Since the days of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, dancing in films has been consistently profitable. From Saturday Night Fever to Save the Last Dance, movies have relied on dancing to draw audiences to the theaters, and that trend continues with Shall We Dance?.
In the film, Richard Gere, who has plenty of opportunity to show off his Chicago dance moves, plays John Clark, a businessman who has grown weary after living the same lifestyle for twenty years. One day, on the way home from work, John spies a young woman named Paulina (Jennifer Lopez) standing at a window. He is intrigued by her and ultimately enrolls in the dance lessons that she teaches. While John begins to learn ballroom dancing, his wife (Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon) becomes suspicious and believes her husband is having an affair.
Shall We Dance? is the latest film to depict the miraculous effect dancing can have your own life. It portrays dance as a way to invigorate one’s boring and monotonous existence; it gives people new life and retrieves the vivaciousness of their youth. Gere is perfectly cast as the exhausted middle-aged man whose life is replenished, and Lopez, better known as J.Lo. by the media, turns in a surprisingly low-key performance. As the quiet Paulina, Lopez is quite effective.
Though it would seem a daunting task to forget that the woman onscreen is the overexposed singer/actress who recently married Marc Anthony, Lopez wisely plays her character very modestly, exerting enough effort to accurately portray the character, while at the same time not transforming into the spotlight-stealing diva one would expect. Surprisingly, though Lopez is a big name, she is not the star of this movie; it belongs to Gere.
This is the film’s biggest strength. Rather than falling into the cinematic trap of portraying the relationship between an older man and a younger woman, Shall We Dance? is really the story of the renewal of John’s love for life and the mending of his distant marriage. Instead of allowing the film to develop into another case of the dancing instructor and student falling for each other, the filmmakers employ Paulina as the catalyst to begin John’s rekindling of spirit.
The film, a remake of a 1996 Japanese film, is directed by Peter Chelsom (Serendipity) and, in true Hollywood fashion, also features several supporting characters to add comic relief to the serious story involving John and Paulina. Most prominent of these is that of Stanley Tucci. The character actor, best known for playing arrogant sleazeballs, gives a first-rate performance as John’s friend and co-worker, a businessman who goes rumba dancing incognito after hours. His over-the-top performance as an uptight businessman releasing his inner dance machine is one of the film’s highlights.
So, in summary, though the film’s plot may not be groundbreaking, Shall We Dance? is filled with strong performances, great dance sequences, some truly hilarious moments, and a solid message about maintaining passion throughout life.