A brasher ‘Dance’ loses some charmWhen “Shall We Dance” came out in Japan in 1997, it was an international sleeper hit. Masayuki Suo, who directed and wrote the movie, created a delicate composition of misfit characters that was touching and endearing.
The American remake, written by Audrey Welles (“The Truth About Cats and Dogs”) and directed by Peter Chelsom (“Serendipity”), stars Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez. While they are a handsome couple, alarm bells do go off. If the Japanese version was a pastel dot painting that created a charming picture, the American one is crafted in bold, broad strokes. That’s not to say this version is a bad remake. On the contrary, it has delightful moments. But it is what it is.
Gere plays John Clark, a successful lawyer in Chicago. He lives in the suburbs with his wife, Beverly (Susan Sarandon), and two children. He has it all, but slowly realizes he isn’t happy. He goes to work on the train; one night, he notices a woman staring out of Miss Mitzy’s Dance Studio. Something about her sadness draws him to her.
So Gere walks into the studio and inquires about lessons. He ends up taking classes, but is instructed by Miss Mitzy (Anita Gillette), an older, doozy alcoholic. He watches Paulina (Lopez), an aspiring professional ballroom dancer. When he eventually tries to get a date, she coldly turns him down: “I prefer not to socialize with students.”
He initially stops taking classes, but then realizes he’s become friends with some of the other dancers, one of whom is a coworker. He’s also found a sense of happiness in dancing.
He’s unable to share this with his wife, who begins to wonder why he is coming home later than before, and seems changed. She hires a detective (Richard Jenkins), with whom she seems to have more rapport than with her husband.
Sarandon, Gere and Jenkins turn in solid performances. But there’s something wooden about Lopez’s acting. While her character is supposed to be unhappy, Lopez seems only to wear pretty dresses. Her character is never developed, so her interaction with Gere is flimsy. The only time they really seem to hit it off is in their one dance scene, a moment when Lopez sizzles. She shows him the rumba, defined as “a vertical expression of a horizontal wish.”
“Shall We Dance” manages to neatly sidestep any issues of extramarital affairs. But these issues of marital problems and having to hide emotions made more sense within the Japanese context. The screenwriter tries to play it off in the American context with Gere telling Sarandon that since she is such a wonderful and loving wife, he didn’t want to have to tell her that he was unhappy, this being one of those “It’s not you, it’s me,” cases.
There also seem to be missed opportunities for humor, especially with Jenkins and his sidekick, Scotty (Nick Cannon), a literature-spouting young man who almost always wears suits. Stanley Tucci also turns in a funny performance as Link, the misunderstood coworker. And while Tucci seems to have fun with his character, he only shines once, when finally having it out at work. So while “Shall We Dance” is fun to watch, it never manages to be quite as touching as it could have been.
Shall We Dance
Drama, Romance / English
by Joe Yonghee