply to “Work It.” But it’s cute, hormonal and just sweet enough to get by. In this day and age, that’s a blessing and a reason we say, “If it’s a teen comedy that works, it MUST be on Netflix.” Even if STX intended to put this into theaters.
Even if, as everyone knows “Dook sucks.”
MPAA Rating: TV-14, profanity, sexual humor
Cast: Sabrina Carpenter, Liza Koshy, Jordan Fisher, Keiynan Lonsdale, Michelle Buteau
Credits: Directed by Laura Teruso, script by Alison Peck. An STX Film, a Netflix release.
Running time: 1:34