Shall We Dance?

© 2004 Ray Wong

First of all, let me say that I adore the original 1997 Japanese film, which worked on so many levels and fit the Japanese culture like a glove. It was a wonderful surprise. Translating that to the American culture is less than smooth and perfect, however. One might argue: Why remake a movie that is already so good?

For the sake of this review, I’m going to try to forget the original and speak of this remake on its own merits and detriments.

John Clark is a successful Chicago estate lawyer, happily married with two wonderful kids and a supportive wife. Everything seems perfect, except that he’s missing something. A spark? A purpose in life? What does he want? As quick as we can say “mid-life crisis,” something catches John’s eyes. On his subway trip home every evening, he passes the Miss Mitzi’s dance studio and a sullen figure at the window intrigues him. One day, his curiosity gets the best of him and he gets off that station and takes up a ballroom dancing class at the studio.

The sullen figure at the window turns out to be Miss Mitzi’s assistant Paulina, an ice princess who used to be a ballroom dancing connoisseur. John meets a grab bag of eclectic personalities, including Link, a closet ballroom dancer who works at John’s firm. Link explains, “When you’re a heterosexual man who loves to dance in sequins, you walk a very lonely road.”

Originally smitten by Paulina, John soon finds that his passion for ballroom dancing is real. The thought of that at once excites and scares him, and he tries to keep it a secret from his family. His wife, Beverly, suspects that he’s having an affair, and hires a private detective to spy on him. When she finds out that he’s taking dance lessons, she’s perplexed by his secrecy, and she feels left out.

The rest of the story takes us through a series of self-discoveries and deepening friendships between these characters.

Gere (CHICAGO) is warm, charming and sincere as John. His shyness and self-deprecating humor is affecting. With CHICAGO, UNFAITHFUL and now SHALL WE DANCE, Gere has reestablished himself as a true actor. He lights up the screen every time he’s on. Lopez (GIGLI), unfortunately, is miscast here. She comes off as sullen and constipated instead of just icy and distant. The chemistry between Gere and Lopez is also quite abysmal. Fortunately, this is really not a “romantic comedy” involving Gere and Lopez. It’s a also a good thing that she gets to show off her dance pedigree, while Gere surprises with his suave dance moves.

Saradon (ALFIE) is wonderful as John’s wife. She and Gere have tremendous chemistry together, making the ending even more satisfying. Tucci (THE TERMINAL) is a real chameleon, giving one of his most flamboyant performances here as Link. The rest of the cast is very good, including Cannavale (STATION AGENT) as the stud muffin Chic, Miller (8 MILES) as the ultra-shy Vern, Walker (BRUCE ALMIGHTY) as the loud-mouthed wannabe Bobbie, and Gillette (THE GURU) as the regal Miss Mitzi. They work very well together.

The script follows the original Japanese version closely, only making adjustment to reference the American society and culture. It is a quiet, heart-warming, and charming little story. In fact, that’s exactly what made the original such an international darling (I know, I promised not to talk about the original).

In the American version, however, the original idea of an oppressed man and the stigma associated with ballroom dancing is gone. I’m not sure if the new characterization of the protagonist serves the story well, because you never really quite understand why he is unhappy and why he commits to the dancing (despite the initial attraction to Paulina) and why he keeps it a secret. That aside, the story remains engaging and charming, so I give a thumbs up to Wells (UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN). Chelsom’s (SERENDIPITY) direction is decent; though there are places he could have slowed down and let the story linger and the characters come to life. The ending seems rushed. The film could have been 20 minutes longer.

There’s no reason why they should make this American version. But I’m glad they did. It still dances.

Stars: Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez, Susan Saradon, Stanley Tucci, Bobby Cannavale, Richard Jenkins, Omar Miller, Anita Gillette, Lisa Ann Walker
Director: Peter Chelsom
Writer: Masayuki Suo (original 1997 script), Audrey Wells
Distributor: Miramax
Rating: PG-13 for sexual references and some language


Script – 7
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 6
Production – 7

Total – 7 out of 10

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