Shall We Dance? trips, stumbles and gets back up
Say what you will about the massively popular dance-themed classics “Saturday Night Fever,” “Dirty Dancing,” or even the Oscar-winning “Chicago.” Though the plotlines were often stilted, the acting less than stellar, and the dialogue downright silly, the dancing was pretty solid. “Shall We Dance,” a remake of a 1996 Japanese film that relatively few Americans have seen does very little well and the dance sequences are particularly annoying. And yet…
The film overcomes its miscasting of Richard Gere as unfulfilled mid-lifer lawyer John Clarke, and Susan Sarandon as his attractive, successful career wife Beverly. This is another film like so many others that is guilty of casting sharp, handsome leads that seem to have it all and then demand we understand their loneliness without serious examination.
The couple forms a bizarre alchemy of two people we know intuitively are too smart and confidant to not be able to talk through whatever is nagging John and makes him pine for something more from life. But we know people like this so we go along.
When John spies enigmatic beauty Paulina (Jennifer Lopez) solemnly gazing down from Mitzi’s Dance Studio window on his way home each day on a Chicago El train, we have a hunch the two are destined to fall madly in lust. Given Lopez’ limitations as an actress, the film wisely avoids a forced romance by changing direction.
Most of the fun in this movie comes via the supporting characters, including fellow dancers Chic (Bobby Cannavale), Vern (Omar Benson Miller), Link (Stanley Tucci) and Bonnie (Lisa Ann Walter). Beverly hires a detective (a hilarious, literally scene chewing, Richard Jenkins) to find out where her husband is going late at night. We wonder why she never comes right out and asks — but we know spouses like this so we continue to go along.
The film is undercut by awful editing that never allows us to get swept up into the dance angle (a particularly leaden late night rumba with Gere and Lopez is clunky instead of steamy), and with an anticlimactic competition finale that falls flat “Shall We Dance” should be a flop. And yet…
Everyone in this film is likable, and once it becomes obvious that Paulina and John aren’t the main attraction we can settle in and enjoy the film for what it is: A non-threatening date movie for over 40-year-olds.
Sure there are questions: What is John really missing in life? (Which remains unclear after his “ashamed at wanting more” overture.) Why is Beverly brilliant enough to come up with a dandy explanation of marriage (that in lesser hands would sound trite) yet can’t confront her husband? And finally, why was Lopez cast at all except for her star power — which works against her in this film — and rico suave looks? If you need these answers to enjoy the film then you are thinking too much and you missed the point.
Perhaps this is it: For those adults who haven’t taken their parents to see a movie since “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” here’s your chance.
Rated PG-13, for some sexual references and brief language.