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Shall We Dance?
Shall We Dance? is a big, charmless Hollywood
reworking of a small and charming Japanese film that was a surprise international hit
several years back. (Unfortunately the Japanese film is not available on video; since
Miramax distributed both films, they doubtless have kept the video off the market in
anticipation of this remake.) This is a case where cultural differences don't translate well.
In Japan, a society that abides by deeply ingrained traditions, family life and
relationships between spouses are more rigidly structured than they are in the United
States. Add to that the factor that, to the Japanese, ballroom dancing is of only marginal
respectability, so there is a strong motivational grounding for the secretive behavior of
The story is slight -- a married man, intrigued by the figure of a
woman in the window of a dance school, overcomes initial resistance and clandestinely goes
to the school, signing up for lessons. It turns out that it is not the woman, but the
dance itself that proves liberating for him, providing a positive emotional punch to a
life that had become routine and rather joyless.
Buy why in the world would John Clark (Richard Gere), an ostensibly
happily married American man, feel it necessary to conceal from his wife, Beverly (Susan
Sarandon), his interest in ballroom dance lessons? In the U.S. there is no stigma attached
to dancing (maybe except among some died-in-the-wool Methodists and there is no indication
that the Clarks are religious folks).
Audrey Wells' badly flawed adaptation of the original screenplay tries
to bridge this cultural gap but it doesn't work. The initial motivation in going to the
dance studio was the figure of the girl, Paulina (Jennifer Lopez), so that Clark's
original itch was for some extra-marital activity, information he would not likely share
with his wife. That, of course, is not what he confesses to her when it all comes out, so
if he, like Jimmy Carter, lusted for another woman (albeit the affair was unconsummated),
then his marriage to Beverly maybe isn't working so well in the sack. On top of that, and
more importantly, he's less honest than the ex-President--he won't even confess his yen
for some outside hanky-panky to his wife, though, in fact, he is innocent of
transgression. In the major confession scene, then, Clark comes off as a complete
hypocrite and this purportedly ideal marriage (not to speak of the misguided screenplay)
is seriously impaired.
Viewers might be willing to suspend disbelief despite these fundamental
plot weaknesses if the screen chemistry is hot. Sarandon looks terrific and always brings
intelligence to her portrayals, but here her intelligence is not balanced by Gere, whose
acting has become so lazy and opaque that whatever intelligence is there remains
completely hidden. Jennifer Lopez looks great, too, and she gives a nicely understated
performance as the dance teacher, a character that combines passion for the dance with a
heavy-hearted sadness over a lost love. Gere doesn't begin to match her passion; he's so
lacking in fire that he comes off as a narcissistic bore.
are a handful of subplots with the other students at the dance studio, all of them stock
characters, all of them with predictable resolutions. If you like ballroom, watch the
championships on PBS--they're a whole lot more fun. And, if Miramax ever wises up and
releases the Japanese version on video, that is a joy that can be highly recommended.
- Arthur Lazere