Saturday 17 June 2017

Movie Review: Shall We Dance? (2004)

A romantic comedy, Shall We Dance? is a gentle twirl through the turbulent waters of middle age.

In Chicago, John Clark (Richard Gere) is a well-established lawyer specializing in executing wills. Happily married to Beverly (Susan Sarandon) and the father of two teenagers, John is nevertheless hitting a full-fledged middle age emotional crisis, feeling empty inside after nearly 20 years of the same marriage and the same career. On his daily train commute he regularly spots a sad-looking Paulina (Jennifer Lopez) staring out of the window of Miss Mitzi's ballroom dance studio. On a whim John signs up for evening dance classes and keeps his new hobby a secret.

At the studio John meets fellow novice dancers Chic (Bobby Cannavale) and Vern (Omar Miller), and veteran resident dancer Bobbie (Lisa Ann Walter), who still dreams of competing to win. He also stumbles onto co-worker Link Peterson (Stanley Tucci), who leads a secret life of dancing. John learns that Paulina is recovering from a broken relationship, but she rebuffs his tentative advances. John is reinvigorated by the joy of dancing and new friendships, but Beverly starts to suspect that her husband is having an affair and hires a private detective (Richard Jenkins) to investigate.

Directed by Peter Chelsom, Shall We Dance? is a remake of a 1996 Japanese film. The Hollywood version settles down for a relaxed tone, sprinkling mild humour and melancholy in equal measures while avoiding extremes in any direction. The film is easy to like as it works its way to the predictable uplifting resolutions, but also stays at the shallow end of the pool.

Unusually for a relatively lightweight film about dance and angst, this is a male perspective. While Chelsom never quite explains why the first world problems in John Clark's privileged life are worth caring about, the numbness brought upon by a daily routine simultaneously drudgerous and frantic is familiar enough. Gere does a fine job as man quietly venturing outside his zone of comfort without knowing quite why and feeling deeply guilty about keeping any secrets.

The dance sequences are staged with a mixture of fun and flamboyance. None of the performances are meant to showcase expert dancers, and the film benefits from the self-deprecatory attitude conveyed by dance amateurs stepping out for personal reasons. Paulina is the exception, and Jennifer Lopez delivers a subdued performance as the temporarily fallen star licking her wounds as she gathers the courage to go again.

Mimicking the studio awkwardness, the relationship dynamics between the characters remain refreshingly clumsy, John never quite knowing how to say the right things to neither Beverly nor Paulina. And that may not be a bad thing. The loudmouthed Bobbie speaks her mind, causes carnage and may be the loneliest character in the film.

A simple message delivered in a fleeting package, Shall We Dance? is an invitation to refresh a stale psyche by embracing small risks.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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