Save the Last Dance is one of my least favorite teen films. Which is a shame, because it has one of the best soundtracks of any teen flick I’ve ever seen. Notorious BIG, Ice Cube, 112, Donell Jones, Montell Jordan… It had the jams.
It’s a shame the film really doesn’t stack up to the awesomeness of the soundtrack.
It’s hard to pinpoint why Save the Last Dance doesn’t hold up in 2017. Is it the lack of electricity between the two leads? Could be. Is it Sean Patrick Thomas’s ‘meh’ performance? Maybe. Is it the blatant white privilege and misogynoir in the storytelling? Perhaps.
But I do know one thing that definitely could have made this mediocre film a CLASSIC:
Sarah and Chenille ending up together.
What? You don’t see it?
Allow me to explain with a list of corrections that will clearly show you how Save the Last Dance should have ended.
Correction # 1
Sarah still meets Derek first, and he still owns her for not acknowledging the history of black literature and it’s great, but there’s no attraction there from her end. Derek is very visibly into her though. He even offers to show her some books by black authors, but she lies and says she’s already read them to preserve her pride.
(This is a privileged white girl in the early 2000s. You really think she’d just hop to read Walter Mosley or Toni Morrison? UH. I have doubts.)
Correction # 2
Sarah and Chenille already have the perfect meet-cute moment: When Chenille picks Sarah’s bag off the floor and gives it to her, complete with a scolding about keeping her property where she can see it so it doesn’t get stolen.
They lock eyes. It’s attraction at first sight.
Correction # 3
When Chenille formally introduces Derek as her brother to Sarah, there’s a mild awkwardness because at this point Sarah couldn’t care less. She’s got a full-blown crush on Chenille.
Correction # 4
When Chenille takes Sarah into the car to change before going to STEPPS, they have a moment. The cramped space, the changing of clothes and the skin-to-skin contact is too much for Sarah. She leans in to Chenille, caught up in the moment. Chenille pulls away at the last second.
Correction # 5
Sarah, feeling embarrassed, allows herself to get dragged onto the dance floor by Derek. This gets his hopes up and he turns on the charm. She considers him for a split second, but then she sees Chenille in the distance and decides she needs to go try to confront her.
Sarah rushes over to her and asks her to dance.
Correction # 6
It’s awkward but sweet. Chenille tries to get Sarah to move to the beat, with mixed results. Sarah suggests maybe Chenille give her lessons. Chenille agrees to do this, somewhat apprehensively.
Chenille: What do you want from me?
Sarah: I… don’t know.
Correction # 7
During their first dance lesson, Chenille slowly warms up to Sarah, the sensual nature of the dances loosens her up a bit and she comes clean about her misgivings about Sarah because she’s a white girl. Before Chenille can fully explain herself, Sarah stops her with a kiss.
Caught up in the moment, Chenille lets her thoughts go, giving in to the kiss.
Correction # 8
When Sarah and Chenille return to STEPPS after a few lessons, their mutual chemistry is clear. But when Chenille’s baby daddy corners her at the bar, Sarah gets the wrong idea and while she’s moping, Derek asks her to dance again.
Derek’s ex Nikki sees this, which leads to a fight in the gym.
(Same fight as in the original, but different circumstances.)
Correction # 9
When Sarah goes to Chenille after the fight with Nikki, Chenille gives Sarah a speech. The same speech from the original film. The iconic speech. The best part of the movie.
(I love that speech.)
Correction # 10
Sarah actually listens to the speech, absorbs the information, and starts reckoning with her privilege. She thinks about how easy things have been for her up until that point and acknowledges that Chenille was being a mom and a student and a teacher to her all at once.
After a realization period, Sarah thanks Chenille for her labor.
Chenille accepts the apology and they start dancing together again.
Correction # 11
They have sex and it’s amazing.
Correction # 12
Sarah still gets into Julliard and leaves Chenille behind. Before leaving, she thanks Chenille for everything she taught her and waxes poetic about how Chenille didn’t just help her become a better dancer, she helped her be a better person.
Chenille finishes school and considers going to New York to follow her old boo, but thinks better of it. She decides instead to stay in Chicago and join the robust black theater and performance community there. She becomes a performance artist, incorporating her dance moves with spoken word about the black female experience. She later meets and falls in love with a poet who moves in with her after her grandmother dies. They raise her son together.
Derek goes off to Georgetown. No one cares.