Chicago lawyer John Clark (Richard Gere) writes wills. He listens to people sum up their lives — their assets, their liabilities, their legacies. When it’s done, they ask, “Is that it, then?” and he tells them, “That’s it for the paperwork. The rest is up to you.” Finally, it is time for him to get that message.
John likes his job and he loves his wife, son, and daughter. But riding home on the El train, he sees a woman standing in the second-story window of a ballroom dance studio and her expression of sadness and longing as she gazes into the darkness somehow unleashes his own wish for something more. Maybe it is his wish to be something more. So one night, he walks into the dance studio and signs up for the beginners class.
There are two other students, Vern, a huge, shy man (Omar Benson Miller) who says he wants to dance at his upcoming wedding, and Chic (Bobby Cannavale of The Station Agent), who says he is there to learn to dance so he can impress girls. Really, though, they are all there because they want to dance, to be a part of the music, to let go and swirl across the floor.
John begins to see himself differently when he finds a way to move to music. His wife suspects an affair and hires a pair of detectives (Richard Jenkins of “Six Feet Under” and Nick Cannon from Drumline, both wonderful) to follow him. Though John is drawn to the melancholy dance teacher it is more out of curiousity and compassion than romance. Dancing leads him to become friends with Vern, Chic, and with Bobbie (Lisa Ann Walter), a brassy student who hopes to compete for a title. He finds an unexpected connection with a colleague from the office and with his own family. And if he can learn to share this precious new part of himself with his wife, well, as the title song (from The King and I) asks, shall they dance?
The movie not only shows you the longing felt by its characters, it draws you in to sharing those feelings with them. You want John, Vern, Chic, Bobbie, and the others to find their steps and rhythm, to fly on the “bright cloud of music,” the song describes. You may even want to find your own.
Lopez gives a performance of great delicacy and skill, showing us Paulina’s fragility and dignity. Each actor creates a real and vivid and endearing character. And the music and dancing are sublime. You may just do a little dancing of your own on your way home.
Parents should know that the movie has brief strong language and some unnecessary homophobic humor, particularly a gratuitous last-minute twist. There are sexual references and jokes, including references to adultery, but in general the characters’ behavior is loyal and respectful. Characters drink and there are scenes in bars.
Families who see this movie should talk about why it was had for John and Beverly to be honest with each other. What was John missing? Which characters changed the most, and why? What could you do that would change your life the way dancing changed the lives of John, Vern, and Chic?
Families who enjoy this movie will also appreciate the many other delightful movies about the way dance changes people’s lives. Some of the best are Strictly Ballroom, Dirty Dancing, Saturday Night Fever, The Full Monty, and Steppin’ Out with Liza Minnelli along with Fred Astaire classics like The Bandwagon (briefly glimpsed in this movie). They should also watch the movie this was based on, a lovely 1994 Japanese film also called Shall We Dance.