Sunday, February 20, 2005

Shall We Dance

A movie that wants us to believe that Ballroom Dancing keeps husbands out of brothels in much the same way that boxing gyms stop violent males from stealing handbags. Now that's a rather trite little summary of the premise of this highly enjoyable movie, but I don't think Richard Gere has been in a role in which so much belief needed to be suspended since Pretty Woman.

Yet this movie is far better written than In Good Company, its big ticket stars are on top form and the supporting cast are all superb. It throws every trick in the Hollywood romcom emotional manipulation book at its audience (English director Chelsom gave us Serendipity) yet still comes off as an blast of freshness and fun. You might think it would be the last film that I would recommend without major reservations, but in this particular instance you would be wrong.

Lawyer John Clark's profesional existence is certainly more secure than Dan Foreman's but like In Good Company this is essentially a tale about the anxieties surrounding the life choices facing salarymen. I do believe however that Shall We Dance reaches more interesting conclusions about the way to offset all the "quiet desperation" that inevitably builds up as our possibilities appear to become ever more finite. Not everyone can simply opt out of mainstream corporate capitalism halfway through. Who would pay for all the creative writers and trendy boutique owners then? No, what you have to do with practical, everyday life is learn to transcend it in the act of living it. You can change course without having to change ship.

It came as little surprise to discover that this was originally a Japanese movie. (Shall we Dansu, 1996) as the philosophy expressed above is very Eastern. I can understand how the Japanese comedy would have been more poignant than the re-make. John Clark's existence is far from drone-like. He has everything the American Dream has to offer, yet owns to being a bit unsettled by a life of trading in last will and testaments.

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