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Shall We Dance? /

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Bobby Cannavale

Directed by: Peter Chelsom

Produced by: Simon Fields
Written by:
Audrey Wells
Distributor: Miramax Films


Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez in Miramax's Shall We Dance?
Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere in Miramax's Shall We Dance?
Susan Sarandon and Richard Gere in Miramax's Shall We Dance?

     Right when I assumed that freshness was a good thing in all movies, Shall We Dance? came and slapped me in the face. Yes, it is a thoroughly predictable movie with average characters, but director Peter Chelsom tends to defy narrative-conventions more often than he conforms to them, throughout the duration. Shall We Dance?, rather than being a romance about finding love, like so many other films of its kind, tells a story about one about appreciating the concept itself. For awhile, it is enjoyable, but by the halfway point, the movie becomes so repetitively dull, many viewers will find themselves wishing that they were watching the average clichéd plot play out, instead.

     I will grant the premise that it works well for the fifty minutes that it is welcome for. In Shall We Dance?, John Clark (Richard Gere) is a middle-aged estate lawyer, who has become bored with his occupation and his wife, Beverly (Susan Sarandon), and teenage daughter, Jenna (Tamara Hope), even though his life continuously treats him well. Looking to spice his everyday routine up a bit, he decides to sign up for dance classes, after countless evenings of staring out from his train-ride-home’s window at the enticing Paulina (a partly unintentionally hilarious Jennifer Lopez) in her downtown studio. These group-lessons excite him and he enjoys the company he has during them, but keeps them a secret from his family, out of a combination of embarrassment and a longing for privacy.

     When John first starts to dance, Paulina is a major motivation for him to continue his lessons; the act of adultery would be awfully tempting if she was interested in him. With this in mind, John’s regularly delayed commute home from work becomes suspicious to Beverly, and after hearing stories from co-workers about unfaithful husbands, she decides to hire a private investigator to monitor her husband. By then, though, John has developed a passion for tapping his toes, and sex is no longer a major influence in his hobby. Stunned that all he has been up to is dancing, Beverly looks at him in a bit of a different light, still puzzled what to think of his lessons.

     As perfectly executed as some of the performances may seem, particularly those from Gere, Lisa Ann Walter (as an obnoxious dance partner of John’s), and Anita Gillette (as John’s regular dance teacher and Paulina’s co-worker), I can’t help but think that they are part of the reason that Shall We Dance? did not turn out being a better movie than it is. If these certain members of the cast had crafted more interesting and consistently entertaining characters, then the film probably would’ve been more enjoyable, during its last-half. Then again, perhaps the blame for its decline in quality should be primarily directed towards screenwriter Audrey Wells, for not writing this intrigue into the movie, when adapting Masayuki Suo’s script, which birthed the original version of Shall We Dance?, a Japanese film.

     On the other hand, Omar Benson Miller, Bobby Cannavale, and Susan Sarandon all act wonderfully in the film. The former two play John’s fellow dancing apprentices with an amazing sense of comic joy, and embrace the audience, warmly. Some of the best sequences in Shall We Dance? are those that were choreographed down to the very last step; it is always amusing to watch Gere, Miller, and Cannavale jump and sway, humorously. With that said, it is unfortunate that the empathic type of these scenes becomes significantly sparser, as the film progresses. Sarandon is the only constant good in the film; watching her in it, I forgot entirely about her total liberal idiocy.

     Shall We Dance? has all of the ambitions required of a good movie, and this is partially why it is, in a sense, shameful, that it comes up short of being such. Nevertheless, it will make for a DVD that is worth dedicating a Saturday evening to, in a few months. And, if that is not enough, American interest in the supposedly masterful Japanese original is likely to boost tenfold, as a result of this remake’s release. With these two things in mind, I suppose Shall We Dance?’s honest attempt at genuineness, even if failed to a certain degree, will help more than it will hurt, in Hollywood. I am far from fully recommending it, but this is not to say, by any means, that one could not do worse, when planning their next trip to the local multiplex.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (11.10.2004)

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