red tulips | copyright Jill J. Jensen



Shall We Dance?

Cast: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Jennifer Lopez, Stanley Tucci, Anita Gillette
Director: Peter Chelsom
Theatrical release: 2004; available on DVD

Never mind the mixed critical reviews of the latest version of Shall We Dance?; there's also one from 1937 with Fred Astaire and the 1997 Spanish-influenced film on which this one is based. Viewers liked it. And because movie reviewers sit in darkened theaters all day every day — and night after night — we can forgive them if they don't remember (or never experienced) the exhiliration of flying across the dance floor in thrall of an expansive waltz or under the tow of a deliciously sexy tango. If you dance (or try to), you'll probably enjoy this film.

Add this film to your Netflix queue or buy the DVD and you'll get a nice smattering of bonus features, along with a great feature. In addition to the usual director's commentary, "behind the scenes" footage, and deleted scenes with commentary, you'll find information about the music of the film (including a Pussycat Dolls music video of "Sway") and a "beginner's ballroom" that explains what's going on in the various types of dance. Great fun!

While the plot may not be thick, there's enough of a story here to hold the movie together. Some might want more, but we could boil it down nicely to make a decent 'personals' ad: "workaholic man (Richard Gere) with comfortable but uninspiring life seeks unexpected outlet for reinvigorating same."

It's not that the wife (Susan Sarandon) and kids aren't engaging, it's that the once-exciting job has lost its appeal. (Don't they all???) And the twice-daily train ride to and from the office offers ample time to think about lost opportunities. Until one day....

Like the "once upon a time" that opens most fairy tales, our hero's not-so-chance observation of a beautiful woman (Jennifer Lopez) in the window of a second-floor ballroom dance studio on his ride home from work starts the fantasy in motion. Except this fantasy is real enough that he actually makes the leap, gets off the train, finds the studio, and signs up for dance lessons.

It almost doesn't matter what happens next because the story unfolds to show us the second chances that virtually every character gets. And 'characters' there are — from the hilarious young men also taking lessons, each seeking to woo a mate by being able to take them dancing, to the buttoned-down insurance accountant (Stanley Tucci) who spouts sports scores at work to cover his off-hours obsession with Latin rhythms, and the aging studio owner (Anita Gillette) who's seen both the best and worst of dancers come through her door. Susan Sarandon's caught-off-guard working wife and mother is artfully nuanced as she wonders what's happening to her husband and her world.

While some second chances may seem no more serious (to us) than getting to compete in a city-wide ballroom dance competition, others are more obviously life-altering, and each has implications for the characters. Along the way, the rest of us also get to enjoy a lot of great music and watch a lot of fantastical dancing — great boosts of energy on their own.

As with most fairy tales, happy endings are part of the package. Some resolutions may be predictable, but there are enough twists to keep us watching. Besides, dancer or not, you just can't resist moving your body "when marimba rhythms start to Sway"....


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