The story of two women whose lives are dedicated to ballet. Deedee left her promising dance career to become a wife and mother and now runs a ballet school in Oklahoma. Emma stayed with a company and became a star though her time is nearly past. Both want what the other has and reflects back on missed chances as they are brought together again through Deedee's daughter who joins the company.
Nominated for 11 Oscars.
Shirley MacLaine ... Deedee Rodgers
Anne Bancroft ... Emma Jacklin
Mikhail Baryshnikov ... Yuri Kopeikine
Leslie Browne ... Emilia Rodgers
Tom Skerritt ... Wayne
Martha Scott ... Adelaide
Anthony Zerbe ... Rosie
Marshall Thompson ... Carter
Alexandra Danilova ... Madame Dahkarova
Antoinette Sibley ... Sevilla Haslam
Starr Danias ... Carolyn
James Mitchell ... Michael
Daniel Levans ... Arnold
Scott Douglas ... Freddie Romoff
First things first; this movie takes place within the American Ballet Theater. The name "American Ballet" was chosen by George Balanchine- a white Russian émigré to the United States- back in the 1930s when it was indeed probably the only major ballet company within the United States. However, their use of this term now is certainly misleading. I believe an alternative, and much more descriptive name, is "New York City Ballet"; that may in fact be the name they are legally required to use now due expiration of the original copyright though I would not swear to it. They are certainly very good at what they do; but, there are quite a few ballet companies within the United States nowadays and they are just as American as the group in New York City. And, probably just as good. Their is an irony here in that the movie starts, for some unfathomable reason, in Oklahoma City- which is, I guess, meant to show a place as far away from the "Big City" ballet as one can get. Perhaps in 1977 it was, but nowadays Oklahoma City itself has a very good ballet company. The only major reason why I do not consider the OKC ballet company as good as the one in New York City is due to the shortage of funds they have encountered recently. The OKC ballet school is pretty good- from what I have heard. Anyway, the New York City Ballet is a top notch outfit but it is certainly NOT the only major ballet company in the United States-despite what this movie implies. Okay, now that I have cleared this up I will now comment on this movie.
It is a "must see" movie for people who like ballet and even other major dance forms. There are a few problems- one is that Tom Skerritt plays the husband of a former ballerina of the company; himself a former "danseur" with the company. Yet, as good an actor as Mr. Skerritt is, I find his performance in this movie far from convincing in this manner. Their son is shown as an up and coming dancer; also with the company yet he disappears midway into the movie. What happened to him? I know the daughter is primary point of interest, but what happened to her brother??
Other than these weaknesses it is a very good movie- though it is somewhat surprising that it received 11 Academy Award nominations. Anne Bancroft was fantastic. In real life she never danced professionally nor took lessons yet she did a great job portraying an over-the-hill prima ballerina (possibly based on Margot Fonteyn). Shirley McClain- who did dance a lot - ironically is never seen dancing or even prepared for dancing.
This is a "chick flick"- no doubt about it, but if you are male and interested in the behind the scenes of a ballet company you will find this interesting also. Speaking of males- Mihail Baryshnikov comes close to stealing the show from the female leads. This movie, along with "The Nutcracker" that he performed later in 1977, was the "turning point" in his career. Well worth seeing by anybody of either gender for this alone!!
After my 26th time watching The Turning Point I stopped counting my viewings. Some viewers might say it's not a tightly-written drama, and I don't care. For anyone who's ever enjoyed a dance performance, this is a must-see...or must-OWN. Mikhail Baryshnikov, recently-defected and at the absolute peak of his extrahuman abilities, is nothing short of breathtaking in this film. The first time he's shown dancing in the rehearsal studio invariably takes away my ability to breathe.
