Culture > Movies

Shall We Dance?

Movies | This romantic comedy is at times both pleasant and repellant

Issue: "Terrorism: Unmasked men," Oct. 16, 2004

Shall We Dance? is a wildly uneven romantic comedy that is in turns pleasant, repellent, and almost profound. The film (rated PG-13 for some sexual references and brief language) is a remake of a 1996 Japanese film of the same name.

Richard Gere plays John Clark, a bored Chicago attorney. He has a successful career, a nice home, a loving family (including wife Susan Sarandon) . . . but John drones on, day after day, without desire or vigor.

On his daily train ride home from work, John notices a beautiful woman staring out of the second-story window of a dance studio. She's there every night, a melancholy look immobilizing her face. One evening, John decides to jump off of the train and climb up to the studio. He's clearly interested in the sad Paulina (Jennifer Lopez) but is pressured into signing up for dance lessons while he's there.

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So starts John's odyssey to awakening. First captured by the beauty of Paulina, he soon grows to love the release of dance too. But all the while, John keeps his new hobby from his wife and two kids. His wife eventually hires a private eye to figure out why John comes home late so often smelling of perfume.

The first two-thirds of Dance have the breezy feel of a polished romantic comedy, with some humor eked out of John's dancing foibles with equally inept classmates. But there's an uneasy undercurrent that results from the married John's interest in Paulina.

The longer the film runs, the more problematic this becomes - an affair is a serious, damaging choice, if made, that doesn't fit with the light tone. But then, near the start of the film's final section, the seriousness of the situation does come home to John (and to the audience). John makes a difficult decision, which runs counter to the overwhelming desire in movies like this to allow characters to have their cake and eat it too. For a moment, the film is almost exhilarating in its commitment to John's commitment.

The film should have ended at this point but, sadly, it doesn't, and the final few minutes are all over the map. Restraint, many in Hollywood fail to realize, can be a virtue.


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