leave a comment --Angel Cohn
Director Peter Chelsom's remake of Masayuki Suo's quietly beautiful SHALL WE DANCE? (1997) is decidedly American — the women have more pizzazz and the men more humor — but it's a surprisingly acceptable variation on a theme. Well-off Chicago-based attorney John Clark (Richard Gere) spends his dreary days composing wills for his wealthy clients and his nights home alone; between her own job and playing chauffeur to their teenage daughter (Tamara Hope), John's wife, Beverly (Susan Sarandon), is often preoccupied. Night after night, John stares out the train window on his way home, catching regular glimpses of a young woman (Jennifer Lopez) sadly gazing at the night sky from the window of Miss Mitzi's Dance School. One Wednesday evening, John impulsively gets off the train and walks into Miss Mitzi's studio; all he wants is a better look at Paulina, the woman to whom he's inexplicably drawn, but next thing he knows he's signed up for a weekly series of beginners' ballroom-dance lessons. Along with goofballs Chic (Bobby Cannavale) and Vern (Omar Benson Miller), John is soon blissfully practicing steps under Miss Mitzi's (Anita Gilette) tutelage. To his surprise, John realizes that while curiosity about Paulina brought him to the studio, dancing has brought a welcome spark into his colorless life. Feeling vaguely guilty that his newfound happiness throws into sharp relief a fundamental dissatisfaction with his superficially perfect life, John decides to keep his new passion a secret. Not surprisingly, after John stays out late several Wednesday nights in a row Beverly suspects an affair, and hires a private detective (Richard Jenkins). Though relieved to learn that John is only taking dance lessons, Beverly is more than a little confused; Paulina isn't sleeping with John, but she's clearly having a substantial effect on his emotions. Gere is in fine form as the husband and father whose midlife malaise doesn't diminish his devotion to his family; it's refreshing to see a film in which the middle-aged crazies aren't resolved through a steamy affair with a hot younger woman. Sarandon, Cannavale and Stanley Tucci — an inspired Latin dancer — round out the film's supporting cast and claim their share of quirky and heartfelt moments. Only Lopez, the film's ostensible star, seems to be struggling; she's a lovely dancer, but the only reason Lopez's expressionless performance isn't this sweet picture's downfall is that the script makes so few demands on her.