Shall We Dance?

on July 11, 1997 by Sarah Banani
For a willing audience, there's tremendous joy in a movie about ballroom dancing. It's hard to resist the romance of over-the-top costumes and the fancy footwork. It's a shame, then, when the leading man's muse spends much of the film looking like all she could possibly inspire is an Easter Island-style statue. Jennifer Lopez's leaden performance weighs down the otherwise light-on-its-toes "Shall We Dance?"

Richard Gere stars as John Clark, a Chicago estate lawyer with itchy feet. He's drawn to Miss Mitzi's dance studio by the sight of a morose but lovely Paulina (Lopez) staring out the practice-hall window. He finds himself enrolled in a beginners' class and soon proves an apt student. Within months, he's partnering one of Miss Mitzi's regulars in competition. To get to that point, though, "Shall We Dance" runs through a series of inevitable moves: Clark's macho classmate assumes that the well-groomed lawyer is gay; his busy and beautiful wife (Sarandon) suspects he's having an affair and has him followed.

Less inevitable, though, is Stanley Tucci's character, Link. A colleague of Clark's, Link morphs from tightly-wound professional by day to passionate Latin dancer by night. Tucci holds nothing back in this role and is instrumental in keeping the energy level high. His work offers a stark contrast to Lopez's apparent decision to take her character very, very seriously. Her presence onscreen consistently kills the sense of fun that the others have created.

At its heart, there is nothing original about "Shall We Dance," and Clark's yearning for happiness is particularly trying, given his professional success and intact family. Even so, there are strong moments. In a lovely scene, Clark and his classmates (Omar Benson Miller and Bobby Cannavale) master a series of complicated steps for the first time and their joy and pride are palpable. It's a pity Lopez couldn't manage to show hers. Starring Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez, Susan Sarandon and Stanley Tucci. Directed by Peter Chelsom. Written by Masayuki Suo and Audrey Wells. Produced by Simon Fields. A Miramax release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for some sexual references and brief language. Running time: 105 min

Tags: Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Peter Chelsom, Masayuki Suo, Audrey Wells, Simon Fields, Miramex, Comedy, ballroom dancing, Paulina, John Clark, Miss Mitzi, Chicago

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