'Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks': Film Review
Gena Rowlands and Cheyenne Jackson star in this screen adaptation of the oft-produced stage play
Gena Rowlands' welcome return to the big screen is the chief attraction of the film adaptation of Richard Alfieri's oft-produced two-hander play about the friendship that develops between an elderly widow and the gay dance instructor she hires for private lessons. Given an awkward cinematic adaption by its original stage director, Arthur Allan Seidelman, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks serves as little more than a star vehicle for its two-time Oscar-nominated veteran actress. Theatrical prospects look marginal, but it should be a sturdy player upon its release in home video formats, assuming that its target audience knows how to operate their DVD players.
The 84-year-old actress, still looking vigorous enough to pass for her character's 75 years (68 if you count her initial lie about her age), plays Lily Harrison, a minister's widow who now lives alone in a well-appointed apartment with a beautiful ocean view. To help pass the time, and presumably alleviate her loneliness, she procures the services of dance studio instructor Michael Minetti (Jackson), a former Broadway chorus boy who returned to his Florida hometown to care for his mother, who is afflicted with Alzheimer's disease.
In true romantic comedy fashion — and a romance is indeed what develops, albeit of the thankfully platonic variety — each takes an initial dislike of the other, with insults flying during their initial lesson and Lily paying a visit to Michael's boss (Julian Sands) afterward to vigorously complain. But she has a change of heart thanks to Michael's sob story about having an invalid wife, and the lessons in such dances as the tango, fox-trot and cha-cha quickly resume.
But the lessons are not so much about the dancing as communication, as the pair find themselves growing increasingly closer while eventually loosening their emotional defenses. Dramatic revelations, including Michael's not exactly earth-shaking announcement that he's gay, ensue, with the emotional confessions often couched in the form of bitchy, wisecracking banter that barely resembles how people actually talk.
Alfieri's sitcom-style script includes such cliched characters as Lily's downstairs neighbor (Rita Moreno) who constantly calls to complain about the noise — "You sound like the dancing elephants in Fantasia" is a typical comment — and another of Michael's elderly female clients (Jacki Weaver, in an embarrassing turn) who turns out to be a sex-crazed groper.
The dialogue seems equally geared for a laugh track, such as Michael's instruction that "just like Catholic birth control, the fox-trot is all about rhythm."
Despite including such scenes as when the two leads dance together in a packed ballroom, the film inevitably feels stagebound. Such moments as when Michael shows up dressed like a gaucho for a tango lesson, while it no doubt must have produced guffaws from the Broadway matinee ladies, here fall hopelessly flat.
That it works to the extent that it does is due to the appealing performances by the two leads. Rowlands — in a role previously played onstage by such actresses as Uta Hagen, Rue McClanahan, Leslie Caron and Polly Bergen — brings a warmth and vulnerability to her performance that amply compensates for such moments as when she declares, "I'm wearing my fuck-me dress, and I'm going to dance." Jackson — a veteran Broadway performer (Xanadu, Finian's Rainbow) frequently cast for his ripped, eye-candy sex appeal — pushes a little too hard at first, but when he finally relaxes, his charm shines through. Their efforts, and the glossy cinematography by the great Vilmos Zsigmond, make Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks relatively easy to take.
Production: Docler Entertainment, Entpro
Cast: Gena Rowlands, Cheyenne Jackson, Jacki Weaver, Rita Moreno, Julian Sands, Kathleen Rose Perkins, Anthony Zerbe, Simon Miller
Director: Arthur Allan Seidelman
Screenwriter: Richard Alfieri
Producers: Thomas H. Brodek, Gyorgy Gattyan, Andras Somkuti
Executive producers: Marc Platt, Jerry Offsay, Peter Bruno Gyorgy
Director of photography: Vilmos Zsigmond
Production designer: Tibor Lazar
Editor: Bert Glatstein
Costume designer: Gyorgyi Szakacs
Composer: Attila Pacsay
Casting: Paul Ruddy
No rating, 107 min.