Credit: Amarcord
by Ayeen Forootan Featured Film

Dancing Queen — Aurora Gossé [Berlinale ’23 Review]

February 28, 2023

Dancing Queen, the third theatrical feature by Aurora Gossé, who has already made a handful of domestic Norwegian TV series and shorts, boasts a very simple plot. Mina (portrayed by the young newcomer Liv Elvira Kippersund Larsson), a 12-year-old ace student, soon falls head over heels for a slick, hip-hop dancer schoolmate, Edwin (Viljar Knutsen Bjaadal). And just as all the talented, groovy students decide to form a dancing crew to compete at the next summer’s Mjøsa Challenge, Mina faces her own personal struggles and insecurities to join her friends despite the fact that although she may be a bright kid when it comes to regular class lessons and homework, she has absolutely no idea how to dance. Thanks to the inspirational presence of her soulful and no-nonsense-taking grandma, and on the strength of her own unceasing enthusiasm, Mina throws herself into incessant practice so that she might find herself part of a group; as her grandmother puts it, she’s “a timid little straight-A student who wants to break out of her shell.” It’s evident right off the bat, then, that although Gossé’s new coming-of-age film is certainly influenced by the better-known works from Hollywood’s heyday of kid- and teen-facing films. From Spielberg’s bike riding, small-town children to Little Miss Sunshine’s precocious youngster to even the dance-heavy late-pubescence of Bring It On or the Step Up franchise, Dancing Queen endeavors to scale everything to a specific measured, humble realism. And so, without littering itself with the usual larger-than-life dramatics and excessive tropes, Gossé’s latest — explicitly titled after ABBA’s famous hit — remains committed to documenting the mundane, even minuscule, challenges and concerns of the Zoomer generation.

To this end, Dancing Queen follows an admittedly straightforward and predictable approach, both aesthetically and narratively, but without ever going so far as to sketch the clichéd narrative line between good kids/bad kids, winners/losers, etc., or even pitting the cool kids against Mina’s so-called nerddom. Although on different occasions, we do see Mina’s anxious struggles to lose weight, her switch from oversized glasses to contact lenses, the bold decision to dye her hair blue, her efforts at copying the look and style of the school’s popular girl, Bella (Ylva Røsten-Haga), and her choosing to ignore her supportive bestie, Markus — but any confrontational and competitive elements that arise are quite intentionally presented only as natural, day-to-day peer pressures. Filled with as much warmth and bittersweetness as it is kinetic dance and energetic music, and captured through lighthearted, age-appropriate joviality and tender images, Gossé massages her breezy story into a mildly feel-good flick about the importance of friendly collaboration over the pressures of competition, and the importance of discovering and embracing one’s identity in order to — quite literally — find the right moves to make in life. It’s obvious that Gossé’s unassuming filmmaking instincts don’t tend toward the heavy-handedly conceptual or boisterously aestheticized, but what she should get considerable credit for is her ability to coax beautiful, convincing work from her group of underage actors. What’s most applaudable is the balance she strikes, however. For the youngsters, there’s a bevy of visceral entertainment woven into the film’s tenderly moralistic lessons, while adult viewers should find the film’s pomp an agreeable distraction at worst, with the potential to glean greater understanding of Gen-Z’s particular mindsets and lifestyles.

Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 8.5.