Shall We Dance? The title sounds romantic and musical, but you're probably not going to be watching this one for it's over-the-top sap and the simplistic dance/romance parallels.
It appears that John (Richard Gere) is not completely fulfilled in his life. He has a good job, a great wife, Beverly (Susan Sarandon) and two kids, a boy and a girl. Sounds perfect, but yet, every night on the train on his way home, he passes Miss Mitzi's Dance Studio, and sees a pensive, beautiful instructor glancing out the window, and becomes enamored with her. There's only one way to meet her. After a lot of nervous swallowing, he finally gets the guts to get off the train, go in the studio…and sign up for a ballroom dance class. There, he meets two fellow students, Italian lady's man Chic (Bobby Canavale—Will's cop boyfriend on Will & Grace), and big-bodied black guy Vern (Omar Benson Miller). There's also brash dancer Bobbie (Lisa Ann Walter), booz-guzzling Miss Mitzi (Anita Gillette), and the object of John's affection, distant instructor Paulina (Jennifer Lopez). And before long, John learns that his macho, sports-loving co-worker Link (Stanley Tucci) is actually a passionate, competitive dancer himself, and trying hard to keep his secret in the closet at the office. Meanwhile, as this group bonds, learning how to dance, and preparing for an upcoming competition, John pines over Paulina (is it desire or just appreciation of her beauty when dancing? We never really learn). And John's wife, Beverly, begins to suspect him of having an affair—thanks in part to the observational eye of her daughter—and hires a detective team, Devine (Richard Jenkins—the dead dad on Six Feet Under) and Scott (oddly cast Drumline star Nick Cannon, who seems a bit too young for the role), to follow her husband. Light drama unfolds, comic moments occur involving the art of dance, the competition moves closer, tensions arise between John and Paulina, and Bev is destined to learn all about her husband's secret life. And, considering it's being hinted at all along, there's an eventual gay subplot (albeit, a really small one).
The movie attempts to juggle a whole lot of stuff, and never very successfully. As I said before, it's not really clear if Gere would jump Lopez's bones (and booty) if given a chance. Extremely emotional plots that could offer some excellent character development (considering the characters are very likeable) are shied away from in order to keep the tone of the film light. The dance sequences, from the studio to the competition floor, are somewhat forced and not even very compelling for lovers of the art. Also, Gere occasionally narrates, unnecessarily, because it adds nothing to the overall feel of the film—just distraction. But, despite being predictable, the one thing this film has going for it is the charismatic cast and excellent chemistry, which is the reason you should watch this film. Ever since I saw Richard Gere dancing naked in a shower inBreathless on cable when I was just 14, I've had a crush on him, and his charming on screen presence always reminds me why. Stanley Tucci is a current crush because he's got a body of death, but aside from that, he's a fun actor to watch in action. Lisa Ann Walter does, however, steal the show in the comic department. Bobby Canavale is also easy on the eyes, and knows how to play a sort of dizzy Italian stud like no one's business. Omar Benson Miller is a fresh newcomer. Although the private dick angle feels forced, Jenkins and Cannon both hold their own and add some comic touch to the film. Sarandon, naturally, is brilliant when given screen time, handles all emotions perfectly, and delivers the best metaphorical speech about relationships that can be applied to every individual, straight or gay. It is just Lopez who gets the short end of the stick, having little to do with her somber, moody character. There are a couple of interesting cameos. Ja Rule performs "Livin' It Up" in a club scene. Pop artist Mya has a non-speaking role as a dance partner (sort of like she did in Chicago), and seems to come out of nowhere in this role and simply stays until the end of the film. One thing I enjoyed most about this movie aside from the cast was the gorgeous, melancholic love theme that plays throughout.
Having said all that, this film isn't the ideal Valentine's flick. It's pretty much a film for chicks and men into d—well, you know. Gay guys. Straight guys will most likely be bored to tears.
The film is presented in anamorphic 1:85:1. There's some haloing, most noticeable in brightly lit scenes. The color levels are nice, although slightly pink. The darks are rich and add a rightful, somber tone to the city setting, and also bring depth to the picture. Only real issue is a nasty layering pause at about 1:15.
The Dolby 5.1 track kicks butt, utilizing surround travel effect much more than you'd expect in a character driven light comedy/drama like this. The center sound is crisp and clear, and the bass response is pure and sharp, kicking in at just the right moments. The audio tracks are available in English or French.
Although the DVD immediately launches into previews, including one for the original Japanese version of Shall We Dance?, they can be skipped. The main menu shows dance numbers from the movie. Scene selection features 16 chapters, and the sneak peeks are the same as at the beginning, and give you the option to "Play All". Captions are available in English, French or Spanish. The list of extras is surprisingly full here:
BEGINNER'S BALLROOM—the choreographers and actors from the film talk about the history and technical aspects of partner dancing, and describe what it means to them. 6 minutes.
BEHIND THE SCENES—the cast and crew talks more about dance, and we see clips from the cast rehearsing the dance numbers before filming. 23 minutes.
THE MUSIC OF SHALL WE DANCE—4 minutes of discussion and clips of the recordings in the film. Mya covers David Bowie's "Let's Dance" (and I'm totally feeling this very different version), and The Pussycat Dolls do the swinging track "Sway" featuring a very Aguilera-esque vocalist wailing in the background every now and then. I thought it was Christina until I saw the video, which is also included on the disc, in club worthy bassy stereo.
DELETED SCENES—You can watch with or without director Peter Chelsom's commentary. The highlight of this is a vibrant opening dance sequence that wasn't used, which made sense because the director points out that the film itself doesn't deliver the goods the campy number promised. There is also an excellent extended scene with Detective Devine that should have stayed in, because it is quite funny. 17 minutes of clips in all.
COMMENTARY WITH DIRECTOR PETER CHELSOM—the director discusses how he almost passed on working on this script, about doing an adaptation of a Japanese favorite, and often points out during the commentary how the two differ. He discusses the musical score I enjoyed so much, and the Gere voiceovers I despised so much. He also explains the challenges for the real actors doing all the dancing scenes, and makes references to deleted scenes to sort of hype that bonus feature.
Shall We Dance? will never pull on your heartstrings, won't have you laughing out loud, and won't even leave a lasting impression. The main reason to watch this film is to get a few smiles and chuckles from the talented cast. Other than that, if you've seen Dirty Dancing, Pretty Woman, and Strictly Ballroom, you've just about got every aspect of this film covered.