Hot to Trot is the wrong title for this engaging movie, not least because it was used 30 years ago for a Bobcat Goldthwait vehicle about a talking horse. Focusing on two pairs of same-sex ballroom dancers, Gail Freedman's new doc is essentially a pilot for a reality show, unfolding between 2012 and 2016, primarily in New York and San Francisco. But only a sliver of the screen time is devoted to the smashing dancing, shown mostly in frustratingly quick cuts. Costa Rican hottie Ernesto Palma, who anchors the male couple, reveals his former meth addiction ("I saw that the drugs were destroying my beauty"), barbecues a "ghetto" breakfast on his stovetop in Chelsea, competes in a Gay Games competition with Russian partner Nikolai Shpakov and finds true love.
All but one of the featured competitive dancers are immigrants. We meet parents visiting from New Zealand and Russia, and visit Palma's first partner, Hungarian Robbie Tristan, who was felled by a brain tumor. Each of the same-sex pairs changes dance partners during the long journey director Freedman takes with her four different cinematographers. Emily Coles tells us about the challenge of living with juvenile diabetes and nests with her adorable lover Katerina Blinova, who, as a former Soviet citizen, is anxious about going public with her homosexuality. Kiwi Kieren Jameson, Emily's original dance partner, unveils her struggle with depression and her final decision to prioritize her tech career over performing. The cameras caress landscapes, skylines, domesticity and sequined dancers with equal fervor, but one longs for more of what a competition official calls "a vertical expression of a horizontal desire."