Shall We Dance?

In the pantheon of American remakes, Shall We Dance? is much more Vanilla Sky than The Ring. Why Miramax chose to remake this is a mystery. Nobody was asking for one. The basic story and spirit of Shall We Dance? remains the same, but one important thing is missing - the cultural context. In Japanese culture, it made much more sense for a man to be extremely reluctant to tell his wife about dancing lessons. The mundanity of corporate life and the desire for something new is even more profound across the ocean. Instead, the remake gives exaggerated minor characters and a slightly lukewarm story that is good only because it serves to remind people of the Japanese original, which was a really cute film.

The premise is really simple - a man bored with his life decides to spice things up by taking ballroom dancing lessons. One of the big problems is that aside from what the script says, often later in the film, it's hard to establish that John Clark (Gere, Chicago, Unfaithful) has a boring life. He rides the train home every night, where he sees a woman staring forlornly outside the window of Miss Mitiz's Dance Studio. Intrigued, he stops by and ends up taking lessons from Miss Mitzi (Anna Gillette, The Guru, Dinner and a Movie). The woman he saw was Paulina (Jennifer Lopez, Jersey Girl, Gigli), the other instructor who is standoffish from the rest of the class. Clark is initially hesitant about the classes, but opens up as time goes on. Dancing gives him a sense of freedom and joy he didn't have before.

His wife Beverly (Susan Sarandon, Moonlight Mile, The Banger Sisters) is suspicious and believes that he is having an affair. She hires a private investigator (Richard Jenkins, I [Heart] Huckabees, Cheaper by the Dozen) to follow him. Although screenwriter Audrey Wells (Under the Tuscan Sun, Disney's The Kid) gives Clark a reason why he refrains from telling his wife, it just does not make sense. What's the big deal? It does work in Japanese, or other Asian cultures, where there is a heightened sense of what is 'shameful' or of 'saving face.' Instead, Wells throws out a bunch of superfluous, superficial characters whose primary purpose is to engender happy feelings in the audience.

There's Clark's co-worker (Stanley Tucci, The Terminal, The Core), a closet dancer who hides under a garish wig and bright clothing to attract women, Bobbie (Lisa Ann Walter, Bruce Almighty, Early Bird Special), a loud, lonely older woman, Chic (Bobby Canavale, The Station Agent, The Guru), a slick guy out to get women, and the large Vern (Omar Miller, 8 Mile, Sorority Boys), who is taking the classes for his fiancee. Director Peter Chelsom (Serendipity, Town & Country) does an okay job, but the magic of the original is gone. Instead, he has a big Hollywood film that does make people smile, but does little else. Gere is an able dancer, and it is amusing to watch him fake dancing badly, but most of the scenes between him and Sarandon fall flat. And more importantly, although Lopez features prominently in the advertising, and is the initial reason Clark took lessons, Paulina is not a major player in the film. Lopez's performance is barely there, which is okay, considering Paulina is emotionally distant. But more amusing is pop singer Mya, aka Mya Harrison. Apparently, the new rule in Hollywood is that any movie with some sort of dancing must cast Mya. So far, she has appeared in Moulin Rouge, Chicago, and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, and even as a singer in A Cinderella Story and Atlantis. Today, the movies, tomorrow the world!

Haro Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 35 minutes, Rated P-13 for some sexual references and brief language.

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