Release Date: October 15, 2004
Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual references and brief language)
Run Time: 106 min.
Director: Peter Chelsom
Actors: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Jennifer Lopez, Stanley Tucci, Lisa Ann Walter, Anita Gillette, Omar Benson Miller, Bobby Canavale, Richard Jenkins, Nick Canon
Do not be afraid! Just because it bears the name Jennifer Lopez doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. Really! In fact, J-Lo’s character is actually very sympathetic – but this film isn’t about her, anyway. It’s about reigniting your life and your marriage by finding your passion. And it’s a delightful, inspiring bit of cinema.
John Clark (Richard Gere), an estate attorney who commutes back and forth to Chicago on the L train every day, is more than bored with life. So when he spots the staggeringly beautiful Paulina (Lopez) staring out of a dance studio window, he’s more than a little intrigued. Moved by a sudden surge of male libido, Gere signs up for dance lessons, but is dismayed when an older woman and the owner of the run-down dance studio, Miss Mitzi, teaches the class instead.
Meanwhile, John’s wife Beverly (Susan Sarandon) is starting to get suspicious at her husband’s weekly absences, so she hires a detective (Richard Jenkins), who gets a big crush on her. While the detective doesn’t discover any infidelity, what he learns may be far worse: John Clark is ballroom dancing. Something is terribly wrong.
This American remake of a Japanese film is gentle, fun and rewarding. Director Peter Chelsom (“Serendipity”) does a good job with his scenes, which move quickly despite a few minor incongruities and one very bad scene in an underground garage that we’re willing to overlook. The dialogue is funny, with some good laughs, and the acting couldn’t be better.
I loved Anita Gillette’s Miss Mitzi, whose desire for teaching is renewed, which gives her the courage to renounce the bottle. As John’s classmates, Chic (Bobby Canavale, “The Station Agent”) and Vern (Omar Benson Miller, “8-Mile”) are great, adding both depth and laughs as they learn to dance, as well as a nice message about being kind to those who are obese. As Bobbie, the wannabe dancer-waitress, Lisa Ann Walter is sassy and funny, especially when she keeps telling the men to quit looking at her rear (almost half of the dozen profanities in the film come from her use of the word a-- in this context).
Gere proves himself once again to be a very adept actor, and watching his loneliness slowly transform into joy is sheer delight. He showed us he could dance in “Chicago,” and he does it once again. It must also be said that there were gasps from the ladies when his character appeared at the top of the escalator in a tuxedo, carrying a red, red rose. Having been married for more than a decade, however, I know what these women were dreaming of wasn’t Gere, despite his stunning good looks. It’s the possibility, however remote, that their husbands might someday sweep them off their feet in a similarly romantic gesture. Ah, a woman can dream, can’t she?
The most beautiful part of this movie – for men as well as women – is the message, which tells us that marriage to the same person, year after year, can still be exciting and new. The price, however, is our willingness to face our feelings and explore that which truly gives us joy, remembering that “every good and perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of heavenly lights.” Like many spouses, Gere thought that the answer was another partner, but he soon realized that true joy comes only from within.
In making Gere an attorney, Chelsom shows just how American men often suffer from the inability to display their emotions, despite our cultural obsession with just the opposite. Like so many men, John Clark doesn’t know what he feels, much less how to express it. He’s a good husband and father and he does his job, day in and day out. But life has lost his luster. So it’s only natural that he finds himself drawn to the mysterious Paulina. Likewise, as John’s seemingly cuckolded wife, Beverly, is vulnerable to the charms of her hired detective. Yet, surprisingly, neither give in – even just a bit.
And this is where “Shall We Dance?” veers away from the Hollywood stereotype, which would typically have one, if not both, spouses committing adultery – and telling us that this is okay, under the circumstances. Instead, this film chooses to define how passion – real passion, especially through the arts – can open up an entirely new world for us. And, thanks to John’s unintentional initiative, this old married couple discovers that old passion burns brightest as well as longest.
Even more importantly, “Shall We Dance?” shows us that passion is not – despite society’s insistence – about sex at all. It’s about discovering who we are. And that’s something that Jesus wants us all to do, because it’s the only way we’ll ever learn what true love really means.
- Drugs/Alcohol Content: Character secretly sips from flask, implying addiction, but later gives it up; wine with dinner.
- Language/Profanity: Approximately a dozen obscenities, including one f-word (used in anger after cruel, demeaning provocation); three or four profanities.
- Sexual Content/Nudity: Several references to sex, including “good/lousy in bed,” “in the sack” and a woman who says she is “built for speed;” various discussions about homosexuality including slang terms (“the tropics”), men who deny homosexual urges, and two allusions that one character really is homosexual, despite his denial (lover throws him an affectionate glance, perceived by another character, and the two later dance together in an all-male club).
- Violence: Character uses the phrase “put a gun to my head.”