Review by Dustin Putman
2½ stars out of 4
Based on the 1996 Japanese film of the same name, "Shall We Dance"
is a Hollywoodized, but not necessarily dumbed-down, remake with a
sparkling cast and enough high-energy dance sequences to pull one
through its more saccharine moments. Screenwriter Audrey Wells (2003's
"Under the Tuscan Sun") is adept at juggling a large ensemble and
capturing the nicely observed details in their interactions with each
other, while director Peter Chelsom (2001's "Serendipity") keeps things
fluid and peppy when the characters' feet are moving, which is often.
It is the sheer likability of almost everything onscreen that keeps
the viewer entertained, as the story and some of its more overt emotional
junctures are admittedly pretty standard stuff.
John Clark (Richard Gere) seemingly has it all, including a loving
wife, Beverly (Susan Sarandon), two well-adjusted teenage children
(Tamara Hope, Stark Sands), and a comfortable job as a writer of wills.
Nevertheless, he can't help but feel like something is missing in
his life. On his way home from work one day on the New York train,
he spots the beautiful, sad-looking Paulina (Jennifer Lopez) in the
window of a dance studio and can't get her out of his mind. On an
impulse, John signs up for ballroom dancing lessons alongside fellow
beginners Chic (Bobby Cannavale) and Vern (Omar Miller). What at first
is simply an attempt to get to know Paulina turns into something more
as John grows to fall in love with dance itself. Meanwhile, Beverly
suspects John may be having an affair when he starts coming home from
"work" late, and decides to hire a special investigator (Richard Jenkins) to spy on him.
"Shall We Dance" is a sugary sweet dramedy, the type made precisely
for mainstream audiences out for a romantic time at the movies and
maybe even a good cry. There are times, especially in the third act,
that threaten the limits of tolerable mawkishness, but by then the
picture has gotten into the viewer's accepting graces enough to overcome
those rough patches. And, fortunately for more demanding viewers who
can spot audience manipulation a mile away, the dynamic pacing, plentiful
dancing numbers, and charismatic actors ensure that even they will
find themselves pleasantly diverted.
Richard Gere (2002's "Chicago") and Susan Sarandon (2002's "Moonlight
Mile") are attractively cast as husband and wife John and Beverly,
their relationship with each other a tender, but familiar, one that
simply needs to be reinvigorated. Sarandon is arguably too accomplished
to be playing second fiddle as the steadfast love interest, and more
scenes at the onset of the film might have helped to more solidly
define their closeness with each other, but a few touching moments
near the end does elicit some gravitas. As serious dance instructor
Paulina, Jennifer Lopez (2003's "Gigli") falls victim to the camera's
adulation too often, with most of her shots framed and musically underscored
as if they were the most important the cinematic world has ever seen.
In actuality, Lopez's Paulina is more of a catalyst to John's rediscovery
of his love for Beverly than a truly central character.
The supporting players threaten to steal the picture from the leads,
each one vividly and enchantingly performed. Coming off of his fine
work in 2003's "The Station Agent," Bobby Cannavale supports the promise
made in that earlier film with star-making screen presence as suave
playboy Chic. He shares an easy, engaging rapport with Omar Miller
(2002's "8 Mile"), whose overweight nice guy Vern has come to take
dance lessons in an attempt to impress his fiancee. As forthright
instructor Bobbie, Lisa Ann Walter (2003's "Bruce Almighty") is engaging
and appropriately acid-tongued. Even Nick Cannon (2003's "Love Don't
Cost a Thing"), who has somewhat slummed his way through a few disposable
teen films in the past, conveys warmth and excellent comic timing
as the junior private investigator sent out to keep an eye on John.
For every scene in "Shall We Dance" that gets things all wrong—one
dramatic instance between Beverly and John in a parking garage loses
all emotional involvement by the ill-advised idea that it take place
with Beverly blocking traffic and other cars honking to get out of
their way—there are several that are electric. An after-hours tango
dance between John and Paulina is perfectly scored to their steps
and pulsatingly choreographed. And the inevitable dance competition
near the climax, while a little obvious in its handling, puts to shame
a crummy and flat similar scene in 2004's monstrosity, "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights."
"Shall We Dance" could have afforded to throw out its sappier interludes
near the end and have them replaced with something less obtrusive,
but it can't be denied that the film knows its way on and around the
dance floor. It is but a fizzy, light entertainment, and director
Peter Chelsom injects the proceedings with a big heart and a quick-witted
eye for some flashy musical steps and maneuvers.
Copyright © 2004 Dustin Putman