"Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks," adapted by Richard Alfieri from his international hit stage play, is that rare bird: a story that gives equal weight to both the trials of growing old and the struggles of youth. Though the movie may initially seem like one for the senior set, it's an authentic, poignant, often quite funny piece likely to touch a range of viewers.
Acting treasure Gena Rowlands stars as Lily, a Baptist minister's widow ensconced in a South Florida high rise for retirees. To ease her loneliness she signs on for a series of private dance lessons only to find that her handsome instructor, the 30ish Michael (Cheyenne Jackson), is a prickly pear with a short fuse and self-censoring issues.
A hate-at-first-sight dynamic eventually gives way to a warm friendship as the pair discover they have more in common than meets the eye, including a penchant for fibbing, filial and romantic loss, a need to connect (yet a resistance to do so) and, of course, a love of dancing.
Alfieri and director Arthur Allan Seidelman, who helmed stage productions of "Six Dance Lessons" in Los Angeles, on Broadway and in London's West End, effectively open up the play without compromising the two-handed intimacy that was one of the show's trademarks.
In fact, the movie sometimes feels even more personal partly because of Oscar-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond's bold close-ups that highlight the beautiful Rowlands in all her lived-in glory. (Though she's playing 75, the actress was 82 when the film was shot.)
Rowlands and Jackson make a winning duo, playing well off each other as they explore issues of sexuality (turns out, Michael is gay), ageism, love, mortality and companionship. Though it's no surprise that Rowlands shines on both the comedic and dramatic fronts, the versatile Jackson is often equally impressive.
Fun support is provided by Rita Moreno as Lily's nudgy downstairs neighbor, Jacki Weaver as a hot-to-trot dance student, Julian Sands as Michael's arrogant hoofer-boss and Kathleen Rose Perkins as a dance studio receptionist.
"Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks"
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes.
Playing at: Sundance Sunset, Los Angeles; Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Edwards Westpark 8, Irvine.