Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Shall We Dance? is a delightful waltz

As we began to watch the newest version of Shall We Dance? (a remake of the 1997 Japanese movie), my friend in the movie theatre whispered to me, "Do you like to dance?" I immediately whispered back a fervent, "No!"

This is the tale of a man bored with his job as an estate planner, who knows exactly what he will say to each client at various stages of the legal process. He knows the route the train takes, he even seems to know the people who accompany him although he never looks at them. He can't connect with his children, who seem to be quickly pulling away from him. His wife, Susan Sarandon, even seems too busy to notice that his flame is slowly fading.

But one day while riding on that same commuter train, he notices a beautiful woman sitting in the 2nd story windowsill of an old brick building. She looks so sad. He sees her a second time. He finally exits the train, seemingly seeking her out, and wanders into a dance studio. He joins the other two men there in their beginning dance class.

The movie is an exploration of his journey to figure out why this woman is so sad, not of his attraction to her (although that immediately appears to be some of the force pulling him through that dance studio door). He wants to know the why and how to this question, as her sad and sullen face is a mirror of his own empty soul.

I did not want to see this movie. Of all the movies out there, I rated "Shall We Dance?" at the bottom, even below "Spongebob Squarepants: The Movie." I thought I knew what it was all about, having seen an overly long preview a few months ago. I was quietly surprised, though. I truly enjoyed this movie. Yes, it has too many characters, and, yes, it has too many little subplots involving these people. But the characters are engaging, the music is infectious, and the dancing is exquisitely choreographed. Who could know that a waltz could look so damned sexy?

The answer to the question I was asked was "no," but that's only because I wish I could dance like that, beautifully, Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire. Only I'd have to be able to dance terrifically immediately, without blundering through the learning stages. So I completely got it when Richard Gere goes for lessons without telling his family, coworkers or friends, and that he found the experience the catalyst he needed to break through his own lethargy and unhappiness. The idea that we would all find the "meaning of life" through ballroom dancing is just a little far-fetched....but just a little.

I give "Shall We Dance?" a thumb's up, much to my surprise.


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