Miramax // 2004 // 106 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // May 6th, 2008
Step out of the ordinary.
"The rumba is the vertical expression of a horizontal wish. You have to hold her, like the skin on her thigh is your reason for living. Let her go, like your heart's being ripped from your chest. Throw her back, like you're going to have your way with her right here on the dance floor. And then finish, like she's ruined you for life." -- Paulina
John Clark (Richard Gere, Chicago) is just an ordinary guy. He's a successful lawyer, happily married, and has two kids that he loves very much. Nobody really notices John, and John seems to be just fine with that. Every day is the same; it's safe and comfortable. He does the same thing each day, rides the same train home each night, and suddenly begins to notice the same woman in a window on the way home. His curiosity (and yes, his lust) continues to build until he finally decides to go investigate. The woman is named Paulina, and when I tell you that she is played by Jennifer Lopez (Out of Sight), you will know why Mr. Clark is so interested in her. Paulina is a dance instructor, and John promptly signs up for dance lessons. Initially, his unspoken goal is to get Paulina's attention, but she quickly shuts that plan don't by informing him, "I don't like to get involved with my students."
By the time John accepts that he will not be able to have an affair with Paulina, he suddenly realizes that he has developed a passion for dancing. However, he still hasn't mentioned a thing to his wife (Susan Sarandon, Romance and Cigarettes), and she is growing increasingly suspicious. She hires a private investigator (Richard Jenkins, Flirting With Disaster) to check up on John, and finds herself getting surprisingly close to him. Meanwhile, John sets his sights on a big dance competition.
I haven't seen the original Shall We Dance, a Japanese film from 1996 that was a big hit with critics and international audiences. However, I have seen a whole lot of movies very much like this remake of Shall We Dance. This 2004 version of Shall We Dance climaxes with a big competition in which the hero gets to achieve his aim and the hero's lover finally gets to understand everything after being left in the dark almost the entire movie. This is a very familiar scene that we have seen far too many times, but the journey there typically isn't as engaging as the one Shall We Dance offers. This is a film made by grownups for grownups. If that isn't reflected in the simplistic plot, it is certainly evident in the refreshingly mature tone.
The dances here are staged in an exceptionally engaging manner; they serve as character development rather than spectacles for the audience. This is a movie in which people reveal things about themselves through dancing, not a movie in which the characters are concerned about showing off or proving themselves to judges on the dance floor (though there is a bit of that towards the end). The dance music selections and some of the original compositions by composer Gabriel Yared are terrific, not only serving their purpose as dance pieces but also finding just the right tone for any particular scene.
I was relieved that the film quickly dispensed with the idea that affairs were going to take place, because it removes unnecessary level of discomfort that allows us to appreciate the film for what it is. There are familiar moments that appear everywhere, but for the most part the film does a nice job of distracting us from them by putting the focus on something else...characters, atmosphere, music, dialogue.
Richard Gere is an actor who can seem dull or bland in some roles...a lot of roles...but he's quite good here, playing the role with a quiet sincerity. The journey to joy he takes as he begins to learn how to dance is a convincing one, and Gere is nicely complimented by a colorful supporting cast. Omar Miller (Lucky You) and Bobby Cannavale (Fast Food Nation) are solid as members of the dance class. Stanley Tucci has a lot of fun with the role of Link, one of John's serious and quiet co-workers who turns into a crazed maniac on the dance floor. Richard Jenkins is slyly hilarious as the vaguely absent-minded detective, and Susan Sarandon actually manages to make a one-dimensional character more complex than we expect.
The film looks superb in hi-def, though this wasn't exactly a title that was screaming to be released on Blu-ray. Stronger facial detail is a benefit, but otherwise there aren't drastic differences between this and the standard DVD. Things sparkle in the sound department, with the dance sequences getting a particularly strong mix. A decent batch of extras is included on the disc, too. A twenty-five minute making-of featurette is fairly standard promotional stuff, but still pretty solid. I liked the way the featurette contrasted scenes between the Japanese version and this version; it's striking to note how similar the look of the two films are despite being set in different countries. The commentary from director Peter Chelsom covers this material as well, though it tends to be a little dull at times. "Beginner's Ballroom" offers a few quick thoughts from the cast and crew on different types of dances, and a too-brief look at the music of the film can be found in the three-minute "The Music of Shall We Dance?." Sadly, this piece ultimately turns out to be little more than a promo for a few of the modern artists who provided tunes for the movie. That would include The Pussycat Dolls, who also have their "Sway" music video offered here. Seventeen minutes of deleted scenes with optional commentary from the director are mostly wise cuts.
If there is an unsuccessful performance here, I'm sorry to report that it would be the performance of Jennifer Lopez. She seems too mechanic and robotic. While some may argue this is merely part of her character, I feel like she doesn't do enough to make Paulina human. There is supposed to be a contrast between Paulina the Dancer and Paulina the Woman, but Lopez makes the gap between the two considerably too wide. There are other weaknesses in the film, particularly in the plot, but Lopez is the only significant flaw that can't really be excused.
It's not a perfect film, but it is a very nice date movie that features some wonderful music and solid performances. I liked it, though there is no pressing need to upgrade to Blu-ray if you all ready own the film on DVD.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* PCM 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Commentary with director Peter Chelsom
* Deleted Scenes w/Optional Commentary
* "Behind the Scenes of Shall We Dance?"
* "Beginner's Ballroom"
* "The Music of Shall We Dance"
* Pussycat Dolls "Sway" music video
* Original DVD Verdict Review