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Miramax Pictures presents
"Don't say anything. And don't think. And don't move...unless you feel it."
DVD ReviewShall We Dance? is a feel-good movie for the over-40 set, a film that lifts our sagging middle-aged spirits by proclaiming it's never too late to jump off the treadmill and juice up our lives. Better than a pep talk from Oprah or a dose of Prozac, Peter Chelsom's film inspires us to thumb our nose at the ticking clock, check our guilt at the door, and pursue happiness—whatever its form. The uplifting message is hardly revelatory, but it's depicted with such warmth and earnestness, it's easy to buy into the philosophy—especially when you're 42…like me.
Richard Gere portrays John Clark, a Chicago estate attorney who helps people "sum up" their lives by writing wills and trusts. Numbed by his monotonous, predictable routine, comfortable marriage to wife Beverly (Susan Sarandon), and the repetitive nature of his profession, John sees himself on a one-way path leading nowhere, and succumbs to a potent strain of ennui. At home, he feels cozy, secure, and appreciates his copious blessings, yet consistently wonders why "everything" is not enough.
As John commutes on the el, sadness overcomes him, until one evening he looks through the glass and spots a pensive woman staring out a dance school window. He's struck by her beauty, but more so by her sorrow, and when he sees her in the same position and wearing the same despondent expression on subsequent nights, he becomes further intrigued. Finally, John makes an impulsive decision and enters Miss Mitzi's Dance School in the hope of encountering her, and before he knows it, also signs up for class.
The mystery woman turns out to be Paulina (Jennifer Lopez), a serious ballroom dance instructor with little patience for the lusty fascination she commonly inspires. Although she rebuffs John's friendly overtures, the lessons still become a vital part of his existence. He fits in with the other misfit students—the overweight Vern (Omar Miller), macho Chic (Bobby Cannavale), and brassy Bobbie (Lisa Ann Walter)—and even discovers one of his co-workers (Stanley Tucci) is a closet ballroom fanatic, dancing incognito under a Fabio-like wig! The camaraderie, music, and liberating atmosphere of Miss Mitzi's allow John to release stress and infuse him with a long-lost zest for life.
Strangely, though, despite the unconditional love and understanding he receives from his family, John chooses to keep his after-hours life a secret, and his behavior causes Beverly to suspect he's having an affair. She hires a private detective (Richard Jenkins) to tail him just as John agrees to partner Bobbie in an upcoming competition.
Since I haven't seen the popular and critically acclaimed Japanese film upon which this version of Shall We Dance? is based, I can't compare it to Chelsom's remake. Yet the American edition stands on its own as an entertaining and surprisingly substantive exercise. Yes, it lacks the cultural themes that resonate throughout the Japanese film, but by focusing on John's personal turmoil, Chelsom addresses the distinctly American malaise of emptiness in the land of plenty, and our almost neurotic search for that vaguely defined ideal called "happiness." As the story begins, it's hard not to relate to John (or fear becoming him), yet the way in which he transforms his life becomes so contagious, when the movie ends, you just might find yourself wishing there could be a branch of Miss Mitzi's in your neighborhood. I know I do.
Chelsom lends the film a nice, easy flow, and deftly integrates the dance sequences into the story. Although the comedy is sometimes a bit too broad, the actors keep themselves grounded and create a solid ensemble. Gere beautifully transitions John from a restless malcontent to a man excited about all aspects of his life, and he creates marvelous chemistry with both Lopez and Sarandon. J Lo takes care not to let her public persona dominate, and files a moving, understated portrayal marked by some impressive dancing. Yet it's Sarandon who radiates throughout the film. Though her role isn't the showiest, her natural beauty, sincerity, and still palpable sex appeal make us wonder how John could ever be bored by her. Here, she juggles comedy, drama, and sentiment with ease, and we relish every moment she's on screen.
Shall We Dance? doesn't begin to approach the level of exhilaration and style found in every frame of Chicago, but it tells its sweet tale with humor, warmth, and a few slick moves. Watching Gere and Sarandon glide across the kitchen floor at the film's conclusion will make almost anyone believe in the restorative powers of dance and how a little rhythm can energize even the most sedate marriage.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen transfer looks a bit soft compared to other recent releases, but the treatment still possesses good clarity, color saturation, and shadow detail. The dull visual style may be an intentional choice to reflect John's drab existence, but when the light bulb goes on in his life, the picture still lacks the vibrant pizzazz one expects from a movie of this kind. Fleshtones are a shade off, but still seem natural, and no surface defects of any sort dot the print.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The DD 5.1 track suffers from the same malaise, seeming bright and balanced, but lacking the underlying oomph to really prick up one's ears. With most of the audio anchored up front, surround activity is light, but stereo separation is noticeable, and the music sounds full and lively. Dialogue is always easy to understand, but the track doesn't possess the aural detail and overall bounciness one craves from a music-oriented film.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Shall We Dance?, Carolina, Finding Neverland
5 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Peter Chelsom
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Layers Switch: 01h:15m:23s
Behind the Scenes of Shall We Dance? is an entertaining, if unremarkable documentary that features interviews with almost every actor who appeared in the film, as well as director Chelsom. All discuss the underpinnings of the plot, analyze their respective characters, and express mutual admiration, as film clips and on-set footage illustrate their comments. One of the more interesting segments deals with the rigorous dance training required of the actors, and the injuries that plagued them. Although the 23-minute piece is slickly shot, it's pretty standard stuff.
Much more informative, Beginners' Ballroom focuses on the art and history of ballroom dancing. Using vintage clips as well as rehearsal footage of Gere and Lisa Ann Walter, the six-and-a-half-minute featurette looks at the rigid technique and constant quest for perfection that define the sport (and ballroom dancing is indeed classified as a sport). Comments from choreographers and an in-depth look at the waltz flesh out the piece.
Miramax president Randy Spendlove describes The Music of Shall We Dance?, from the classic ballroom tunes to more pop-oriented fare, such as Mya's update of David Bowie's Let's Dance and the Pussycat Dolls version of Dean Martin's Sway. Clips from the recording studio, interviews with vocalists, and a behind-the-scenes look at the Pussycat Dolls' video shoot highlight this four-minute featurette. And if watching the Pussycat Dolls strut their stuff whets your appetite for more of the same, take a gander at the group's stylishly sexy Sway video, also included on the disc.
Up next is a collection of five deleted scenes (with optional commentary), the most noteworthy of which is a lengthy alternate opening that runs six minutes. The well-abandoned sequence begins with a dance number that segues into an extended look at John Clark's professional persona. A few sneak peeks at other Miramax DVDs complete the extras package.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsOh, what a little dancing can do! A great date flick for married couples, Shall We Dance? mixes romance, humor, and Terpsichore as it shows how kicking up our heels can also perk up our humdrum lives. Though fans of the Japanese original might not embrace this remake, everyone else should enjoy this light, fun film. Recommended.
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