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Movie Review: Shall We Dance?

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I approached my trip to see this with trepidation. It’s been awhile, but years ago I had seen the original Japanese film, and loved it. It was subtle, yet had many laugh out loud and dramatic moments. It was a great tale of a man in crisis attempting to hide his shame from proper society only to discover there was really no need as proper society would accept it for what it was. Now, they decide to remake it for American audiences, starring no less than Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez, to actors who are fine in certain environments, but neither of which am I a fan. I went anyway, despite my fears, to see if it would be the needless train wreck I was perceiving. Turns out it was not the wreck I thought it was going to be, but it was clearly a missed opportunity.

Every day John Clarke rides the El home, and everyday he sees a woman standing in the window of a dance school. One day he impulsively gets off the train and enters the school and signs up for classes. Before you know it, he is staying out late taking these dance classes. Meanwhile, his wife suspects him of having an affair and hires a detective to confirm her suspicions. John, on the other hand, is really enjoying the lessons, gaining a new joy for life. There are the suspicions, and the comedic supporting cast, and the ultimate reunion of family at the conclusion.

This is potentially a sweet story of a man regaining a lust for life, but here it is rather heavy handed and obvious. There is no chemistry between Gere and Lopez, I know there isn’t supposed to be romantic chemistry, seeing as they are both portrayed as unavailable. What they should have is the chemistry to have a platonic relationship that one can find believable in this context of unattainability. Their interactions seem forced, especially on Lopez’s side. Lopez has shown potential for becoming a good actress, witness Out of Sight, but here she seems to struggle outside of the dances as if she is unsure of herself. Richard Gere tries, but the script just isn’t there for him to work with.

The problem is that there is no subtlety in their actions, everything is way to obvious. Gere’s appearance starts off with an obvious case of the blues, yet no one can recognize it. Lopez is distracted and does not have her heart in her work, yet no one seems to be to concerned. What is needed is a more subtle approach where you can’t always read every emotion, more body language and ambiguity is needed. The script wants to take the easy route, and on top of that the music manipulates the audience from the get go, it signals how we are supposed to be feeling, rather than letting the actions onscreen dictate the scene.

What part of the movie worked, you may ask? I enjoyed most of the supporting cast, particularly Stanley Tucci and Bobby Cannavale, although Lisa Ann Walter does her share of scene stealing. Granted, they are mostly over the top moments, but they still supply the heart of this movie. Tucci follows up his adversarial role in The Terminal with this one, as a wig wearing dance addict. I last saw Cannavale in the wonderful Station Agent, here he plays the tough guy who wants to impress the ladies with his ballroom dancing. There is nothing subtle about the supporting cast, but they do fill a much needed void. Without them, this would be a rather boring affair.

Bottomline. While not the complete wreck I expected, it did deliver a few laughs. It had it’s heart in the right place, but sadly could not translate the film to the American audience. What got lost in translation was the cultural differences, the original had a lot of basis in Japanese culture. An entertaining diversion, or a date film, but that’s about it.

Mildly Recommended.

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