Shall We Dance? Review

by Bob Bloom (bob AT bloomink DOT com)
October 20th, 2004

SHALL WE DANCE (2004): 3 stars out of 4. Starring Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez,
Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Bobby Cannavale, Omar Benson Miller, Lisa Ann Walter, Anita Gilette, Richard Jenkins and Nick Cannon. Choreographed by John O'Connell. Written by Audrey Wells. Directed by Peter Chelsom. Rated PG-13.

The mass of men, Henry David Thoreau wrote, lead lives of quiet desperation.
John Clark could be among those men. The Chicago lawyer's life is on automatic. He
gets up in the morning, commutes to his office, then returns home to dine with his
wife, Beverly, and their daughter.

Clark, ironically, helps people with their wills. He assists them in mapping out their
futures, putting their affairs in order, yet his life seems to need some direction or
purpose.

Clark (Richard Gere) finds that jump-start at Miss Mitzi's Studio, where he begins to
liberate his body and mind by taking dance lessons.

Thus the premise of Shall We Dance, an American remake of a popular Japanese film
from 1996.

Like the original, the movie is a character study of how learning to dance transforms a man from a melancholy automaton into someone spiritually revitalized
by a newfound sense of freedom and self-expression.

Screenwriter Audrey Wells (Under the Tuscan Sun) and director Peter Chelsom (Serendipity, The Mighty) celebrate the dance as a liberating experience, opening
one up to the appreciation of the rhythms of life surrounding us.

The screenplay does not allow the dance to overshadow the human core of the story Clark's search for fulfillment, for the missing piece to make his life complete.

The irony is that John and Beverly (Susan Sarandon) are happy, but like many contemporary couples, are so busy with their careers that they have little time for
the intimate connections the times for quiet conversation or going to a movie
that sustain a marriage.

John's decision to take lessons is fueled by his gaze of Paulina (Jennifer Lopez), the
young dance teacher who stares back at him as his train passes Miss Mitzi's nightly.

As portrayed by Lopez, Paulina stands as a solitary figure, saddened and haunted. A
misstep at the ballroom dance championship caused her to lose not only the competition, but her partner.

She has retreated to Miss Mitzi's to hide from the world.

At first she is suspicious of John's motives; suspecting he is more interested in her
than dance.
But he proves her wrong, and they go on to help each other.

Gere, who showed his dancing prowess in Chicago, displays an entirely new set of
steps as he enters the structured realm of ballroom dancing.

He gives a subtle performance of a man awakening from a funk.

Lopez, a dancer early in her career, glides smoothly across the floor. Her acting,
though, is stilted and pouty, mostly because her character at first is so sullen and
cold.

But even as her reserve melts, her performance never catches fire.

Sarandon has the most difficult role. At first suspicious that her husband is having
an affair, she is relieved, after hiring a private detective, to learn of John's new
passion. At the same time, she is hurt that he is excluding her, keeping her in the
dark about this new part of his life.

A wonderful supporting cast, headed by the fabulous Stanley Tucci, as a colleague
of Clark who also has a passion for dance, adds momentum to the film.
Fine character actors such as Bobby Cannavale, Omar Benson Miller and Lisa Ann
Walter, as fellow dance students; Anita Gilette as Miss Mitzi; Richard Jenkins as the
sympathetic detective; and Nick Cannon as his able assistant, help raise the movie to
an entertaining level.

Dance studios may have to expand their hours because Shall We Dance may do for
Arthur Murray what Saturday Night Fever did for discos.

The feature does have a few shortcomings besides Lopez's ineffectual turn; it could
have been trimmed by a few moments and the ending does drag a bit.

No denying it, Shall We Dance will have you tapping along, smiling and dreaming of
being Fred Astaire.

Bob Bloom is the film critic at the Journal and Courier in Lafayette, Ind. He can be
reached by e-mail at [email protected] or at [email protected] Bloom's reviews also can be found at the Journal and Courier Web site: www.jconline.com
Other reviews by Bloom can be found at the Rottentomatoes Web site: www.rottentomatoes.com or at the Internet Movie Database Web site:
www.imdb.com/M/reviews_by?Bob+Bloom

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