Using the dance lessons from his Golden Globe and SAG-Award Winning role as Billy Flynn in Chicago, Richard Gere quick-steps his way back onto movie screens in Shall We Dance? This time, instead of updating a Broadway play, he’s remaking an identically themed 1996 Japanese film appropriately titled Shall We Dansu?
Gere stars as John Clark, an accountant who, at first glance, should have it all: the perfect family, the house. He’s even married to Susan Sarandon, but John feels like something is missing. As he takes the train home every night, he becomes drawn to Paulina (Jennifer Lopez) who likes to spend her nights staring blankly out the second story window of Miss Mitzi’s dance studio.
In what would appear to be a lust-fueled whim, John jumps off the train and signs up for ballroom dancing lessons, unbeknownst to his family or friends. That Clark hides this is just foolish. The movie later gives some unmotivated explanation that he was ashamed to have felt a need for something else in his life, but even this leaves much to be explained.
What really drives John at first is his fixation on Paulina, not his need for anything else. He longingly gazes at her, with a terrible ramped up musical score for each shameless trance. What he sees in her nobody could explain.
Lopez doesn’t have much of a part, which is good because she doesn’t do much acting either. Much like her performance in Jersey Girl, it feels like many of her scenes hit the cutting room floor; with the director belatedly deciding the film is better suited without her.
For much of the film, Jennifer Lopez stands around stone-faced and emotionless. Having not seen Gigli, I can’t say this is the worst performance of her career, but it would be tough to beat. There are only two scenes where she even resembles an emoting human being.
Lopez’s acting is made worse by the fact that Sarandon is so good. She has this deep, meditative quality that makes the film better with just her presence. Scenes become more meaningful then they were ever intended to be, and it’s Sarandon who delivers the most memorable lines of the film.
I’ll give Lopez one thing though, she can dance. All of the actors can, surprisingly. There aren’t many missteps when it comes to the dancing and these actors are startlingly graceful.
Meanwhile, Gere has toned down his usual off-putting cockiness and makes the most of this role. The best part is Gere’s camaraderie with his two ballroom dancing buddies Vern (Omar Miller) and Chic (Bobby Cannavale). The performance of these two stands out. Cannavale brings the “never-grow-up” frat boy shtick he first developed in the fantastic Station Agent, one of 2003’s best films, and adds much welcomed laughter and lightness to the screen. Every time these guys are on together, they seem to be joking around and improving comedy bits that are endlessly watchable, though not nearly given enough time.
Unfortunately, in addition to Vern and Chic, director Peter Chelsom (Serendipity) has loaded his film with oddball characters who don’t belong. There’s the Bette Midler-esque character Bobbie and Stanley Tucci’s Link Peterson who is so strange, I half expected Hank Azaria in the Latino-sensation part.
At the end of Shall We Dance?, we’re left with a number of questions. Why add all these superfluous and outlandish characters that take away from any feeling in the movie? Why would Gere hide this dancing addiction in the first place? And where is that ambitious actress who used to take roles in Oliver Stone’s U-Turn and Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight?
Brian Mulligan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.