Square Dance

Director: Daniel Petrie
Screenwriters: Alan Hines

Institute History


Square Dance is a poignant and painful coming of age film about a young girl (Wynona Ryder) who is bounced back and forth between her irascible grandfather (Jason Robards) and hard-boiled mother (Jane Alexander). In tone, locale and certainly in the quality of acting, it is comparable to the Oscar-winning The Trip to Bountiful. But rather than an older woman on the verge of senility, here we have a young girl pushed rapidly to maturity. Each have a goal—to resurrect memory and determine their future—but must first detour through shock waves of pain, misunderstanding and disappointment.

Wynona Ryder as the girl and Jane Alexander as the mother are stand-outs (Alexander, in particular, deserving Oscar nomination), but the refreshing surprise of Square Dance is the young actor Rob Lowe, convincingly playing the slow-witted boy who inadvertently brings Wynona’s emotional crisis to a head.

The title of the film, of course, refers to the dance. But it is used subtly and primarily as a metaphor. The dance, as it exists here in fragments, suggests a set of changing, harmonious relationships that constitute, in short, a family. This is the dim memory of all the characters, their goal to resurrect, the theme of the film. By the end, enough steps are learned, enough recollections are recalled and partners jointed, so the the “dance”—the family—is once again possible. Square Dance is a rare film, ostensibly modest, but actually reaching to touch our deepest feelings.

Screening Details

  • Section: Premiere - Opening Night in Salt Lake City
  • Film Type: Dramatic Feature
  • Country: U.S.A.
  • Run Time: 110 min.
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