I know just how Richard Gere’s character feels at the start of Shall We Dance? (2004), sitting alone on the train home, staring up at the window of a track-side dance studio, mesmerised by the young woman he sees there, sighing into the night… compelled to leave the carriage before his appointed stop, and hurry up the stairs to the rehearsal room, so he can bask in her beauty a little while longer. It’s much the same compulsion that made me record this movie, even though I knew it would most likely bore the bejeezus out of me. Damn you, Jennifer Lopez, you cinematic siren!
For those who don’t know, this mediocre melodrama stars Gere as ‘John Clark’, a well-heeled lawyer who has become dissatisfied with his cushy life, but feels too guilty about his own ingratitude to articulate this middle-aged angst to his wife, ‘Beverly’ (Susan Sarandon)… instead, he finds himself silently pining for ‘Pauline’ (J-Lo), a rather distant and austere dancer, who practices at Miss Mitzi’s studio. He mumbles and stumbles his way into a beginner’s class in ballroom dancing, to be closer to his quarry… eventually bonding with his fellow students, and studio staff alike. Yawn. The whole thing was a little too corny and bland for my taste… like one of the made-for-TV dramas that Ch5 plays on weekday afternoons, only with a much bigger budget, better cast, and fewer churchy types preaching. It probably doesn’t help that I generally find Gere a bit phoney, and have never really been able to warm to him, no matter how much fun he’s pretending to have on-screen.
Unfortunately, there weren’t many other characters I could sympathise with either… I mean, I loved watching her moves, but it was a little hard to take Pauline seriously when her avowed ambition was to return to Blackpool to compete in a fiercely fought ballroom dancing competition. I assume most American audience members accept that at face value, but to my mind Blackpool is a cheap-and-cheesy, slightly seedy seaside resort, rather than a glamorous crucible of dreams. Meanwhile, John’s fellow amateurs are barely-inflated clichés… especially Bobby Cannavale’s ‘Chic’, who spends the entire movie in a state of perpetual “gay panic”, until we get to the closing musical montage, and find him happily dancing with another dude in a stereotypical gay club. I don’t doubt that some homophobes are over-compensating closet-cases, unable to understand or accept their own sexuality, but I’d wager that most homophobes are just garden-variety a-holes. I mean, racists aren’t secretly afraid that they might belong to the same specific ethnic group that they’re attacking, are they? No, they’re just a-holes. (Although technically, we do all belong to the same race… and it’s called the HUMAN RACE, so there!)
I thought I was going to like ‘Bobbie’, the brassy blonde dancer played by Lisa Ann Walter… but she quickly went from being amusingly outspoken to just plain mean and insulting… and when everyone finally called her on her shitty attitude, she fainted dead away! I thought she was faking, but it turned out the writers were trying to desperately drum up some sympathy for the character, by revealing how hard she works/trains and how worried her daughter is about her. Meh. Maybe if she spent a bit less time tearing everyone else to shreds, she’d have more time to nap? I did feel bad for Stanley Tucci’s ‘Link’, a nerdy office drone whose dull, everyday exterior belies his secret passion for dancing, as he sneaks away after work to slap on some fake tan, fake teeth and a long wig, so he can strut his stuff as an ersatz “Latin” lothario… but he’s only a minor supporting character, and I imagine most of his appeal is down to Tucci’s natural charisma rather than the script.
I was relieved when a suspicious Beverly hired a private detective to trail her husband, because he quickly establish that John wasn’t cheating on her after all… and I naively assumed that this meant we’d avoid the usual histrionics that an actual affair might have led to… but, no, apparently the writers had a “histrionics” quota to fill, so they crowbarred them in there anyway! Who cares if it makes any sense in relation to the scenes that came before it? We need some conflict here, dammit! The bizarre part was the way their daughter’s attitude seemed to turn on a dime from scene to scene… the first time we meet her she can barely even tolerate her parents, then she’s sneering at the sight of her father practicing dance moves in his den, then she’s sneering at her Mom practicing similar moves, then she’s accompanying her Mom to cheer her Dad on at a competition, and then she’s angry at her Dad for not teaching her Mom to dance too! I know teenagers are supposed to be a bit mercurial, but that was just taking the piss. And it’s no reflection on Tamara Hope, the actress who played the part, either… she handled the random mood swings very well… I just wish they’d given her a more consistent character to work with.
Oh, and I almost had to mute my TV when I heard Peter Gabriel murdering “The Book of Love” (by The Magnetic Fields)! What was wrong with the original, eh? Not drawn-out and dreary enough for you? Hmmm? Tch!
Ah well, at least it gave me an excuse to post these gorgeous photos of J-Lo for us all to enjoy!