THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


In Shall We Dance? Richard Gere plays John Clark, an estate lawyer who is utterly bored with the confines of his job. Itís dull and routine, with little variation to spice things up. He takes this boredom home to his wife Beverly (Susan Sarandon). Their marriage isnít unhappy; the spark has just dimmed a bit.

Every day on the el train home, John looks up at Miss Mitziís Dance Studio, where he sees Paulina (Jennifer Lopez), a beautiful young woman staring forlornly out the window. After seeing her day after day, John eventually enters the studio, somehow feeling a connection to her malaise. He ends up registering for ballroom dancing lessons. The other members of the class are a brassy woman named Bobbie (Lisa Ann Walter) with a penchant for speaking her mind, Vern (Omar Benson Miller) who wants to dance to impress his fiancťe, and Chic (Bobby Cannavale) who thinks dancing will help him pick up women. Yet another class member is Link Peterson (Stanley Tucci), who works in Johnís office. To hide his middle-aged balding looks, Link dons skin bronzer and a wig in order to resemble a Spanish stud. During his time at the studio, John learns to dance well enough to make it to a championship. He also strikes up a friendship with Paulina. Not a romance, mind you, but a friendship based on feelings of unhappiness that they share.

Beverly eventually becomes suspicious of why her husband is suddenly not coming home on Wednesday nights. She hires a private detective (Richard Jenkins) to trail John. When he comes back with the word that John is not having an affair but is instead taking dance lessons, Beverly is shocked. She canít possibly understand why he would do this, although she ultimately becomes the beneficiary of his newfound joy.

Shall We Dance? succeeds largely due to casting. Jennifer Lopez, of course, started her career as a dancer and has continued to incorporate dance into her music videos. Therefore, itís not hard to buy her as a serious, dedicated hoofer. Then thereís Richard Gere who, when starring in Chicago, turned into the last thing youíd ever expect him to be: a song-and-dance man. As a result, Gere hadnít seemed so alive on screen in years. The actorís newfound image fits well with the character, who also sheds a somewhat stiff, uptight image through the power of rhythmic movement. Gere and Lopez share a sultry dance that, like the other dances in the film, is fun to watch. If you have no appreciation of ballroom dancing, the stars will convince you that itís sexy.

The supporting cast is also quite good. Sarandon delivers another solid, soulful performance as the wife who no longer fully understands her husband. Bobby Cannavale and Stanley Tucci deliver strong comic relief, and Richard Jenkins (ďSix Feet UnderĒ) takes a silly role and injects it with enough eccentric attitude to somehow make it work.

Shall We Dance? was directed by Peter Chelsom, who also made 2001ís Serendipity. Both pictures have a deliberately old-fashioned feel. They are not modern, or hip, or self-knowing. They are instead throwbacks to a shamelessly sentimental style of filmmaking rarely employed these days. Viewers looking for grittiness of any sort will doubtlessly be appalled by the movieís endlessly sunny point of view and refusal to admit that anything in life can ever be too bad. However, if you can put yourself in a non-cynical frame of mind, Shall We Dance? has a sweetness that is hard to deny. The performances are good, the dancing is even better, and the message about finding passion in life is kind of touching.

I never consider the audience response when writing about my own, but itís worth mentioning that I saw several people literally dancing in the aisles as they made their way out of the theater. I refrained from dancing, but after seeing this film, I sure felt like it.

( out of four)

Shall We Dance? is rated PG-13 for some sexual references and brief language. The running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.

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