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'A Ballerina's Tale' falls flat when it could have leaped

'A Ballerina's Tale' falls flat when it could have leaped
Misty Copeland appears in "A Ballerina's Tale." (Oskar Landi / AP)

At once intimate and curiously distancing, "A Ballerina's Tale," Nelson George's portrait of trail-blazing African American dancer Misty Copeland ultimately fails to deliver the sort of inspirational uplift that should have been a given.

Copeland broke through the ballet world's stubborn racial barrier earlier this year when she became the first African American woman to be named principal dancer of the American Ballet Theatre in the company's 75-year history.

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While Copeland's many trials and tribulations (including early binge-eating issues and a career-threatening fractured shin) are dutifully documented, others have been completely omitted, such as her complicated teenage years in San Pedro.

It's understandable that director George would want to keep his camera trained on his beautiful subject, whose poise and grace are on display in snippets of her performances, especially her defining turn in a 2012 production of "The Firebird."

Despite successfully taking on her vocation's long-standing aesthetic of "paleness," Copeland's victories are shortchanged by the film's prevailing sense of detachment from its main subject.

Only when we see Copeland in a tender exchange with the legendary Raven Wilkinson, who, six decades earlier had been the first black ballerina in the Ballet Russe, does "A Ballerina's Tale" finally reach a poignant turning point that otherwise proves so flatly elusive.

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"A Ballerina's Tale."

No MPAA rating.

Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle's Royal, West L.A., Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena.

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