Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Cast: Paul Mercurio, Tara Morice, Bill Hunter, Sonia Kruger, Pat Thompson
Genre: Romantic Comedy/Dance
Studio: M&A Productions
Worldwide Lifetime Gross; $80,000,000
Plot: A top ballroom dancer pairs with a plain, left-footed local girl when his maverick style earns him the disdain of his more conventionally- minded colleagues. Together, the team gives it their all & makes dreams of the national championship come true
*This review may contain spoilers*
Amongst all the usual Hollywood blockbusters, the 1990s had its share of Australian hit flicks: Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Muriel's Wedding and this film, Strictly Ballroom, all 3 of which later garnered overseas appeal and success.
Described as Dirty Dancing Down Under, Strictly Ballroom is part- romantic comedy, part - dance -based movie: flashy and impressive choreography and dance movies juxtaposed within a rom-com context. There is also an ugly duckling subtext with Fran undergoing a transformation from an ordinary, down- on- her luck girl, who dreams of dancing her way to happiness into a bad-ass dancer. As the glasses come off and she dons her dance outfit, Fran sports some nifty moves & becomes a whole new, different person: confident, and yet still down-to-earth and caring. That and a plucky & highly talented dancer, Scott, who after losing his dance partner and is fed up of repeatedly dancing the same steps over and over, manages to secure a replacement.... in Fran herself. He rebels and takes Fran under his wing and in return, she encourages him to go all out and unleash all of his talents on the dance floor.
This is a story of opposites attract: good looking guy meets girl from the slums and transforms her into a princess, with the help of her family. Well, sort of. Their partnership develops into a blossoming relationship, further descending into love and romance.
The film provides a fresh, energetic and amusing take on ballroom dancing competitions and the lengths one must go to to live out and fulfil their dream for real. Then there are all the fall-outs, bust-ups, arguments: Paul arguing with his mother, his mother arguing with him, Paul's dancer ditching him for another dancer. And his geeky dad, whose tragic past still haunts him to this day that his son goes through. All the other supporting characters besides Paul and Fran are a colourful, wacky bunch and provide that extra dimension: that family and friends arc that gives the film something else to concentrate on, besides the main protagonist, Paul. & yet they never dominate, nor overshadow the movie that it then becomes grating and irritating.
The story-line is typically cliched (dancer who has high aspirations of winning a major competition & against all the odds, succeeds), but the delivery and the manner of the delivery is what makes it unique and quintessentially so exquisite, without all the razzmatazz, wham, bam Hollywood flashiness. Strictly Ballroom is as quintessentially Aussie as Vegemite as you can get: the parodying of dance competitions, laced with that down-to-earth charm & humour from Down Under & brashness you will find in a soap opera such as Neighbours, & those little flashes of brilliance really raises the bar to new heights.
And whilst it is not as highly regarded in the same lines as Moulin Rouge and Romeo & Juliet, Luhrmann's most successful efforts, it is because of that Australian charm brimming with wit, heart, warmth and terrific performances and dialogue from this unknown cast that makes Strictly Ballroom a brilliant and refreshing take on comedy and especially romantic comedy. This film didn't have big names to carry the movie, and thankfully, Baz Luhrmann didn't go down that route: it didn't need to and in return, we get fantastic performances, characterisation, character development from beginning to end, as well as a great narrative.
And with regards to the choreography, it is just sublime and entertaining and spectacular to watch.
Though it has been playing second or be it third fiddle to Romeo & Juliet and Moulin Rouge, 1992's Strictly Ballroom, stylistically speaking and as a film itself, thanks in part to its theme, this is arguably much more accessible than the latter films. Luhrmann's colourful visuals and imagery, the theatrical, over-the-top and fun and eccentric style works ever so well, complemented by understated, yet excellent performances by the actors involved.
The 'boy-meets-girl and fall in love' story-line has been done so many times in comedy and drama - yet having this juxtaposed within the backdrop of ballroom dance and theme of dance gives the film that extra touch. As well as it makes it even more intriguing, less predictable and less of a clone, compared to other rom-coms.
Strictly Ballroom has Aussie heart, warmth, charm and humour in large doses, and in all the right places.