Shall We Dance? (2004) — Love rekindled through dancing

“I don’t like the tropics any better than you do!”

Lissa’s rating: It’s impossible for me to hear this title and not think of The King and I.

Lissa’s review: Disclaimer: This is the one with Richard Gere. I’ve never seen the older one, and in fact I never knew it existed until a week ago. I will see it, because so far two GUYS have told me how great the original version is. Now that that’s cleared up, onwards!

There are some movies where it doesn’t matter how good or how crappy the movie it is; the only thing that influences your opinion of them is who you see the movie with. Shall We Dance? is without a doubt one of those movies.

I could never see this movie with Duckie. Shall we count the sins? One. J.Lo. Ew. Two. Richard Gere. Three. Dancing. Four. Chick flick. Five. The dancing is BALLROOM. Six. Do I even need a six? Everyone out there with a Y-chromosome that actually clicked on this review is probably cringing and holding their computer at arm’s length right now. But I didn’t see this movie with my husband Duckie, I saw it with my mother, and believe me ladies, this is definitely a movie you want to go see.

According to my office mate, the original version of Shall We Dance? is Japanese. He seems to know about things like this so I won’t question him, and he says that’s the reason he won’t see this version. Whatever. I tend to suspect it’s more because he has that Y-chromosome I mentioned and there’s no anime or elves shooting arrows or anything, but who knows? All I’m saying is that this does not seem like his kind of movie. “Married man gets ballroom dancing lessons” just doesn’t go with “Dude, Die Hard was the best movie ever” (or in his case, Akira or something). Anyway, what I’m saying is that like The Lion King/The White Lion thing, don’t let the fact that the Japanese did it first make you too snooty to see this one (if you like dancing, that is).

Shall We Dance? features something completely unheard of in Hollywood. Are you ready for this? A happily married middle age man! WOW. Richard Gere plays John Clark, an estate attorney who’s happy with his life for the most part, but not quite. Something’s missing. And that something missing is defined by the weird vision of Jennifer Lopez standing in the window of a dancing studio. Acting on some clichéd lust for Ms. Lopez (Paulina, incidentally), Mr. Clark finds his way into Miss Mitzi’s ballroom dancing school.

I don’t do too well with films about infidelity. It’s a subject that makes me intensely uncomfortable. Maybe this is because I’m in a young marriage (just hit the two-year mark, woohoo!) or maybe it’s because I’m a Scorpio and a jealous psychotic wench, but I just don’t like movies where people cheat on their spouses. That was one reason I was so reluctant to see Shall We Dance?, and I’m glad to report that although attraction outside a marriage was addressed, the line was never crossed. In fact, the movie ended up being a tribute to a 19-year-old marriage, which I really, really, really liked. There was one lovely shot where John takes his wife’s hand into his, and you can see that they are not young anymore just by looking at the skin on their hands. It was absolutely beautiful.

Now onto the real meat of the movie: Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere.

I would like to say I can not stand Jennifer Lopez. I hate her music and I’ve never seen anything where I’ve been terribly impressed by her acting, and after watching this and The Wedding Planner, I feel like she has the acting range of a teaspoon. (Yes, I am aware I am shamelessly ripping that line off.) Jennifer Lopez is pretty enough (I do appreciate that she’s considered attractive for her curves, although I wonder why everyone thinks HER butt is big. Maybe in Hollywood, but the rest of us would kill for a butt like that), but man, is she FLAT in this movie. I realize her character is emotionally dead and everything like that, but ugh. Every time she’s on the screen she’s like a wooden doll. To me, she was the big black mark in a rainbow of colors in this movie. (On the other hand, my mom liked her.) However, I will give her this: she does not insist on stopping the movie so she can sing a song on screen. I hate it when any singers — even ones I like — do that. If a song works in naturally, fine, but so often it doesn’t and it’s just really annoying.

Richard Gere, on the other hand, was wonderful. Charismatic, charming, incredibly good looking (I don’t normally go for him, but in this movie I really could), subtle, and he wears two different tuxes. And he dances. He carried the movie, and he was really a joy to watch in this one. I really liked his character, and although the name of Richard Gere tends to elicit snickers every now and then, I’d say he’s the reason to see this movie. Well, 80% of the reason.