I also admit that I like the stories which provide the framework for the dance performances. When The Turning Point was originally released, I was about to turn 30. Now bumping my head on 60, I've seen the decisions, transitions, and forks in life's road which face all the film's characters, and have a much greater appreciation for the truth of the film. Shirley MacLaine, Anne Bancroft, Tom Skerrit, and Anthony Zerbe are, as we'd expect, excellent. The 18-year-old Leslie Browne is lovely, and a fine dancer. I'm particularly fond of Alexandra Danilova, one of ballet's immortals, as the matriarchal Madame Dhakarova. In the scene where she's coaching a much-younger woman on the Don Quixote pas de deux, she performs the role not only more correctly, but also more playfully and flirtatiously than her student. It's a treat to see.
I love dance (see review of All That Jazz), and I admit my bias freely. In addition to spectacular dance performances, there are good, human stories behind the 70's clothing and hair styles, so watch this film at least once and decide for yourself whether you'll see it again.
I had no knowledge or interest in ballet before viewing The Turning Point on HBO about a year after it was first released to theaters. The HBO promotions department concentrated more on the cat fight between Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft and less on the numerous ballet dances. I thought it was going to be an unintentional laugh riot. Boy, was I wrong.
MacLaine and Bancroft as former dance rivals do a great job separately and together. You sense the history of both characters and the issues that have colored the decisions they made. MacLaine's character, Deedee, getting pregnant and leaving the ballet company, while with Bancroft's character, Emma, the veteran prima ballerina who never married and struggles to stay a ballerina not knowing when or how to gracefully end her career.
Director Herbert Ross and screenwriter Arthur Laurents conceived an interesting, albeit thin, story within the backdrop of ballet. The lead actresses and the supporting cast, including James Douglas, Anthony Zerbe, Tom Skerritt as MacLaine's husband and especially Martha Scott as the blunt, money-minded owner of the ballet company, do a very good job and, in some ways, improve on the material given to them.
As far as the ballet dancers in acting roles, well they are great dancers. To be fair, hiring anyone with little or no acting experience and expect them to act in a major movie for the first time would be a challenge for anyone. Leslie Browne, as Emilia, Deedee's oldest who is in the process of becoming the next prima ballerina, had a very tough task and, when it came to the dialog, I thought she did as good a job as she could. But when she was in her element, namely in the dance studio and on stage, she was wonderful. (It's a shame that actress/former ballerina Neve Campbell was only four years old when The Turning Point was first released. Acting-wise, Campbell would have been a more convincing Emilia. But I digress.)
Mikhail Baryshnikov fared much better as the main male ballet dancer/Lothario. He oozed charisma on screen and his jumps on stage are breathtaking. Years after The Turning Point, he has done some decent work in White Nights on screen and Sex and the City on television.
Interestingly, out of all of the non-professional actors, I thought Alexandra Danilova, who played Emilia's ballet teacher, gave the most natural and less stilted performance. She seemed very comfortable essentially playing herself. I have a feeling that it has a lot to do with her real ballet experience of over 50 years when the film was released in 1977.
The last time I viewed The Turning Point was in 2005. The material is still pretty thin but I do believe that if it wasn't for the strong performances (acting and dancing) the film would not hold up after all these years.
* This film jointly holds the record (with The Color Purple (1985)) for the film with most Oscar nominations without a single win (11).
* Audrey Hepburn was offered one of the lead roles in this film.
* Doris Day turned down one of the lead roles
* Grace Kelly was offered one of the leads in the film.
* In one scene, Anne Bancroft throws a drink in Shirley MacLaine's face. The moment was not planned or rehearsed - the look of shock on MacLaine's face is real.
* Principal ballerina and girlfriend to Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gelsey Kirkland was offered the role of Emilia. She turned the role down because she "simply wanted no part of Hollywood."
* Michael, the choreographer/artistic director, is partly based on Jerome Robbins. James Mitchell was the principal male dancer in Robbins' musical "Billion Dollar Baby" (1945) and participated in his American Theatre Laboratory in the late 1960s; later, while performing with American Ballet Theatre, he partnered executive producer Nora Kaye in Robbins' ballet "Facsimile."
* Of Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft, MacLaine was the accomplished dancer. All of the dance scenes featuring Bancroft consist of her striking dancer-like poses while those around her actually danced.