Earlier this week, I watched one of my favourite uplifting films. From 2004, Shall We Dance is a remake of the 1996 Japanese movie of the same name. Richard Gere stars as a man who feels like something is missing, despite seeming to have it all — a successful career as an estate lawyer, a long-term marriage with a beautiful wife (Susan Sarandon), two great kids, and a nice house. Periods of “quiet desperation” are something that many of us above a certain age can relate to, particularly those of us who have been in a long career and/or a long marriage.
On the commuter train, John Clark (Gere) repeatedly sees a beautiful but obviously sad young woman (Jennifer Lopez) back-lit in a second-floor window of a dance studio. One night on impulse, John goes up the stairs and so starts a journey into finding something meaningful through the group of slightly damaged people attached to the ballroom dance classes.
This is a quiet movie in its focus on the emotions experienced by the central characters, but there is also some wonderful comedy. The always well-camouflaged Stanley Tucci show us the closet latin dancer behind the carefully cultivated veneer of lawyer and sports fan. Recent Berlin Station chief Richard Jenkins is gently amusing as a private detective. And Lisa Ann Walter is hilarious as the self-involved and totally insensitive Bobbie (“stop looking at my ass!”).
The dancing is superb — Jennifer Lopez is regal and her body moves with strength and grace. Richard Gere is in great shape and performs admirably, particularly in the tango with Lopez. Stanley Tucci is wildly and fully engaged in the latin dance, partnering with Lisa Ann Walter. Anita Gilette at nearly 70 is lithe, and her turn with Gere to “Shall We Dance” from the King and I is joyous.
The best thing about this movie, though, is the hope that it brings for finding something to combat that “quiet desperation”and, indeed, for a long-term marriage. John’s wife, Beverley (Sarandon) muses that people get married “because we need a witness to our lives… you’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness’.”
A much older Peter Gabriel than in his Genesis days sings the closing song, “The Book of Love”, summing up what comprises a long relationship.
The book of love is long and boring
No one can lift the damn thing
It’s full of charts and facts and figures
And instructions for dancing
I love it when you read to me
You can read me anything
(Video produced by Carissa Mendoza.)