Richard Gere as John Clark
Jennifer Lopez as Paulina
Susan Sarandon as Beverly Clark
Stanley Tucci as Link Peterson
Anita Gillette as Miss Mitzi
Bobby Cannavale as Chic
Omar Benson Miller as Vern
Lisa Ann Walter as Bobbie
Richard Jenkins as Detective
Nick Cannon as Scotty
Mya as Vern’s fiance
Lawyer John Clark (Gere) feels that something has to change in his marriage, since it has hit an uncomfortable lull. Every night on the train home from work, he spots a beautiful woman (Jennifer Lopez) in the window of a dance studio, and one night, he gets off the train and enrolls in ballroom dance lessons. While learning to dance with a strange group of characters, he tries to learn more about the mysterious dance instructor Paulina who is trying to hide from her past. Meanwhile, his wife (Susan Sarandon) hires a detective (played by “Six Feet Under” star Richard Jenkins) to find out if John is having an affair.
Despite coming out less than eight years ago, the original Japanese movie is considered by many to be a classic, because it gave a great view of Japanese society as one man tries to overcome its many taboos by putting a bit more spice into his marriage. Comparing this modern romantic comedy to that film would be a lesson in futility, since the entire dynamic is changed as soon as the story is moved out of its native country into this remake’s Chicago setting. On the other hand, the ballroom dancing is less foreign to America as it may be in Japan. Somehow, director Peter Chelsholm has transcended past disasters like Town and Country to take the premise of the original and turn it into an entertaining mix of comedy and romance, although it works in a different way than the original.
The onscreen chemistry between Gere and Sarandon as the married couple is the main reason why the movie works as well as it does. They seem very comfortable on screen together, making them seem like a real couple, and it makes the payoff work that much better.
By comparison, the scenes between Gere and Lopez seem a bit awkward until they finally dance together. And that is a magical movie moment, on a par with some of the many cinematic dances between Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Lopez also looks amazing, maybe the best she’s looked on screen in a long time.
The best part of the movie is the comedy and it’s fairly non-stop once we meet the wacky characters of Miss Mitzi’s dance studio. The Station Agent‘s Bobby Canavale plays the role of Chic with similar bravado, and Lisa Ann Walter is often amusing as the boisterous dancer Bobbie, who is constantly seeking attention from the men of the studio. But the real gut splitter is Stanley Tucci, who absolutely steals every scene as Gere’s boss when he puts on a wig and shows off his flamenco moves. When Tucci and Walter finally come together for a hilarious Latin dance in the movie’s climactic dance competition, you are laughing uncontrollably just from the thought of it. Other great comic bits come from Richard Jenkins of “Six Feet Under”, playing a rather amorous private detective that helps Gere and Sarandon find the middle ground in their marriage.
The movie has a really nice soundtrack with the standout being Peter Gabriel’s version of the Magnetic Fields’ “The Book of Love”, which has a similar effect during the movie’s climactic scene as “In Your Eyes” did in Say Anything. There’s also a nifty version of Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” by Mya, who has a small part in the film.
What Didn’t Work:
Despite the great chemistry between Gere and Sarandon, they’re not together nearly enough in the movie as some might like just because of the nature of the plot in that they have to be kept apart. It’s a shame since they work so well together.
Jennifer Lopez just didn’t work as well as the mysterious woman as her Japanese counterpart. Then again, she barely talks in the first half of the movie so those who don’t like her shouldn’t be to put off by her presence. Unfortunately, the chemistry between her and Gere just isn’t up to that of Gere with Sarandon except for when they’re dancing.
After awhile, the movie starts to get a bit ridiculous with a lot of cutesy and obvious gags that try too hard to get laughs. Some of them, like Gere tripping over some poles, just don’t work because comedy is clearly not Gere’s forte. The rest of it is the type of mainstream humor that one might find in something like Bringing Down the House or My Big Fat Greek Wedding, ongoing gags that are repeated over and over, which older folks might like but will make younger or more intelligent audiences groan. The dance competition, although fun to watch, is way too predictable a way to wrap up some of the subplots.
The Bottom Line:
Anyone looking for a serious Oscar contender should look elsewhere, because Shall We Dance? makes absolutely no bones about being a mainstream romantic comedy. Still, it’s hard to deny that Shall We Dance? is a funny and consistently entertaining date movie that should help bring a lot of couples closer together.