Review : Shall We Dance?

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In 1997, Miramax enjoyed the surprise sleeper of the summer when it imported Shall We Dansu, a life-affirming comedy written and directed by Masayuki Suo. Superficially, the movie merely appeared to be about a dutiful middle-aged accountant who decides to break the monotony of his daily routine by secretly taking ballroom dancing lessons.

But the movie simultaneously served as an indictment of the confining culture of Japan, making several subtle statements about the society's stifling nature. Apparently even the idea of a married man dancing suggestively with a woman not his wife would be considered scandalous over there. Suo presented his protagonist as an otherwise successful family man who had come to find his existence so predictable that he was thoroughly miserable. Miserable, at least until he finally indulged a haunting curiosity about the forlorn-looking teacher he saw standing in her studio window everyday as he passed by an elevated subway train. Although America obviously doesn't share the same stifling social mores which gave the original its deeper significance, Miramax decided to mount a remake of its foreign language hit, anyway. And to its credit, the company has produced a remarkably-faithful adaptation which will easily stand on its own.

Shall We Dance is directed by Peter Chelsom, whose previous offering was the equally-delightful Serendipity. This picture stars Richard Gere as John Clark, an attorney with a flourishing practice at a top Chicago law firm, and Jennifer Lopez as Paulina, the mysterious, bottom-heavy beauty for whom he foregoes a few billable hours to enroll at Miss Mitzi's Dance School.  Susan Sarandon co-stars as Beverly, John's clueless spouse. Between her own high-profile job as a cosmetics executive and her responsibilities as homemaker to their two teenagers, it takes Beverly a while to notice that her workaholic husband might be spending those later than normal nights somewhere besides his office.

Shall We Dance plays out like a wholesome version of the relatively-incendiary Unfaithful, where Gere took it on the chin as an unsuspecting hubby uckolded by his bored housewife. Here, his character is the one with the mid-life crisis, though his intentions are always honorable.

Dance’s primary storyline remains true to that of Dansu, though some subplots have been added, others considerably embellished to make way for colorful performances by the likes of such capable scene-stealers as Stanley Tucci, Nick Cannon, Lisa Ann Walter, Anita Gillette, Bobby Cannavale, Richard Jenkins, and Omar Benson Miller. One revolves around belatedly-suspicious Beverly's hiring a private eye, though most have to do with the lovable losers who are regulars at Miss Mitzi's.

The action builds inexorably to a big ballroom competition which dovetails conveniently with John's bigger admission to his wife. Gere acquits himself
admirably on the floor opposite the accomplished J-Lo, a woman used to struttin' her stuff both on stage and in music videos.

With Shall We Dance, getting there is all the fun. So, the tender, tearjerker of a payoff is only icing on the cake.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexual references and brief profanity.
Running time: 106 minutes
Distributor: Miramax

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