Three new movies recently hit the theaters about the love lives of ordinary people. The most thought-provoking is In The Company of Men. It's a bleak tale of two corporate middle managers who exercise their manhoods by taking advantage of a shy deaf woman (Stacy Edwards) in the secretarial pool. To get back at women, they plan to seduce her, then abruptly dump her a few weeks later. After setting up the plot, the movie turns into a misanthropic soap opera full of escapees from a Dockers commercial.
Chad, the stronger of the two heels (Aaron Eckhart), is a manipulative jerk who scams, cheats, and undermines others to put himself ahead. This guy would have morals only if he could charge them to his expense account. His companion Howard (Matt Malloy) is a weak-willed boss who quickly discovers he's in over his head. He follows Chad as he leads him over a cliff.
These guys inhabit a world familiar to millions. It's the world of cubicles, executive washrooms, and high-tech jargon. It's the world of Dilbert, except Chad would have run the little guy over with his sports car.
Unfortunately, this promising independent film falls short overall. It doesn't give the audience much more than a good premise. There aren't many twists and turns in what should be a roller-coaster movie. Without a strong sense of humor or drama, it winds up merely bleak and anti-male.
Shall We Dance? is a much brighter film. This Japanese comedy borrows its name from a musical number in The King & I. It's one of the most good-natured movies to hit the screens since the days of Rogers & Hammerstein. This time, our shirt-and-tie hero is a nice guy named Sugiyama (Koji Yakusho) with a wife and daughter. He secretly takes up ballroom dancing as a release for his middle-age anxieties. It quickly becomes the center of his life. He starts practicing steps everywhere-on a subway platform, at his desk, even in the bathroom.
What starts out as an adulterous crush on a pretty teacher (Tamiyo Kusakari) turns into a passion for the art of dance. Meanwhile, Mrs. Sugiyama thinks her hubby's really having an affair. So she hires a pair of detectives to find out where he spends his Wednesday nights.
A wonderful cast portrays Sugiyama and his fellow office workers' trials while learning fancy footwork with a gentle humor that is never trite nor derisive. This movie's cheerfulness is amazing. It takes characters from the same corporate suite as Company of Men, but takes them in the opposite direction. Shall We Dance? is a refreshing glass of water in a sweltering desert of postmodern cynicism that passes for pop culture in the '90s.