"You never know what's coming next, at the turning point!" That Toto song may have come out way after this film, but it's best that I don't reference the Tyron Davis song, because even though it was released back when R&B was good, this film is so white that it's about ballet. Hey, hey, "the turning point", as in a ballerina turn; isn't that hilarious? This film has just got to be a little bit cheesy, because it's directed by the dude who went on to do "Footloose", although maybe that film was a little lacking because Herbert Ross lost a lot of steam after this drama about ballet took foot loosening to the extreme. Well, no I'm sounding no better than this film's title, because as if puns aren't unclever enough by nature, whether this title is trying to be punny or not, there's no making it all that witty, because it sounds so lazy, and it's not even original. The amount of films that have this title almost match the amount of Oscars this film was nominated for, but hey, this particular flick apparently stood out, so it must be more interesting than a drama about a foot. Well, even though it's not just about the literal turning point in a ballet dance, it still deals with ballet, so as adequately engaging as it is, its subject matter, alone, limits intrigue, partly because it's a little too familiar.
There are some relatively refreshing themes to be explored in this film, but on top of following a lot familiar themes regarding legacy in artistry, and certain romantic taboos, this is a very '70s-style melodrama, which hits most all of the predictable stylistic trappings and structural steadiness to storytelling, which is not justified by an especially intriguing story. Potential is there, but it is limited by a fairly minimalist film which largely focuses on chit-chat over real, immediately consequential conflicts whose incorporation is a little too gradual the good of a sense of momentum. I don't know if you can so much blame the narrative concept for the questionable dramatic structure, as much as you can blame Arthur Laurents' script, which gets to be repetitive in its minimalism, maybe even aimless under the wait of somber directorial storytelling that can get bland to the point of being boredom. There's not a whole lot of momentum to this film, and slowly, but surely, the blandness grows greater, while your investment grows weaker, secured by many a respectable dramatic highlights to punctuate something that thickens with the plot, and further challenges your investment. What thickens is a thinning of depth to this melodrama, kept consistent to one extent or another through superficial pieces of dialogue and explorations of potentially sophisticated subject matter which make it harder and harder to ignore the histrionics behind the meat of this narrative, whose improbability stands firm. It is also firmly challenged by some convincing inspiration to direction and acting, but there's something pretty contrived about a lot of the plot elements, whose formulaic, talky and slow telling further slow down dramatic momentum, until the final product falls as pretty decidedly underwhelming. As a matter of fact, the film may be forgettable, but while it occupies your time, it holds your attention just fine, thanks largely to good looks.
Robert Surtees' cinematography is about as prominent as any strong aspect of the film, with an intense lighting whose consistency throughout the film is problematic in its lack of dynamicity and overt glamorization, but hard to completely criticize, due to its haunting dreaminess, which is most lovely in the context of tasteful visuals. Naturally, the most tasteful imagery of the film is found within the ballet sequences, which stand to be more lavishly directed, as well as more recurrent, for that matter, but are well worth the wait, thanks to gorgeous classical musicality behind beautiful choreography and fluid, technically sharp dancing. As I said, the direction of the dance sequences stand to be more lavish, but Herbert Ross' passion for ballet is still palpable within his intimate directorial presentation, which doesn't need dance sequences to resonate, for although Ross' chilled storytelling all too often leaves one a little too cold, when the subtlety and grace of the material matches than of Ross' direction, it's hard to not be moved. The consequentiality of this melodrama is pretty questionable, but Ross is hearty no matter what, and his moments of matching ambition, and justifying steadiness, with inspiration implement a human depth to the approach of a story that already has enough taste in concept. Formulaic and melodramatic, yet still talky and lacking in conflict, this story is superficial, if not contrived in its depth, but no matter how messily handled, themes regarding the professional and personal conflicts of artists, both fresh-faced and aging, are intriguing, at least for a character study. Justice is done to the human factor of this character-driven melodrama is done most consistently by the cast, which doesn't have much material to work with, but plenty of talent, highlighted by Shirley Maclaine as a woman of sophistication, pride and flaw, and by Anne Bancroft as an aging beauty who fears for herself and the next generation. The performances would be much more memorable if the film was itself juicier, but no matter how much the acting grows stronger, the material grows more faint more quickly, and yet, the engagement value of the film is rarely truly lost, for although this film is thin and flimsy, it carries enough heart to endear and sometimes compel, but only sometimes.
Overall, the film is formulaic in its subject matter and in its telling of an already thin and talky story, made all the more bland by slow pacing and atmospheric cold spells, which gradually thin momentum with the gradual expansion in the superficialities and melodramatics which secure the final product as rather forgettably underwhelming, but through lovely cinematography, excellent ballet sequences, tasteful direction, intriguing subject matter, and solid performances, Herbert Ross' "The Turning Point" stands as a fair, if faulty study on the personal and professional lives of ballet dancers.
2.5/5 - Fair