How to Dance in Ohio (2015)

28 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“How to Dance in Ohio,” which will air on HBO later this year, is a moving, refreshingly cheerful documentary about autistic teenagers in Columbus, Ohio, as they prepare for their first spring formal. Over the course of 12 weeks, they practice their social skills and dance moves. After having seen “King Jack” and a few other gritty indie films about how depressing life can be for young people, it’s refreshing to see a film about young people that’s actually uplifting. Of course, it would be dishonest not to show how these people and their families deal with their condition, and that’s why they do show it; it’s just not as entirely downbeat as you might expect. There’s no oppression; just positive vibes all throughout. And I don’t mind that.

And for that matter, it’s also refreshing, in this day and age, not to hear any part of the “vaccine” debate.

Now, of course, there might be some people who see this as a bad thing, as the film hardly touches upon what it’s like for these autistic young people participating in society. But for others, such as me, they’ll most likely get a clear understanding nonetheless and empathize with the central subjects because of director Alexandra Shiva’s sheer engagement with them.

“How to Dance in Ohio” focuses on three young women in particular: Marideth (16) who loves looking up facts on her computer; Caroline (19), an outgoing college student who has a boyfriend who goes to the same counseling center as she; and Jessica (22), a baker who lives in a shared home. We see how they live, how they work, etc. as they prepare for the dance with much expected anxiety along the way.

“How to Dance in Ohio” is a well-made, nicely edited, balanced look at autistic teenagers that couldn’t be any better handled in the hands of a narrative filmmaker and a script (no matter how accurate that script might be). It’s also funny in certain spots; there were some nice laughs at a scene in which Marideth discusses the career of Miley Cyrus with her sister. When the big day comes when they all participate in the dance, it goes swimmingly and ends on a positive note that made me smile. I cared about the people I was watching, I thought it was well-made, and I admired how the doc focused more on rich, individual stories than making some sort of social-issue tale. I really liked “How to Dance in Ohio.”

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