January 19, 2005 -- “Shall We Dance?” is a good American remake of an excellent 1996 Japanese film of the same name. It is not as good as the original, but it is enjoyable nonetheless.
Richard Gere “Chicago” and Jennifer Lopez (“The Wedding Planner”) star in the film, and both are good dancers. Gere plays John Clark, an attorney who sees his life passing by as he draws up wills for other people. When he's finished with a will, clients often ask him. “Is that it?” He likes to reply, “The rest is up to you.” He notices that when clients return to update their wills, they sometimes do change their lives. They have gone ahead to “buy that boat, or go to that island.” Others don't change. He feels that maybe he is one of those who should change. Something is missing from his life, but he doesn't know what.
One night, as he rides home on the elevated train in Chicago, he notices a lonely woman looking out the window of Miss Mitzi's Dance Studio. She looks like he feels inside. Intrigued, he goes to the dance studio and finds that the lovely woman, Paulina (Lopez) is a wonderful dancer, and is an instructor at the studio. Impulsively, he signs up for a beginning ballroom course and finds out that dancing is something that helps fill that emptiness inside. Along the way he discovers a colleague at his law firm, Link Peterson, is a closet dancer. The two men keep their love of dancing secret from others.
Clark progresses so well with his lessons that his teacher, Miss Mitzi (Anita Gillette of “Moonstruck”) enters him into a dance contest with another student. He has to practice extra hours. Clark's wife, Beverly (Susan Sarandon of “Alfie”) gets suspicious at all this time away from home which is not accounted for, and has him followed by a detective. His secret is about to be revealed.
The acting is good by the main cast, with good supporting performances, including Bobby Cannavale of “The Station Agent” as Chic, a member of the dance class, and Anita Gillette. The people in the dance class become sort of like an extended family for Clark. This camaraderie among the dancers comes across nicely in the film. The dance scenes are well-staged. The ballroom dancing competition is exciting with its glitz and flamboyant costumes and romantic music. The story is copied directly from the Japanese film, so it doesn't work quite as well in American society, which is not as repressed or conformist. The movie never really explains why Clark doesn't just tell his wife, “Honey, I'm taking dance lessons. I really enjoy it. Why don't you join me?” That would have eliminated just about all the conflict in the story. Nevertheless, the film works well enough to rate a B.
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