I am still trying to work out how I feel about Closer, Mike Nichols’ film version of a 1997 play by Patrick Marber. It is described as a drama/romance. I think it is the drama of attempted romance and a smattering of rather cynical comedy emerges as a result


A young woman, played by Natalie Portman, is hit by a cab as she crosses a London street. She is aided by Dan (Jude Law), a would-be novelist who is employed as an obituary writer. As they walk along after she has been tended to in the emergency room, they come across a cemetery memorial for people who died saving others. Dan asks the girl her name and she says it is Alice. She had been a stripper in New York. She moves in with Dan (though we find this out later; the time sequencing is uneven but it adds a quality to the film that keeps the viewer engaged trying to figure out what’s happening and when.)


Later, Dan has written a book that is to be published and his photographic portrait is being taken by Anna (Julia Roberts using her name from Notting Hill and the camera skills she learned in Step-Mom, I guess). They are immediately attracted to one another. And Alice notices this immediately, too. She becomes suspicious – and acts on it.


One night Dan is conversing in a sex chat room with a doctor, a dermatologist, named Larry. Dan pretends he is a woman named Anna and sets up a meeting at the London Aquarium. Interestingly enough, this is one of Anna’s places where she goes to think, and Larry finds her there. They fall in love and marry.


But all is not well. The two couples over time go back and forth with each other and just when we think one of the characters is going to be kind, or the relationships settled, he or she persecutes the other with demands for truth about infidelity.


Closer is an intelligent film, but not a particularly enjoyable one. The acting is quite good but often the interaction of the characters is just plain tedious. One reviewer said the film is an exercise in nihilism – I agree. This isn’t about the unity of bodies and souls, it is about bodies that cannot find their souls.


Perhaps the truth of the film, what we see and feel (the photography and skin metaphors are obvious devices; the aquarium fish/sharks and wolf – Dan’s last name – are as well), is that a true, lasting relationship and marriage cannot be built on lies and lack of trust. No one can get closer to anyone with falsehood and immaturity in the way. Each of the characters is in desperate need for a connection to another human being, for intimacy. They want to get closer, but the closer they get, the more distant they become. The characters are convinced that sex is everything, never quite realizing that it cannot substitute for genuine intimacy. The willing sacrifice of self for thebenefit of another is not just a suggestion for love and lasting relationships, but an absolute necessity.


The tag line for the film is: If you believe in love at first sight, you’ll always be looking. (I think this summer’s Garden State used the same line in it.) The characters are in need of some serious maturity, instead they are seriously adolescent. They keep on looking, they don’t forgive and ‘closer’ is unattainable. 


If this is funny, I missed the joke. It’s actually kind of sad.


Shall We Dance?

John Clark (Richard Gere) is a middle-aged estate lawyer in Chicago. As he rides the EL home every night he sees a beautiful young woman standing in the window of Madam Mitzi’s Dance Studio. He is in a kind of mid-life crisis and one evening gets off the train to check out the studio. The young woman, Paulina (Jennifer Lopez), convinces him to sign up for dance lessons that are starting that very night. Unfortunately for John, the teacher is the more senior Miss Mitzi herself (Anita Gilette) who imbibes on the side to have the courage to face new dance students. The other students are Chic (Bobby Cannavale) Vern (Omar Benson Miller.)


John does sign up for the lessons but he is obviously more attracted by Paulina than dance. Before long she lets him know that she doesn’t socialize with students. He almost quits, but returns to finish the lessons.


Shall We Dance? is an amusing film and I did enjoy it. However, I really liked the 1996 Japanese film on which it is based: Dansu Wo Shimasho Ka (aka Shall We Dansu?). The original captured the contrast and tension between the Japanese business culture and simple living very well and was more finely tuned into the characters than the 2004 US version.


There is an existential dimension to John Clark’s search for meaning that the film articulates well (in a way that reminded me of Moonstruck) as we find out when his wife Beverly (Susan Sarandon) hires a private detective to discover what he is up to. She asks: why does a man who has been doing the same thing the same way for twenty years suddenly change his pattern? The PI’s assistant Scottie (Nick Cannon) responds with a quote from Thoreau: “’Most men live lives of quiet desperation [and go to their graves with their song still in them]’ – maybe the desperation became too much for him.”


Towards the end of the film, after Beverly knows the truth, she and John talk about marriage. She says that a person gets married so that there will be a witness to their lives, to each other’s life and that someone will remember them. I thought the analogy between marriage and dance was well made in the film.


Stanley Tucci as Link, John’s colleague who does ballroom dancing wearing a wig, is excellent comic relief as is Bobbie (Lisa Ann Walter), who works 12 hour days to have enough money for dance costumes. Both of these characters, as well as John’s co-students, make their own journeys expressed through dance.


Shall We Dance is a feel-good movie with some really good laughs and dancing (but not enough; if you want to see a lot of excellent dancing see Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 Strictly Ballroom). I chatted with some people after the film and one woman said that Jennifer Lopez really bothered her because she was too beautiful for the part and that her moodiness seemed false. Personally, I think the roles were well cast and acted; if anything was “wrong” with the film it was a bit too predictable – and I was distracted because I was constantly comparing it to the Japanese version.


Will we regret at the end of our lives, for those of us who may not dance, that we never learned? Maybe.


(I begged my Grandmother for tap lessons when I was in second grade. After six weeks there was a recital; I came out on stage late. They gave me a plastic trophy and said I didn’t need to come back anymore. Imagine! And my Grandma was paying for those lessons!!)