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SHALL WE DANCE
U.S. Release Date: October 15, 2004
Distributor: Miramax
Director: Peter Chelsom
Writer: Audrey Wells
Producer: Simon Fields
Composer: Gabriel Yared
Cast: Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci
Running Time: 1 hour and 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual references and brief language)

Invitation to the Dance
by Scott Holleran

Though no one will mistake Miramax's Shall We Dance for a classic Fred Astaire musical, director Peter Chelsom's romantic dance comedy makes you want to grab a dish and dance 'til dawn. The jovial remake, based on director Masayuki Suo's Japanese movie of the same name and written by Audrey Wells (Under the Tuscan Sun), captures the original picture's thematic undercurrent that happiness is the point of life.

To paraphrase The Shawshank Redemption, Shall We Dance is an invitation to get busy dancing. Richard Gere's married with children Chicago estate lawyer is stuck in a middle-aged rut, taking the El to and from work every day, stealing a few seconds from his retail designer wife (Susan Sarandon), his cell-phone-obsessed daughter and his college-age son. Life is good, but it could be better, and Gere's happily married man, bothered by a sense of sameness, wants it all.

Passing by a second-story ballroom dance school every night while riding on the train, he spots a beautiful but lonely-looking young woman staring out the window and he is drawn by her aura to the walk-up studio, which, like his marriage, has seen better days. Gere seizes the impulse to learn how to dance—without consciously knowing why—and Shall We Dance begins its ballroom lesson that he does it for himself.

Gere quietly supplants his middle class suburban life with a ballroom dancing subculture inhabited by a bawdy waitress (snappy Lisa Ann Walter getting Skokie down pat), a big lug on the make for easy broads (hangdog Bobby Cannavale) and the school's alcoholic proprietor and teacher, named Miss Mitzi (stage actress Anita Gillette). Of course, the woman who draws Gere into this band of misfits is an ethereal Latin dancer played by Jennifer Lopez, whose shapely figure in flowing skirts keeps the fellas on their toes and Gere from coming home to Sarandon on time.

As Dad busts a few moves, the kids notice he's happier, Mom gets hip to hubby's new spring in his step, and everybody from a private eye (Richard Jenkins) to a legal colleague with a fetish for exhibitionism (Stanley Tucci) is entranced by what's happening at Miss Mitzi's.

Using Gabriel Yared's cheerfully teasing score, director Chelsom moves them right along, in waltzes, the tango and the inevitable big dance competition. Sweetened by Richard Rodgers' title tune (from The King and I, kids), music from My Fair Lady and Breakfast at Tiffany's and a classy clip of Fred Astaire from The Band Wagon, Shall We Dance puts the dance (choreographed by Strictly Ballroom's John O'Connell) to the melodies and tops it off with a romantic knockout custom-made for Richard Gere.

Forget full-length shots of dancing performed in single takes—those days were gone when the studios stopped training actors to dance—and don't expect much from Gere or Lopez; watch Sarandon's searching wife for the real payoff. Gere moves more than he dances and his acting is flat. Lopez substitutes stoic for alluring and her dance posture lacks femininity. Between them, it's hard to tell who is leading whom. Lapses in logic, like the disappearing college kid, and the limits of shooting a Chicago story in Winnipeg take a heavy toll. The city of big shoulders begs to be shown for the toddlin' town it is.

Romantic love is glamorized with a single rose, curvy dames in silky gowns and the sight of a man and a woman gliding across the dance floor. Timed for fall's

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sense of renewal, Shall We Dance is like a second wind from the first chill in the autumn air, a graceful celebration of romance, with dance as the deliverance and with happiness as the aim.

DVD Notes
The romantic Latin-tinged soundtrack to Miramax's Shall We Dance fills the speakers with Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound on DVD. From deleted scenes with optional commentary to a ballroom dancing feature for beginners, the widescreen edition is packed with good stuff. Besides director Peter Chelsom's commentary, other shorts include a behind the scenes bit, a music video of "Sway" by the Pussycat Dolls and a piece on the movie's music.


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