Film — Shall We Dance (PG-13)

Shall We Dance? (PG-13)

by Amy Diaz

Jennifer Lopez wisely chooses the path of silence in her attempt to get back on the movie-horse (after the painful Gigli and Jersey Girl) in the largely Richard Gere-centric Shall We Dance?, a remake of a 1996 Japanese movie of roughly the same name.

And by silence I mean that Lopez has, no kidding, maybe six scenes in the whole movie that contain a substantial amount of dialogue in them. And at least one of those is a voice over. When she does talk it’s almost a surprise—it’s like those Silent Bob monologues in the Kevin Smith movies.

Luckily for Lopez, this silence more or less works with her character, Paulina the mopey dancer.

Paulina is a startling beauty who stands in the window of Miss Mitzi’s Dance Studio and forlornly stares out on Chicago ‘s Elevated Train of Dashed Dreams. Or something. Whatever has caused to become a quiet monument to full-figured misery has also made her remarkably appealing to John Clark (Gere) a sad middle-aged man who stares up at her while his train passes her window. He is usually headed to his suburban home—where Beverly (Susan Sarandon), his busy wife, and a disinterested daughter await him—from his job as an estate lawyer in the city.

One night, however, the mournful pink beauty of Paulina proves too strong an attraction and he gets off the train. Half afraid, half excited, John Clark stumbles into the studio where Paulina promptly signs him up for a class. He’s part of the beginning group which also includes the shy, overweight Vern (Omar Benson Miller) and the lady-hunting Chic (Bobby Cannavale). With the help of main instructor Mitzi (Anita Gillette) and dancing regular Bobbie (Lisa Ann Walter), the men work their way through the cha-cha, rumba, waltz, foxtrot and an assortment of ballroom standards. They are also introduced to the cut-throat world of ballroom competition. Bobbie works her sizeable bum off trying to afford the costumes for these theatrical events and one of John’s seemingly football obsessed, mousey coworkers, Linc (Stanley Tucci), is secretly a wig-wearing wannabe Latin lover who forever tries to capture younger dance partners with his moves and flashy wardrobe.

John becomes so enamored with this world that its pull is even stronger than the pull of Paulina. An ice princess whose sole love is dance, Paulina becomes ultimately less important to him than the feeling he gets when he throws off the middle-aged white man shackles and gets his feet aflying. And this is a good thing, because Beverly quickly becomes suspicious when her husband starts coming home late and smelling of perfume. She hires a detective (Richard Jenkins) to follow him around and bring back photos explaining John’s absence.

You know, on one level, I don’t fault this movie for its unfunny campiness, its stagey feel and its improbable characters. Foreign movies can get away with a lot. When a movie is subtitled, you have know way of knowing what kind of script it has. You are lucky enough to get the general meaning of what’s being said, most of the original subtlety is lost. And when the movie is set in a country with a culture so wholly different from our own—Japan, for example—it’s easy to forgive, overlook or shrug off seemingly clunky character construction and story arc.

Now run all that through the total translation of a remake and you have a movie that ends up feeling as awkward and sketchy as the subtitles. All of the characters in Shall We Dance? feel flat and caricatured—the loud one, the shy one, the one with the secret, the beauty. These few-word descriptors are drawn with bold black lines and outsized features as though the movie itself was trying to appeal to an audience that did not speak the actors language. All hammy facial expressions and broad gestures, the movie could just as easily be a play version of the movie.

Despite this and despite some rather extreme detours into Valentine’s Day-card-levels of romantic gushiness, Shall We Dance? is merely a middling effort in the world of dance movies. It is neither the charmer of the Japanese original nor the full camp of far funnier entries in the genre.

Showing at: Flagship Cinemas, Cinemagic

- Amy Diaz 

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