Shall We Dance?

Starring Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci. Directed by Peter Chelsom.
Running Time: 106 mins.
Rated: Rated M
John Clark (Gere) possesses what most men work hard for all their lives: a successful job, (he's a Chicago lawyer), a wonderful wife Beverly (Sarandon) and normal well-balanced teenage children, to whom he is close. At mid-life he feels he is missing something, and on the way home from work on the train he notices Miss Mitzi's Dance Studio, and especially the sad woman who regular appears in the window there.

Plucking up his courage and without telling his wife, he impulsively jumps off the train one evening and enrols in the beginner's class in ballroom dancing. There he meets the woman in the window, Paulina (Lopez), a former champion dancer and now ballroom instructor. With two other lost souls as classmates, this hapless trio tentatively learn the dance steps, and through them how to waltz more confidently into the rest of their lives.

When Miss Mizty (Anita Gilette) enters these beginners in Chicago's largest ballroom competition, John's only supporter is his work colleague Link Petersen (Tucci), a closest ballroom dancer. Then Beverly, his wife of 19 years, finds out what's been going on and assumes John is having an affair with Paulina.

SHALL WE DANCE? is based on a Japanese film from 1996. In that version the humour was predicated on a Japanese businessman throwing off his cultural sense of physical reserve. In this version, the humour comes from the slapstick rehearsals. In both versions the drama comes from a man who realises that his life is constrained by convention, and wants to break out. "Why would a man who has done the same thing for the last 20 years do something so out of character? Desperation.'

Shall We Dance? owes more than a debt of gratitude to Strictly Ballroom, and it is almost as much fun. This film alerts us, again, to the need we so often have for beauty, style, grace and ritual. In contemporary society these things can be in short supply.

An appropriately much-older-looking Richard Gere, and the excellent Susan Sarandon put in fine performances, but I am sorry to report that Jennifer Lopez still fails to impress me as an actress. The supporting actors are terrific in providing plenty of laughs, and some fine dancing too.

Director Peter Chelsom takes what could have been a very cheesy melodrama and injects some change-of-life humanity into it, to give us a moving and enjoyable film.

Fr Richard Leonard SJ is the Director fit he Australian Catholic Film Office.

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