John Clark is a successful Chicago lawyer who helps people draw up their wills. Happily married for 19 years with 2 nearly grown children, he has it all; the beautiful home, the perfect loving wife, good kids and a secure job. Along with a heaping helping of monotony and a bottomless, if ambiguous, pit of creative despair. Every evening as he rides the subway home, he sees a beautiful melancholy woman gazing out of the window at Miss Mitzi's School of Dance... and wonders.
It isn't long before he is looking up each evening expecting her to be there. So naturally, when she isn't in her window one evening it is just the pull John needs to drag him off the subway of his mundane existence, and into another world where dance becomes the creative expression that unchains him.
"A straight man who likes to dance around in sequins... walks a very lonely road." ~ Link
Pros: The Tango
Cons: The Toupee
Sadly, men who want to take up something like ballroom dancing are immediately stereotyped, especially if they enter into the competitions. Ever seen a ballroom dancing competition? It's a lot like professional ice skating...only without all the frozen water and Olympian potential. Is it any wonder that the average male of any age is reluctant to learn formal dancing?
SUCH a shame too, as there is nothing quite so attractive or romantic to a woman as a good dancer! A man who can dance well is seen as a confidant Alpha personality with (obviously) plenty of physical conditioning, flexibility and grace to be Highly desirable as a potential horizontal Mambo partner. Yet, somehow, the myth persists that all men who like to dance are only romantically interested in other men! My advice......Just Dance!
At Miss Mitzi's quiet, struggling, little school ever Wednesday night, we watch John - the serious, shy, introverted attorney, Chic - the ever-so-slightly Overly macho Chicago Everyman, and Vern - a gentle, chubby, self-conscious giant. All of them are struggling to shed their own pre-conceived notions and simply revel in the expressive creativity of Dance. Bobbi, a brash, overbearing, and extremely vocal amatuer ballroom hopeful, is convinced that all three are there simply to try to win the favor of "The Princess", Paulina.
John's wistful window gazer, whom, it turns out, occasionally takes classtime from her private lessons to help Miss Mitzi out with the ballroom beginners. Inevitably, Paulina is under the same impression. Is he attracted to her? Well, come on! It IS Jennifer Lopez and he Is a a heterosexual male! Yet, he is probably more surprised (and relieved) than nearly anyone else when he realizes that he simply wants....to dance.
All of this surrepitious dancing doesn't go unnoticed however, despite all of John's efforts to hide his new hobby. His daughter's comments on his odd behavior, and lighter mood, along with his mysterious and regular absences from home, soon arouse the suspicions of his shirt-sniffing wife. Quickly, Beverly seeks out the services of Mr. Devine and Mr. Harcourt, private investigators. With every fiber of her being she wants her fears to be unfounded, Yet she just can't seem to come up with any other rational explanation. "Yeah. It's possible. It's Possible we could find your husband neck deep in potpurri investing things...Not Likely." Devine manages to deadpan.
Meanwhile, John's hobby has been discovered by, horror of horrors....a co-worker! -gasp- Link Peterson is the kind of semi-desperate office personality that annoys everyone with his sports fixation and seems to have very little else to recommend him. Imagine John's shock to find that mild-mannered Link secretly longs to be....an acclaimed Latin dancer! (They're the fella's at the dance competitions with the darkest tans, widest grins, and the tightest pants with the most sequins.) Fortunately for John, Link becomes his 'dancing buddy', the guy friend who can share all the joys and woes of this rarified pasttime, and helps to encourage him when his doubts get too heavy.
Stanley Tucci (Link) is probably my current favorite unsung hero in Hollywood today. Ok, perhaps unsung is too strong, but I still don't think he gets the automatic recognition he so richly deserves. Most of you are probably thinking...."Stanley who?" Those of you who aren't...congrats! Those of you who are...I bet if you look up his filmography you'd recognize him from something. Tucci is a comic genius, just that simple. As Link, an absolute delight and the only one who could have matched Walter in amusing vibrancy.
Finally, we come to the brass tacks. Why? Why does John dance? Why does he hide it from his family? If he loves his wife so much, why didn't he include her? If he is so proud of his children, why doesn't he allow them the opportunity to participate in his life and be proud of him too? I think they did an excellent job of offering some believable answers to these questions, which were much more of a cultural issue in the original version.
"Shall We Dance" is a wonderfully rich look at the sometimes cloaked portion of a group of people's lives. It is also a remake of the Japanese film by the same title given to us by Masayuko Suo. Director Peter Chelsom did a marvelous job of translating the settings, characters and motivations into something that non-Asian viewers can more readily identify with, while still remaining true to the original tale. He really nailed it with the thought that love of dance, like music, is universal and should be both encouraged and celebrated. Choreographer John O'Connell did an excellent job and each of the dance coaches, in my opinion, deserves just as much accolade as the actors who worked so hard to learn the dancesteps.
If you are the sort of movie-goer who can watch subtitles without getting a headache, or the sort who actually prefers foreign films...By all means, see the origional. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it and it definitely has it's own undeniable charm. It captured a fond place in my heart when I first watched it several years ago, so I was incredibly curious about this remake. Would they fiddle with it too much? Would that indefinable something that tugs at viewers be lost? Would it become jaded, tacky, overblown or underdone? Thankfully, my answer is a resounding No. Screenwriter Audrey Wells deftly earned both my gratitude and respect with this work. Well done all around even with the changes in character or storyline.
When I first finished watching the Americanized version, I began comparing the two works and turning over the merits and defects in both films. The flaws, incidentally, are too minor to mention...in either production. Initially though, I felt that only one truly important element had been left out of this tale. In Suo's version, Paulina's character tells us about the ballroom couple who inspired her when she was a little girl. She tells us how they were making a wonderful showing at the big competition in Blackpool, until they collided with another couple. This put one of them into the hospital and demolished their chances that year.
What Really struck her about the experience though was how the gentleman did his utmost to protect his partner during that terrible fall. From that moment, for her...the greatest honor lay not in winning, but in doing your best to protect your partner through good and bad. She tells us that trust, of course, is an essential element in any successfully paired dancer's life. These personal revealations, and how they affected her in more recent times are really the final piece in understanding this character. She sheds her mystery only to blossom fully as the graceful, sensitive, and reassuringly fallible person she is truly meant to be behind her seemingly icy and perfect exterior.
This theme of protection and trust plays quite a prominant role in Suo's version of 'Shall We Dance' and at first musing, I felt that this had been largely overlooked in Chelsom's rendition. Paulina's character may even suffer somewhat from this exclusion, but the more I thought on it, the more I realized that the concept was still there...perhaps even expanded a bit. It was just more subtly presented. Vern, Chic, and John are all trying to protect their life partners in some manner. Bev too trys to protect John after learning of his dancing by attempting to stay out of something he has kept private....even though it wounds and distresses her.
The lessons here...Protect your loved ones, but don't exclude them in a misguided attempt to spare them pain. And, trust your loved ones to love you...flaws and all. Don't hide or change who you are, ever. As Bobbi so eloquently sums it up for Link, "This is Latin! The judges are watching your hips not your hair! So unless that thing looks good on your @!s; Loose it!" Ok...obviously she is Not the most sensitive of souls, lol, but her blunt honesty did help Link to finally shed his inhibitions and find happiness.
And lastly...Dance. Dance for the simple joy of it. Dance freely and often. Dance with the one you love and dance like you mean it.