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Richard Gere
Jennifer Lopez
Susan Sarandon
Stanley Tucci
Peter Chelsom.
Masayuki Suo
Audrey Wells.
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Shall We Dance?

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Beguiled by a face in the window of a dance studio, Chicago lawyer John Clark (Gere) impulsively gets off the train and signs up for dance lessons. He’s ashamed to tell his wife (Sarandon), who imagines he’s having an affair and hires a detective to discover his secret.

The pleasant surprise in this Americanisation of Masayuki Suo’s smashing global hit of 1996 is that it follows the storyline of the Japanese original quite closely. Contrary to the ad implications, this is not a romance between the Gere and Lopez characters, and the part of Lopez’s heartbroken dance instructor has not been blown up to unbalance the ensemble and the film’s essentially comedic nature. Though greeted with some derision in the US, it must stand a better chance here with its distinct Strictly Come Dancing appeal: celebrities with two left feet sweating through gruelling tango-foxtrot trials and trying not to trip over the sequins.

The heart of it is that something intangible is missing in 9-to-5-er John Clark’s comfy life. Instead of getting his ya-yas out with a sports car, a call girl, gambling or fishing, he rediscovers his joie de vivre by releasing his inner Astaire. The Japanese Ordinary Joe was liberated by this, defying the rigid conformity of a society in which such dancing is viewed as shamelessly intimate. Writer Audrey Wells (The Truth About Cats & Dogs) has tried to get around that by making her hero loathe to let his wife know he’s not 100 per cent happy. Only in America could that be postulated as shaming.

Two problems are insurmountable. Lopez can dance, but she comes with
so much baggage you can’t get over her being J.Lo. The other is that the taboo aspect is lost in translation — men in the West have nothing to fear from being known to enjoy a foot-shuffle. Gere’s transformation is funny and charming, but it’s never really believable that this man, with this life and this wife, would find his joy in ballroom dancing.

What works best is the fellowhip in Miss Mitzi’s studio. Tucci, excruciatingly toupéed and spray-tanned, is wild as John’s co-worker with his own closeted Latin dance addiction. John’s disparate classmates, including The Station Agent’s Bobby Cannavale, all have a story to tell and limbs to be tamed, and the surveillance ’tecs, Sins Of The Father’s Richard Jenkins and rapper Nick Cannon, acquire an amusingly critical appreciation for footwork. Director Peter Chelsom brings an affectionate eye and, at times, such as a flying-footed waltz, a distinctive bounce to the proceedings.

It’s rather cute, but only the truly girly will fall for the decidedly Officer And A Gentlemanly denouement that injects a belated sexy note.

Reviewed by Angie Errigo

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