There are no surprises here - all the "show must go on" clichés are present and correct - but that doesn't stop Center Stage being hugely enjoyable viewing. At first sight, it's an unexpected choice for director Nicholas Hytner: to move from the precise, theatrical elegance of The Madness Of King George to what could be dismissed as just another camp genre pic appears to be a retrograde step. But look closer and it makes sense.
Hytner's extensive experience as a stage director and his unerring eye for detail brings his young dancers to life and gives a fascinating insight into the peculiarly insular world of a ballet "boot camp". There's far more depth to the characterisation than you would expect and Hytner cleverly toys with audience expectations - we end up sympathising with a girl that we were geared up to hate at the start.
That's not to say that the film isn't riddled with stereotypes. There's the rebellious ethnic girl whose incredible talent is at odds with her stroppy attitude (a female Latino version of Leroy from Fame); the uptight work obsessive with an eating disorder; a pushy stage school mother; and, of course, the flamboyant gay confidant. But in all fairness, the world of ballet is populated by stereotypes. Hytner reveals the people beneath - the tired, insecure teenagers whose best friends are also ruthless competitors for the same scarce jobs.
Like every performance movie worth its salt, the film works its way up to a show-stopping crescendo. How-ever, the choreography in question is a bit of a disappointment: all corny semi-erotic posturing. Fortunately, by that point, you're likely to be so caught up in the characters that even the breath-takingly embarrassing scene in which Cooper enters the stage riding a motorbike won't spoil the fun.
A refreshing take on an age-old formula, Center Stage is exhilarating entertainment which rises well above the occasional cliché and cornball sentiment. The fact that it's nearly impossible not to guess the ending does nothing to lessen its feelgood factor.