Strictly Ballroom

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Strictly Ballroom dance floor
"Luhrmann combines an orgy of schmaltzy pastiche with satirical fireworks."

Baz Luhrmann's romantic romp attacks sacred cows with abandon. Behind a barrage of jokes, he strangles snobbery and decapitates cant. Dancing is the metaphor and Pail Mercurio the weapon. It proves a powerful combination.

Scott Hastings is crown prince of the ballroom. He has set his sights on winning the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix. Ken Railings, his main rival, is vain, established and pancaking the wrinkles. Scott has it made, except for a certain weakness. He wants to innovate. In such a strict discipline, this is tantamount to rebellion.

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Scott's support team watch with pride. Mum was a star herself and carries the memory like a talisman. Dad has a cupboard in the basement, full of photo albums and news cuttings, where the glories of his youth turn yellow with age. His teacher, Les, runs a school for dancers and wouldn't say boo to a goose. His regular partner, Liz, has been programmed to smile when her feet move.

Suddenly, during a competition, Scott dazzles the crowd with a new combination of steps. He is magnificent. The sopport team gasp with shock and fumble for hankies. Liz stomps off in tears. He has broken the Federation rules and dared to do his own thing. It's all over... Until Fran.

She is the girl noone remembers, plain, freckled, with glasses, who has been helping out at Les's place for years in the hope that one day Scott will talk to her. When he does, before Cyndi Lauper sings Time After Time and he asks, "Can you dance without these?", taking off her specs, the film slips into The Ugly Duckling and they're dancing on the roof under the stars.

Luhrmann combines an orgy of schmaltzy pastiche with satirical fireworks. He throws slow motion and fast track pan blurs and all kinds of cine tricks onto the screen with clownish exuberance. Whatever else, he is not afraid to make a wild and walloping mess of it, which he doesn't. If he had, noone would have noticed because Fran became a swan and Scott taught her to glide.

Paul Mercurio and Tara Morice are so convincing that the love interest is in danger of dousing the silly stuff. The humour may be basic and the jokes uncut, but the performances are terrific. Mercurio trained with the Sidney Dance Company. His footwork is immaculate and his acting brave, while Morice is beautiful, even when she's trying not to be.

Reviewed on: 25 Oct 2001
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Strictly Ballroom packshot
An 'ugly duckling' dancer teams up with the champ in waiting for feelgood romp.
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Director: Baz Luhrmann

Writer: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce

Starring: Paul Mercurio, Tara Morice, Bill Hunter, Pat Thompson, Gia Carides, Peter Whitford, Barry Otto, John Hannan, Sonia Kruger, Kris McQuade

Year: 1992

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Australia

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