Shall We Dance? Review

by Harvey S. Karten (harveycritic AT cs DOT com)
October 18th, 2004


Reviewed by Harvey S. Karten
Miramax Films
Grade: C
Directed by: Peter Chelsom
Written by: Audrey Wells
Cast: Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Bobby Cannavale, Lisa Ann Walter, Omar Benson Miller, Anita Gillette, Richard Jenkins, Nick Cannon
Screened at: Loews 34th St., NYC, 10/15/04

If on a movie night your friend suggests, "Shall We Dance?" your response probably should be, "Thanks but I'll sit this one out." Or not. All depends on how willing you are to see characters as types (the stud, the bored married guy,, the overweight fellow who's afraid to pop the question until he loses wait, the dance studio owner who takes a nip from her cabinet before heading to the floor, the bald lawyer who dons a huge rug and goes wild at night, the young professional dancer who harbors memories of the partner she once had at the Blackpool international competition, the floozie waitress, the busy wife..) for starters. Peter Chelsom's direction of Audrey Wells's screenplay is listless when compared to that of Masayuki Suo in the Japanese version eight years ago. In this American version, Richard Gere as a prosperous lawyer cannot put across the theme accomplished by Suo's principal performer, Koji Yakusho, as Gere does not come across as a severely repressed businessman who is able to turn on only on the ballroom floor. Nor is his transformation from a serious lawyer to a chic ballroom dancer convincing.

There are inspired moments, one of which is not the old saw stated by instructor, Paulina (Jennifer Lopez) that dancing is the vertical fulfillment of a horizontal desire or the Thoreauvian expression by a private detective, Scotty (Nick Cannon) that most men lead lives of quiet desperation to explain why John Clark (Richard Gere), understanding his plight, strives to transcend his existence as a prosperous counsel.

Filmed by John De Borman in Winnipeg though the story takes place in Chicago, "Shall We Dance?" centers on John Clark who, passing by a second-story dance studio on his way to work on the Chicago El views a pretty woman regularly staring out the window albeit without focus. Drawn to a potential adventure, John signs on to a set of weekly lessons in the school run by the middle-aged Miss Mitzi (Anita Gillette) without telling his wife, Beverly (Susan Sarandon) where he goes on Wednesday nights. At the school he meets other novices such as the overweight Vern (Omar Benson Miller), and the Joey-type Chic (Bobby Cannavale). His partner for a time is the aggressive Bobbie (Lisa Ann Walter), formerly a partner of Link Peterson (Stanley Tucci), who dumps Link because of his greater concern for his flamboyant wig than his steps.

When John's wife suspects that he is having an affair, she hires private detective Devine (Richard Jenkins), himself a divorced man who takes a romantic interest in Beverly. Assisted by his associate, Scott (Nick Cameron), Devine follows John and, having told Beverly of her husband's innocent whereabouts leads her to discover the truth. Long before that, anyone in the audience who pays attention could come across with the story's joyous conclusion.

The title song, "Shall We Dance?" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical "The King and I" is played frequently, but only in brief segments, and while Gere and Lopez may not be Astaire and Charisse, the two perform as hoofers more than adequately on the dance floor. For a version with less schmaltz, get the videocassette of the Suo version.

Rated PG-13. 106 minutes Harvey Karten
at [email protected]

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