Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon and Jennifer Lopez co-star in an American version of a romantic hit from Japan. Alan Silverman has a look at Shall We Dance.
Chicago lawyer John Clark seems to have a perfect life: he's successful in business, has a loving family and a beautiful home; but something is missing. He doesn't know why, but he's not happy. Then one evening, while taking the commuter train home, he sees a beautiful woman gazing wistfully from the window of an office building. The sign above the window reads "Miss Mitzi's School of Dance." Acting on impulse, he gets off the train, climbs the stairs and, before he knows it, John is enrolled in Miss Mitzi's ballroom class for beginners.
The more time he spends on the dance floor, the more John rediscovers a spirit he had lost. There's a snap to his step, he smiles more and has a new sense of joy. The trouble is, he does not tell his wife about this newfound passion. Richard Gere, who stars as John Clark, admits that is a problem.
"Why doesn't my character tell his wife that he's doing this? I say 'why doesn't she ask him when she knows something is going on?' It's a peculiar thing about all of us," Gere notes. "No matter how strong we are, there's always a little insecurity there about how is this going to be received. Do I really want to know the answer to the question?"
Susan Sarandon plays John's wife Beverly, who hires a private detective instead of just asking, according to Sarandon, because she fears her husband is being unfaithful.
"I guess she's afraid because initially she thinks it's an affair. Then, when she finds out it's not an affair, I think she's so hurt that he couldn't talk to her about it," Sarandon explains. "She can't understand why he couldn't talk to her about it. I think once she's found out that he's done something and she's him transformed like that, I don't think she knows what to do."
Jennifer Lopez plays the dance instructor Paulina, the woman who was gazing out the window of Miss Mitzi's. A skilled dancer, Lopez found the ballroom style unexpectedly challenging.
"It was as alien as it could be. I felt like I was from Mars. It was tough for me," Lopez admits. "Being a dancer, naturally I'm going to be able to do some things, but it's such a different art form. It's very technical and very different from every other type of movement I've ever done. I've done from flamenco to ballet, jazz and hip-hop - all kinds of stuff - but this was really very challenging for me."
Shall We Dance is based on a 1996 Japanese film that director Peter Chelsom loves so much, he turned down the first offer to remake it in Hollywood. Asked to reconsider, English-born Chelsom says he said yes only after he found a way to reshape its message for an American perspective.
"The Japanese movie relied on a taboo against ballroom dancing: two people expressing themselves publicly, intimately. I realized we could have a movie where the taboo in the American story could be if you are living any kind of the dream - you are Richard Gere, for God's sake, the man everyone wants to be or wants to have, whatever you preference; and you have Susan Sarandon as a wife and those kids and that car and whatever - there is a certain shame involved in raising your hand and saying 'I'm not happy, actually,' he explains.
The actor Richard Gere calls the film a fantasy; but the disciple of the Dalai Lama adds that he can relate the heart of the story to his long-held Buddhist beliefs about everyday life.
"What I liked about this piece is it was about people who weren't dysfunctional. They were really kind of together: smart, funny, effective," he explains. "I don't see any particular dysfunction in anyone in this, but they're not happy. From a Buddhist point of view I kind of liked that. We are all in that state; no matter how functional we become, there is always something that is not quite there ... that is missing. You have always got to be finding new avenues to have that spark, to have that opening, to have new possibilities."
Shall We Dance also features Stanley Tucci, Bobby Cannavale and Lisa Ann Walter as dancers and fellow students who share the joy on the dance floor. The adaptation of the Japanese original is by Audrey Wells, who also wrote the romantic hit Under The Tuscan Sun.