Shall We Dance? Reviewby Karina Montgomery (karina AT cinerina DOT com)
October 15th, 2004
Shall We Dance
I don't know how they did it, but it worked, I swear to you it worked. I've said this before, not *no one* was more surprised than me, excepting my dancer companion, equally cyncial as to the possibility of an Americanized remake of a great, culturally loaded Japanese movie, starring Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez, and have it be watchable, much less enjoyable. Even throwing in indie genius Stanley Tucci and sophomore darling Bobby Cannavale, even with Susan Sarandon, we expected so little, and received so much.
We stood in the small line beforehand, snickering snobbishly to ourselves about how terrible this was going to be, grousing about how much Lopez annoys us, tracking Gere's spotty hits and misses in our favor, and generally relishing our low expectations. I wanted to be impartial, even kind, so my notes begin: "Nice couple dynamic with Susan and Richard." "Good script." "Funny." And then I put down my pen, except to recall character names I wanted to check on IMDb. I was enthralled!
The original 1996 film of the same name is so loved by those who have seen it, it seems to be older, more ingrained in the social consciousness. It's set in the highly repressive Japanese culture, where for a man to dance is shameful, untrustworthy. How to translate? Gere's estate lawyer is reserved, even dull; but his marriage is good, his job pays enough, he lives in a relatively permissive culture that, in the movies at least, encourages wackiness. Yet (with the help of the sublime Stanley Tucci) we do find a sense of men's discomfort and fear with dancing, with sensitivity, with asexual joy away from their families that does not involve the gridiron. Gere, an accomplished hoofer, is convincing as a nondancer finding the physical joy of dance.
The script is good, it's got great dialogue, good one liners, and simple but effective character development. The dialogue and stage direction has weight and purpose, especially in the first act. Masayuki Suo successfully translates his tale of Japanese shame into one of American fear of being weird or (gasp) gay.
As my companion pointed out, Lopez's role could have been, and should have been, given to some hard working, unknown Broadway dancer to be awesome in. Her purpose is to be Gere's muse, teacher, and to inform us of the redemptive power of dance, and to look gorgeous. She's gorgeous, she can dance, and mercifully, the film does not rest on her dialogue. Her character, Paulina, in contrast to the wild abandon dance offers her pupils, is presented with an almost Japanese stoicism and unattainability. It works. She serves her function, tells us a brief story, and lets Gere handle all the heavy talking. He is of course also aided by Sarandon.
Susan Sarandon's job is bigger than that of the wife in the 1996 film, and she works it. We know what she doesn't, and she adds an element of danger, threatening this new bubble of joy in her husband's life, that is otherwise absent in our culture (relatively speaking). It's very good for the story, they have a romance, a history, which you believe in utterly.
Supporting our leads are Tucci, Cannavale, Omar Miller, Lisa Ann Walter, and Anita Gillette. Each person is a great element of joy and entertainment. Walter and Tucci especially bring in a zazz that Gere's character by necessity cannot match. By the third act, the whole movie is just a (weirdly paced) Capezio wet dream (Thanks, MT!) and I couldn't stop being happy I saw it. I felt the life Gere was discovering, the perils, the tension, the gowns, the dancing - it was simply great. It's possible - not likely, but possible - that I enjoyed it more than Strictly Ballroom. It's certainly not as dark. I have to live with the fact that I really liked this Gere/Lopez Americanization. Can *you* live with that? Find out.
These reviews (c) 2004 Karina Montgomery. Please feel free to forward but credit the reviewer in the text. Thanks. You can check out previous reviews at:
http://www.cinerina.com and http://ofcs.rottentomatoes.com - the Online Film Critics Society http://www.hsbr.net/reviews/karina/listing.hsbr - Hollywood Stock Exchange Brokerage Resource
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