There are few romantically charming invitations in life as when a man asks for a ladies hand and requests “Shall we dance?” 1996 saw the Japanese film of the same name directed by Masayuki Suo charm the viewers in no less a fashion. His was a genuinely sweet and simplistic film in its' nature. Dealing with the concept of ballroom dancing within a very conservative Japanese culture was in many aspects plentifully charming in itself. The 2004 American remake has all the obvious benefits of a bigger budget, big star performances along with all the lavish treatment that Hollywood can afford in order to secure a box office hit.
John Clark (Richard Gere) is a married middle-aged Chicago lawyer whose zest for life is generally beginning to wane. He travels to and from work every day on the metro and each day he reflects increasingly so upon his personal life and his work commitments. It's all seemingly become too mundane for him. Now, as anyone who has had to endure the rigours of a daily commute on public transport will know, many weird and wonderful thoughts tend to transcend across the mind when your sat there wiling away the travel time. Ironically, being sat in a public place, surrounded by commuters and perfect strangers does in fact allow you to be very much in your own space. It's actually a great time to reflect on your inner most thoughts. It's exactly what John Clark does as he looks out of the metro window, day in day out.
Whilst the view out of the train window never seems to change as it's the same buildings with the same facades passing by, the same stations and the same journey, the few odd peculiarities do certainly catch his attention. When you've got Jennifer Lopez sat in a window staring out of it looking as bored as sin, it's enough to catch anyone's attention. Every day as his train passes by Miss Mitzi's Dance School he attentively looks out for this highly attractive but strangely forlorn looking lady who is always sat there by the window, gazing as if she's a million miles away. Eventually one day this daily routine is broken when she's not actually sat by the window. His inquisitiveness then suddenly gets the better of him. Not quite knowing why and quite on impulse he decides to get off the train at that station and visit the Dance School. Before he knows it he has somehow managed to stumble into the dance school. Even bizarrely he manages to enrol himself into the ballroom dance classes that take place there.
The movie moves along at a leisurely pace and injects a bit of humour through his compatriot and rookie dance pupils, Chic (Bobby Cannavale) and Vern (Omar Miller). It soon becomes apparent that the three of them are equally inept at dancing, seemingly born with two left feet and the movie thankfully never tries to convince you otherwise. The dance scenes remain quite basic, the music is entertaining and the lush colours of the high definition image do just enough to keep you visually interested in what's going on. There's enough there to reward you with a pleasurable viewing experience even if it's not exactly top billing material. Paulina (Jennifer Lopez) is the star attraction at the school and she's the one the three rookies desperately want to get hands on dance lessons from. Unfortunately for them she has got very hands off approach to men and her sole interests are strictly in the dancing.
Beverly Clark (Susan Sarandon) plays his wife within a marriage that appears to be going through the motions. It's not a failing marriage as such and both of them are still very much in love with each other but it's a marriage that's become devoid of anything interesting within it. John finds it increasingly difficult to let Beverly know that he's found a secret new passion in his life by way of ballroom dancing. Not sure why but he seems embarrassed about it all and decides not to tell her. After all it's only dancing? Secrets in marriage can be a bit of a no, no and coupled with regular late nights at the office, a sudden change in persona, she soon begins to suspect that he maybe actually having an affair.
Whilst the movie could quite easily have remained one dimensional throughout, the storyline is give some breadth when Beverly hires a private detective to trace Johns' whereabouts after work. The inclusion of Link (Stanley Tucci) who works at John Clark's office as a lawyer also helps the film quite a bit. Link also has a similar and secret passion for ballroom dancing: secretive being the operative word as he always attends the classes heavily disguised. Is ballroom dancing that bad? Nevertheless Link certainly lives the part full on, always being dressed to the hilt, is very liberal with the fake tan lotion and dons a ridiculously laughable wig for his bald head. If anything it makes John Clark feel far more at ease knowing that he's not the only one with a secret.
The performances from all the main actors remain fluid and convincing and as the movie progresses it becomes more at ease with itself and consequently more enjoyable. Richard Gere is as always the master of smooth although he barely breaks out into a foxtrot in this film. At times you may well question his enthusiasm. Jennifer Lopez on the other hand plays a stoic character and in comparison she is a poor relation to Gere in the acting department. Nevertheless what she is good at, as a convincing dancer, she pulls off admirably well. The dance routines however are never very energetic so think of waltz and you won't be too far off the pace of the whole film. The supporting cast play their part and the comedy is all but injected through them and is for the most part what carries the entertainment of the movie.
The blu-ray disc package is an admirable presentation; picture quality is above average with lush colours and plentiful detail. The music is fairly well done as well. There's not too far much to go wrong in the technical aspects of the disc should you wish to purchase it although the question marks are all very much about the content. Shall we dance remains a very close clone of the Japanese original but it feels incredibly fabricated for it. What should have been a free flowing film building to a gradual crescendo feels very much like a film made simply by joining the numbers. Everything is utterly predictable and the story and all the events fall into place like clockwork.
Whilst there is nothing outstanding about neither the film nor the dancing, in many ways the fallibility of the dancing lends some credibility and charm to the film. Unfortunately, the portal of a ballroom dancing movie from within a Japanese culture into an American one has lost much if not all of its' charm. Shall we dance is still an enjoyable enough movie and a fairly pleasant watch. It's not 'Come Dancing' as we know it but for viewers of most ages it's a pleasant enough way to spend 106minutes. Not bad, but not great enough to have you reaching for your dancing shoes.
Our Review Ethos