The other 20% of the reason to see Shall We Dance? is the supporting cast. From Link (Stanley Tucci), the macho guy trying to hide his obsessive love of sequins and ballroom dance to Bobbie (Lisa Ann Walter), the curvy obnoxious straight-shooter, and John’s classmates Vern (Omar Miller) and Chic (Bobby Cannavale), the supporting cast is incredibly strong. Except for Ms. Lopez, who is doing her best block of wood impression, the chemistry between the supporting cast is fantastic and draws you in with the warmth of it.

The dancing was also beautiful to watch, although I expected much more of it. I was a little disappointed on that count, because I love watching dancing, but hey, it was a small price to pay, and there WAS dancing. And the ballroom dancing competition was not at all clichéd and didn’t end the way I expected it at all.

I really didn’t think I’d like this one. I expected it to be on the level of Glitter or something like that, and it wasn’t. Not at all. But it was the perfect film to see with my mother, and I’ll probably add it to the chick side of our collection when it comes out on DVD. Because even if I DO see the original version and like it better, it doesn’t have Richard Gere in a tux.

Sue’s rating: Everybody TANGO!

Sue’s review: Lest anyone think otherwise, most of the time I’m pretty darned content in my current non-matrimonial state. Granted being a solo act with a duo of descendants isn’t exactly a free pass to the Magic Kingdom, but in terms of domestic accountability, it’s not half bad. (Mind you, my experience with marriage was not exactly what you’d call half good, so I’m biased.)

My schedule is my business and no one else’s. I don’t knock myself out to maintain a significant someone’s approval or worry myself into an ulcer anticipating disapproval. I don’t bustle, I don’t primp, I don’t take prisoners and in matters of the culinary arts, my audience is of the firm belief that Chef Boyardee and I are the greatest combination since chocolate pie and Cool Whip.

In the enthusiastic words of my son, “Nobody can heat up a can of soup as good as you can, Mom!” Yes. It’s true. I rule.

So yeah, being single has much to recommend it, and if I’m missing out on the finer sides of companionship, so be it. Really. I mean that. Usually.

But once in a while a movie comes along and drizzles the acidic rain of pathos all over my party of one. Such was the case with Shall We Dance. While others were leaving the theater swapping comments about Richard Gere being the male personification of studliciousness, or wondering whether J.Lo. really looked like a human being for a moment or if it just state of the art special effects, I stomped out of there with a black cloud over my head, the mature refrain of “s’not fair” echoing sulkily in my brain and a strange desire to go find a fluffy puppy. To kick. (Not my hounds though. They’re not “fluffy” and collectively they weigh more than I do.)

I’ll be honest, this isn’t a great movie. The premise isn’t far-fetched, but the application goes a little off the deep end. Jennifer Lopez makes my skin crawl with her “I am poor and talented and tragic and impossibly deep, although conversely also as shallow as oceanfront property in Arizona” performance. There isn’t enough dancing — not NEARLY enough. And the private detective schtick t’was a silly thing. All deficits.

On the positive side, Richard Gere really is the male personification of studliciousness. I haven’t seen him looking this yummy since Runaway Bride (another certified puppy kicker) and there’s just no debating his screen presence. The marital relationship in the movie came through as very genuine and I think it was the realism of that (excluding a rather drawn-out parking garage impasse) which sent me into my fit of the gloomies. I totally loved that the teenage daughter was a lot more clued in to the warning signs in her parents’ relationship than her parents were. And of course there’s nothing better than ballroom dancing to get your blood pumping. (Guys, you can replace ballroom dancing with “fourth and goal” in that last sentence to get the right effect, okay?) Not a great movie, no, but a good movie. Definitely a good movie.

So hey, let my personal issues be your guide. Grab your significant whoever and waltz along with Richard.

Didja notice?

  • Link’s incredibly cool blow-off?
  • Lissa wondering if Justin copes with us Mutants the same way Miss Mitzi copes with her students?
  • Jennifer Lopez’s role probably would be much more effective with a mysterious Japanese actress playing it?

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