Not even Carly Rae Jepsen can save this family-focused fiasco
Let’s be honest: The only reason you know Leap! exists is because the Queen Mother of sugary-sweet sonic confections, Carly “Slay” Jepsen, has graciously contributed “Cut to the Feeling” — the definitive underground pop jam of 2017 — to the 19th century-set film’s oddly curated contemporary soundtrack.
This isn’t the first time a sensational tune has defined a subpar motion picture’s standing in popular culture. Prince’s “Kiss” transcended the dreary reviews for Under the Cherry Moon back in 1986, and more recently, original songs by The Weeknd and Ellie Goulding attained multi-platinum status while their parent production, Fifty Shades of Grey, floundered with critics. While Leap!’s pop cultural profile is a mere fraction of those occupied by the aforementioned titles, the drastic disparity in quality between the film and its far superior sonic companion again begs the question: Can a song save a movie?
Of course it can’t. Especially not an exhausting fiasco like Leap!
Initially recorded during sessions for Jepsen’s 2015 album, EMOTION, “Cut to the Feeling” is a throbbing, electronic-influenced banger with a chorus that soars as high as the film’s lofty ambitions. The script is brimming with half-baked ideas, drilling far too much fluffy nonsense about achieving one’s dreams into our skulls before the film crosses the 10-minute mark.
Leap! is a standard rags-to-riches tale, following a parentless teen, Felicie (Elle Fanning), who escapes the clutches of the world’s worst orphanage (students are apprehended daily while trying to escape the multi-story building via… the roof?) to the city streets of Paris. There, Felicie’s dreams of becoming a ballet dancer at a prestigious academy take shape. Its heart in the right place, Leap! wants you to know it’s in the business of ~~fun~~ (there’s an exclamation point in the title!), but don’t be fooled.
Originally released overseas as Ballerina, the film is an emotional suck of simplistic clichés dressed in candy coating, its gloopy, bland center exposed after the first lick. Felicie is defined purely by her desire to dance, her motivation for which isn’t explained until the film’s closing moments. As we see, she lacks both the talent and temperament to join the ranks of a world class company, though an ex-dancer-turned-local-maid-with-a-heart-of-gold, Odette (Jepsen), offers to train her.
While there’s infinite value in championing the uniqueness of an outcast — especially as issues of gender equality take center stage in the real world — Felicie’s tactics lack the charm necessary to motivate an audience to see her through to a happy end. For starters, she poses as the daughter of a wealthy patrician to scam her way into the ballet school, and from there, Leap! places its female characters in two drastically different camps: cloyingly upbeat in their unrealistic convictions or unredeemably sinister in their cattiness. Their negative qualities are troublingly tied directly to their existence as women. The film’s primary antagonists are vain victims of aristocratic boredom, subservient to the men around them as they claw at each other for a momentary shred of glory to stroke their tiresome vanity. Marveling at the cleaning skills of Odette — who walks with a limp thanks to a mysterious injury — from a distance, one of the most prominent male characters in the film notes that the woman “even makes sweeping look graceful.” Uh… swoon?
It takes guts to unleash such an fake-uplifting tale of female empowerment into the same cinematic arena where far superior titles like Brave, Inside Out, Frozen, and Moana, have already blazed a trail. But Leap! doesn’t put in the work to earn the ending it thinks its characters deserves. These days, young girls don’t need a wafer-thin story of chance and fantasy; they need to sink their teeth into something real, a film that shows them why grit and determination matter instead of a film that connects the dots for them.
Just how awful do things get? We’re prompted to chuckle at a man with a physical deformity. One character, in the midst of a stealthy escape from the orphanage, thinks it’s a good idea to pose as a nun by stuffing a squawking chicken in his shirt (get it, chicken breasts!!!!!! LOL!!!1111!!!!1!). A villain scales the unfinished pieces of the Statue of Liberty (casually strewn about a Paris alleyway, of course) with a six-foot iron gavel, chasing after a young victim with the intent of murdering her atop a symbol of American freedom. “Stop. It’s hammer time!” she cackles. Seriously.
In the end, we’re left to anticipate the moment “Cut to the Feeling” kicks in to save us from the animated abyss. Unfortunately, that moment doesn’t come until Leap!‘s final minutes, and it’s as much of a letdown as you’d expect, with the film’s insipid vacuum having sapped all the energy from its weary audience by the time the credits roll. So, mommies and daddies of the world, if nothing else, please allow Leap! to teach you how to be a better parent. If your kid asks to see this movie, find your nearest set of speakers and tick up the volume on “Cut the Feeling” instead. It’s cheaper, bolder, and gets to its (far superior) point in under three minutes. D+