Shall We Dance (5/10)

by Tony Medley

Screenwriter Audrey Wells took a terrific bestseller, Under the Tuscan Sun (2003), and changed it into an unsatisfying polemic. Now sheís taken a pleasant story, first made in Japan as Shall We Dansu (1996), and turned it into something without credibility. John Clark (Richard Gere) is an attorney with a loving wife, Beverly (Susan Sarandon), and two loving children. Riding home on the Chicago El, he sees Paulina (Jennifer Lopez) looking forlornly out the window from a dance studio. He goes in for dance lessons without telling his wife. Is he hitting on Paulina, or not? Is he trying to be unfaithful or not? If so, why?

Well, maybe thatís not so bad because what Wells is trying to say, however clumsy her effort, is that dancing brings meaning back into Johnís life. But whatís really unbelievable is that John and the two other guys in his dance class can, after only a few lessons, enter a huge ballroom contest and dance like stylistic professionals. Impossible.

One thing this film has done is confirm that I was right about Chicago (2002). It was clear to me that Gere was no dancer, that he was made to look like a dancer by expert cinematography and quick cuts. Everyone else gushed about what a great dancer he was. Well, I saw him on Live With Regis (Philbin) & Kelly (Ripa), and he admitted that he couldnít dance, that the tap dancing in Chicago was merely him executing 10 second segments, and that he had to train for four months to just learn how to waltz and tango for Shall We Dance. Finally, Kelly asked Gere to tango. The time on the tango is slow-slow-quick-quick-slow. I donít know what Gere and Kelly were doing on the show, but it wasnít the tango. Gere was just running her around the floor without paying attention to the beat or the time. He trained for four months to learn the dances for the movie and still canít tango?

I can dance, and the waltz, for which Gere said he trained four months, is the easiest (and best) dance in the world. The beat is so dominant, that all you have to do is count the three-fourths time, slow-quick-quick, slow-quick-quick, and youíve got it. The waltz you see in this film is not your standard, simple waltz, certainly nothing a beginner could perform.

Another disappointment in this movie is the choice of music. A dancerís music has a good, heavy beat. When Iím dancing, and Iím not a natural, I listen closely for the bass, which is keeping the beat. In Shall We Dance the beat for much of the music is difficult if not impossible to hear, certainly not music for beginners.

But itís not just the contrived dancing and unbefitting music that spoil this movie. Wells and Director Peter Chelsom insert an uncalled-for lesbian scene in one dancing sequence, which is completely out of place in this film. As supererogatory as this scene is, another is so unnecessary it boggles the mind.  Beverly has hired a private detective to find out why John is coming home so late when heís not at the office. She pays in advance and he subsequently gives her his report. Case closed. No, wait! She arranges to meet him in a bar to tell him she doesnít need him any more. She shows up looking like a floozy trying to get some action, with a blouse thatís unbuttoned down to her navel and her cleavage bouncing and flashing him in the eye. It looks like sheís trying to get picked up, but, no, she just tells him she doesnít need his services any more and leaves. What? Why couldnít she tell him that on the phone? Why meet him? Why dress like a slut? This is a scene with absolutely no meaning.

This movie drags on for 106 minutes. I was looking at my watch every ten minutes. Thereís just not much of a story to tell here. And, like Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004), there isnít enough dancing to captivate you. The dancing we do see is pretty quick and itís that stylized ballroom stuff that you see on PBS. Thatís never looked like fun to me. Itís nothing like what Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers did to wow the world in the Ď30s.

Why do they keep casting non-dancers in dancing movies? Non-dancers survived in Chicago as a result of masterful directing and cinematographical tricks. But if Iím going to see a dancing movie, I want to see real dancing accomplished by real dancers. How would you have liked West Side Story (1961) if Meryl Streep and Steve McQueen were cast in the roles of Anita and Riff, played by Rita Moreno and Russ Tamblyn, who were both real, professional dancers? Or Singiní in the Rain (1952) with Clark Gable as Don Lockwood instead of Gene Kelly? Not much, I imagine. So why do they continue to cast Gere in dancing roles? Surely thereís someone in Hollywood who can dance and act at the same time?

Lopez is a beautiful woman, and I guess she can dance, but you donít see much of it here. If youíre a dancer, or like to watch good dancing, this is very disappointing. Unless you are a big Richard Gere fan, Shall We Dance is only moderately entertaining.