Dancing in Great Britain has come a long way since Billy Elliott. Popularised on national television with a wealth of talent shows such as Strictly Come Dancing, you could even go as far as calling it fashionable. Director James Griffiths, alongside writer Jon Brown, are seemingly aware of that fact – as they present their respective cinematic debut, Cuban Fury, starring Nick Frost in his very first leading role without his longstanding collaborator, Simon Pegg.
Frost plays Bruce Garrett, a former Salsa champion who gave up the sport when he was attacked on his way to the national championships as a youngster. Insisting that dancing is for sissies, Bruce is lured back on to the dance floor when he discovers that his new boss (Rashida Jones) harbours a compulsion for the art form. However the dormant fire in Bruce’s heels will take some reigniting, as both his friends, and former coach (Ian McShane) doubt whether he still has what it takes to compete. Yet his infatuation for his boss – and intense rivalry with a conceited, loathsome colleague (Chris O’Dowd) – puts the spice back in Bruce’s life.
Cuban Fury certainly has endearing qualities, however it frustratingly follows convention, unadventurously archetypal of the genre at hand – that of a man desperately trying to win over girl he feels is out of his league, all building towards a big competition at the very end of the film. It’s the sort of film that comes equipped with training montages, you know? That being said, the cliched nature of the title is welcomed in parts, as a film that’s exceedingly easy to indulge in, and in many respects, you sometimes crave that predictability and formula. Much like Bruce himself, here lies a film that seems perfectly content in not stepping outside of its comfort zone.
Thankfully, however, a glorious cast keep this film alive, as relatively unimportant supporting roles are illuminated by the lies of Olivia Colman and Kayvan Novak. The former, for example, plays a somewhat thankless part of Bruce’s sister Sam, and yet the fragility in her nuanced performance, providing the role with an empathy that probably wasn’t even in the script. Conversely, Novak is exceptionally unsubtle and the fortunate bearer of the vast majority of funny moments in this film, playing the outlandishly camp Bejan. Talking of overstated, O’Dowd plays a pantomime villain of sorts, and he does so terrifically well, as you simply can’t stand the sight of this contemptible man. It’s a real credit to him, as this role is something of a departure for an actor that usually thrives in his distinct benevolence.
Nonetheless, the true star of this piece is Frost, who is just so inherently likeable, and although he’s playing the underdog, he remains charismatic, and rather than be your typically timid, introverted loser – he is genuinely comical, and you can see the confidence within him, waiting to be released – in spite of his low self-esteem. It’s important that such shades of his demeanour are portrayed, as it allows for us to believe that he has every chance of luring Jones, despite any initial scepticism of eye-rolling Hollywood romanticism. In fact, this is a somewhat well-handled character study of a man who simply isn’t capable of just being himself in the fear for what others may think, and Frost takes such poignant aspects in his stride. He’s got some dance moves on him too, it has to be said.
In regards to the quality of this comedy, think Run Fatboy Run – a somewhat generic and prosaic piece that follows formula, yet all the while remains affable and unashamedly hilarious in parts. If there is anything to be taken away from the film too, it’s that if dancing can impress somebody like Rashida Jones, then there may well be a few new members signing up to Zumba classes across the nation. Talking of which, where did I put my heels?