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REVIEW: Shall We Dance?

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Most dance movies have a whiff of adolescent funk about
them. Some fall into the “you
go” subset, wherein one roots for an aspiring twinkletoes
(Saturday
Night Fever
, Flashdance). The others are members of
the girly-porn phylum, in which dance serves as a PG-rated metaphor
for sexual awakening (Footloose, Dirty Dancing). Shall
We Dance?
, a remake of the 1996 Japanese film of the same name,
however, draws on elements of both, but replaces blossoming youth
with something more gravity-bound — the malaise of a middle-aged
man.

    Why pity John Clark (Richard Gere)? He’s a well-off, happily
married accountant with a nice house in the Chicago suburbs. His life seems perfect…but
his children are busy with their cellphones and social lives, and his wife Beverly
(Susan Sarandon) is a loving but harried executive with whom he has drive-by
conversations as she heads out the door. Pondering his situation in a mealy voiceover
on the train home, John mulls a question his clients ask him as they sign their
wills: “Is that it, then?”

    Once he spots the lovely, forlorn Paulina (Jennifer Lopez)
standing a dance-school window, he realizes the answer is no. Poor
J.
Lo — she’s
posed in a haze of red light like a shopfront Amsterdam whore, and for all of
John’s sighs and pinched white-knight yearnings, his libido is clearly what drags
him off the train and into the studio. “The sign said we could watch,” he gasps
out to no avail — she unceremoniously signs him up for classes.

    Thus begins John’s descent into the world of ballroom dance,
populated with the usual “madcap” Hollywood suspects: the fatty, the frowzy,
and the freaky. The fatty sports roaring armpit stains, the frowzy frau twitches
off her fake ponytail mid-meal, and in a bit of an inside joke, Gere puts up
with the slings and arrows of homo innuendo from the freak.

    Beetling between scenes and characters, the film doesn’t give much of a sense of John or Paulina — not a grievous loss in the case of the spongy Gere. But for all its missteps, Shall We Dance? has partially cracked the code of J. Lo, who, despite her picante reputation, projects a relentlessly cool can-do-ism in her acting. Her dancing, however, is where Lopez sizzles, and Shall We Dance? makes ample use of her skills. “This dance is a vertical expression of a horizontal wish,” she breathes in her baby-doll voice, hurling her partner to the floor. A bit later, she takes Gere on in a tension-filled tango — I
squirmed in my seat, sweat trickling.

    Not surprisingly, Lopez is less successful in conveying the sad-swan allure that supposedly draws John off the train and into her orbit — a haunting mystery that Tamiyo Kusakari, the ballet dancer who played the original Lo role, had in spades. The remake has replaced the original’s real pathos with a bit of heat — not
a surprising swap, considering the difficulty of translating certain Japanese
tropes: the silent angst of the beaten-down white-collar male,
the crushing pressure of social conformity, shivering melancholy honed to a high
aesthetic. When the two worlds of Gere’s Japanese counterpart collide — the Technicolor realm of the dance floor and his dutiful, grey life — the crash is devastating, and not the least because the slower-paced original gives itself the space to explore queasy alienation and men’s secret, thwarted yearning to escape their strait-jacketed roles.

    The remake, in contrast, plays a little footsie with existential
despair but pulls back soon enough. John’s just got the bourgeois blues, it turns
out — nothing a little frotteur fandango won’t fix. As we watch him romp
around the kitchen with his wife, a familiar question comes to mind: Is that
it, then? — Noy Thrupkaew

REVIEW: P.S.
Louise
Harrington (Laura Linney) is a foxy but repressed art-school
admissions director. In an uncharacteristically impetuous move,
Louise arranges for an interview with a potential student (Topher
Grace), invites him to her apartment, and screws him on her
tasteful couch. If word got out, imagine the boom in applicants.

    But there’s a method to Louise’s madness: She thinks this
kid may be the reincarnation of her old boyfriend, the reckless artist who died
young and full of promise. His reappearance offers Louise a second chance, a
kind of virtual youth of which dead lovers and other drudgeries (divorce, work,
thwarted ambition) have robbed her. There’s more, but, well, it’s complicated.

   This premise may have worked in Helen Schulman’s book of the same name. It’s an interior fantasy that relies on Louise’s projections and illusions, the stuff of novels. But as a film, it’s baffling. Are we really supposed to believe her boyfriend has been reincarnated? And if so, would he really choose the kid from That 70s Show?

   I don’t mean to pick on Topher Grace. Like Linney, he delivers
a solid performance working with substandard material. Their scenes together
are the lifeblood of the film — fumbling,
sweet, creepy, at times quite sexy. But the film wanders off into weak subplots
about Louise’s cad of an ex-husband (Gabriel Byrne) and her old friend Missy
(the usually superlative Marcia Gay Harden). There’s a more robust story here — about
love, and art, and the fragile fantasies that sustain
us — but director Dylan Kidd can’t quite get his grip on it. That’s disappointing,
considering the promise of his verbose, fascinating debut, Roger Dodger. P.S. is
like the opposite—withholding and dull. With such a solid pedigree, you’d
think it would be a good film. P.S. It isn’t. — Sarah Hepola
Date DVD #3: The Wong Kar-Wai Collection
Move the TV into the bedroom and find
some takeout menus — there are so many great date DVDs this week, you may want to spend all weekend inside.

   If you’ve got a vicious, slightly sadistic lover, take John
Crowley’s ferocious, dark comedy Intermission (with
Colin Farrell), a quick-witted romp through Dublin. If you love a comic-book
nerd, you two can laugh at the truly funny adaptation Hellboy (or even
the unintentionally funny Van Helsing). If you’re dating an earnest striver,
there’s the moving documentary To Be and To Have, about a French school
teacher — or Michael Apted’s historic and sensitive Up series, which
follows fourteen English kids over more than three decades. And
horror lovers can hold hands while watching a restoration of George
Franju’s chilly classic Eyes Without a Face.

   But for pure date value, these movies pale when compared to
the Wong Kar-Wai Collection, five films from the most stylish romantic
in cinema. Worldwide, romance has largely been trampled by comedy or dumb melodrama,
but Hong Kong’s most elegant director somehow finds a way to make it feel
effortlessly smart, unbearably sexy and unapologetically beautiful.

   The set kicks off with the DVD debut of 1988’s fascinating
crime
romance As Tears Go By, starring Maggie Cheung and Andy Lau. The slyly
hot Days
of Being Wild
is a brash love triangle set
among showgirls and prostitutes that marks the director’s
first collaboration with cinematographer Christopher Doyle. Together, the two
have gone on to create the most luscious romantic landscapes in contemporary
cinema.

   Check them out in the set’s other three films: Chungking
Express
(Wong
Kar-Wai’s stateside breakthrough, which is already out on DVD), and remastered
versions of Fallen Angels and 1997’s Happy Together — the
director’s brilliant work features Hong Kong stars Tony Leung and Leslie Cheung,
and shows
off the full visual range of bright lights and dark night clubs in Buenos
Aires.

   
The only possible downside: It’s hard to make out while reading subtitles. — Logan
Hill



 
©2004 Nerve.com.