SHALL WE DANCE (2004)
Chicago lawyer John Clark (Richard Gere), is bored with his life. On the train home one night, he catches sight of a woman at the window of Miss Mitzi's ballroom dance school - and looks for her again. Finally he takes the step to get off the train and go up to the dance class, enrolling with the beautiful Paulina (Jennifer Lopez), who works there. He tries keeping his dancing lessons a secret from his wife Beverly (Susan Sarandon) and daughter Jenna (Tamara Hope), as does his balding colleague Link (Stanley Tucci), who reinvents himself by night as a fiery Latin dancer. John's changed behaviour arouses suspicions at home and Beverly hires a private eye (Richard Jenkins), who reveals the truth. Meanwhile, John's fascination with Paulina is unresolved and her rebuff of a dinner invitation energises him to take the dancing seriously. Miss Mitzi (Anite Gillette) signs him up for the Chicago Crystal Ball Dance Competition - and his wife and daughter sneak in to watch. With dramatic results.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This excellent and acclaimed cast is shoved into a film whose screenplay should have alerted them that it's not ready to go before the cameras. Swirling with good ideas, the script is a fancy. It's a frothy idea that isn't even at pitching stage. Simplistic and lacking any pathos, the script tries to rework the 1997 original by Masayuki Suo, without success. In Suo's work, the cultural setting was crucial: Japanese strangers don't hold each other while moving to music - and the treatment of the story was subtle. But above all, the central character's exploration was far more nuanced and tentative. Like too many brash American movies, Shall We Dance 2004 is overstated in every department, far fetched in many, shallow in most.
There are a handful of genuine laughs, moments of character observation and even some genuine emotion, but far too few and far too little. The dance scenes try hard but don't quite raise the emotional temperature as much as we would like. We are told that Richard Gere's John Clark (whose occasional voice over about his work as a lawyer helping people write their wills is pretentious) is bored by two or three shots of him riding home in peak hour on Chicago's El train, looking forlorn. His relationship with Beverly is treated perfunctorily and without depth or insight. Susan Sarandon is always good as a teary, hurt and complex woman, and she brings credibility to a character that doesn't exist on the page.
Jennifer Lopez is dressed and photographed beautifully, but her character is stunted. Her Paulina's relationship with John Clark is unsatisfactory in dramatic or romantic terms, and the filmmakers' reluctance to have John fulfil his lust for Paulina seems like a major cop out that emasculates this film's power. When he confides in his wife that he hasn't told her how bored he is because he loves her, we recognise a failure of the writing, not a failure in the marriage.
The dance classes and the little character portraits of the students and the teacher are slight and the sweetness of the concept is turned into mush. Indeed, by the end, it's straight schmaltz, on top of straight bland.
Review by Louise Keller:
The clothes Jennifer Lopez wears are to die for - from the sheer, yellow dazzler held together by a dare, to the black, clingy backless number that hugs every curve. And Lopez looks sensational as she pouts, arches her back and submits to the rhythms of dance. Set on a backdrop of ballroom dancing, Shall We Dance is a story about passions and dreams.
A remake of the delightful 1997 Japanese film of the same name, the story line may be similar, but the nuance is very different. In the original, the formalities of Japanese culture create their own dynamic, as the notion of being seen in public in the arms of a woman is considered scandalous. So the very idea of the protagonist enrolling in a dance class is pretty much unthinkable. When you change the culture, you change the film, and while this slick Hollywood version is entertaining enough, largely due to its charismatic cast, it lacks the pathos and genuine sweetness of the original.
Director Peter Chelsom is rather heavy handed in the storytelling, never relying on subtlety, but insisting on spoon-feeding us every element. For example, Rodgers and Hammerstein's song reference from The King and I, for the film's title, is unfortunately rammed down our throats. The song, the lyrics and the title. It's a shame, because the performances are compelling. Not long after taking off his Chicago tap-shoes, Richard Gere spies Lopez' beautiful and pensive silhouette in the upstairs window of Mitzi's Dancing Studio from his train window and becomes obsessed. Dancing opens a door to self-expression and freedom, and suddenly he is practising his dance steps under the desk, on the footpath, in the rest room.
There's plenty of life in the Studio: Lisa Ann Walter's brash, buxom blonde Bobbie is a scene stealer, and Stanley Tucci's Link, the closet dancer who dons white false teeth and a Fabio-style wig, is a riot. Vern (played by Omar Benson Miller) is most appealing as the mountain of a man with a perspiration problem, who has enrolled in order to lose weight.
The journey from clumsy beginners to proficient dancers is fast and unbelievable, but more importantly, John's relationship with his wife Beverley (Susan Sarandon) is never properly established. Because we never invest in their relationship, there is no emotional pay-off, when they re-establish their connection.
The dance sequences are colourful, and Lopez makes us care for her lonely Paulina. But this romantic comedy is less than satisfying, and only for the undemanding. I wanted more.
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SHALL WE DANCE (2004) (M)
CAST: Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Lisa Ann Walter, Anita Gillette, Tamara Hope, Bobby Cannavale, Omar Benson Miller, Richard Jenkins, Nick Cannon
PRODUCER: Simon Fields
DIRECTOR: Peter Chelsom
SCRIPT: Audrey Wells (1997 screenplay Masayuki Suo)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: John de Borman
EDITOR: Charles Ireland
MUSIC: John Altman, Gabriel Yared
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Caroline Hanania
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: BVI
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 21, 2004
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.