|STRICTLY BALLROOM (1992)|
|"A life lived in fear is a life half lived."|
|Time: 94 mins.|
I became an instant fan of Baz Luhrmann upon viewing this film and have dragged my butt to the theater to see whatever new cinema creation he's come up with. There is no one working today that marries music and film so perfectly and innovatively together. STRICTLY BALLROOM is his directorial debut and the one that thrust him onto the international scene. It's both a biting comedy and Cinderella-story set in the competitive world of ballroom dancing. The supporting cast is filled with over-the-top, emotional characters for whom dance is everything and winning is the only option. It is here that the film gets most of it's wacky and evil humor. However, the love story is the reason I come back again and again. What happens between Paul Mercurio and Tara Morice is pure cinema magic. Even though Morice cleans up well, she's still not the best looking girl in the room. You believe that Mercurio's character falls for her because of her passion and determination, not just her good looks. They are also the only fairly normal characters in the whole film, which helps to balance the utter lunacy that takes place between the credits.
Paul Mercurio stars as Scott Hastings, an accomplished ballroom dancer who's on the cusp of being a major player on the Australian ballroom dancing circuit. His mother and father were award-winning dancers in their youth and Scott is expected to carry on the family tradition. Unfortunately, he carries his father's gene for improvisation on the dance floor, which is just not allowed by the Federation. As much as Scott wants to be successful, he also wants to show his own moves, steps he knows are better than the usual fair. His mother Shirley (Thompson) and his current partner Liz (Carrides) are not about to let Scott take their hopes down in flames. They try to reason with him, but it's no use. Not wanting to be discredited, Liz quits and picks up with a new partner. Winning is more important than being creative. Shirley is devastated by the breakup and runs a search through her dance studio for a new partner for Scott. Needless to say, the pickings are less than optimal.
This is where Fran (Morice), a somewhat unattractive girl who works at the studio, throws her hat in the ring. Scott is initially disgusted at her request to be his new partner, but decides to give her a chance when he sees how passionate she is about learning. However, she's not the kind of girl one brings home to mother, so they begin their training in secret. Since there's no one else who will dance with him, Scott devotes all of his time to Fran, who begins to slowly improve. With the help of her father and grandmother, she also begins to take more time with her appearance, emerging from her ugly duckling phase as a fairly attractive young lady. Scott is duly impressed with her transformation and love blooms on the dance floor. Of course, when his mother learns who he'll be dancing with in the Pan-Pacific Championships, her hopes for his future are solidly dashed.
She's even more distraught when the competition begins and he chooses to use his own steps again. This time he will not only be disqualified from the competition, but probably never allowed to compete again. Needless to say, the competition isn't the fairest on the block with the winner being "selected" long before the dancing even begins. Scott and Fran sparkle on the dance floor, giving the crowd a display they will never forget. Though they may not win, they will be heard, continuing their routine despite the crazy goings-on. There's love in their eyes and a freshness to their steps that the crowd just can't get enough of. In the end, they are the winners of the evening, giving a performance that will make your heart soar and your legs dance. It may be completely unbelievable, but it makes for great entertainment.
From the costumes to the music, from the dance numbers to the outrageous characters, STRICTLY BALLROOM is a film you won't soon forget. Though somewhat over-the-top at points, with high-strung emotions played for laughs instead of tears, this is a thoroughly enjoyable marriage of love and comedy. As much as Luhrmann is making fun of his characters' passion for dance, he still shows great respect for their talent. The film could be considered a campy dance comedy if it weren't for the talent of Mercurio and Morice. Their final dance sequence is mesmerizing. Ballroom dancing may be silly, but you still need to have talent to succeed at it. The romance actually balances the craziness quite well, giving the audience a breather from the obsessed. Mercurio and Morice really bring out the best in each other and give the film great heart.
Much like FOOTLOOSE, this film focuses it's lens on a talented young outsider who brings magic back to dancing. Unlike it's predecessor however, STRICTLY BALLROOM has a sense of humor about itself and therefore will most likely stand the test of time much better. If you're looking for something fun and fluffy with a little romance on the side, check out this Aussie import. Luhrmann may not have been in full-force, but his grand cinema style is very much in evidence, even in the telling of this simple story. It's a romantic comedy that I just can't resist watching over and over.