Title: Strictly Ballroom
Language: English, Spanish
Genre: Comedy, Music, Romance, Drama
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Screenwriters: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce, Andrew Bovell
Music: David Hirschfelder
Cinematography: Steve Mason
Swiftly whisking audience away to the whirlpool of ‘90s ballroom dance scenery, Australian aesthete Baz Luhrmann’s debut movie, STRICTLY BALLROOM, the first of his Red Curtain Trilogy, follows by ROMEO + JULIET (1996) and MOULIN ROUGE! (2001), is a heady stunner weaves through its slipshod story with an ugly duckling inspiration and a recalcitrant leitmotif of formulating and persevering one’s own uniqueness, even if it means one must run up against a brick wall at every step.
A dashing ballroom dancer Scott Hasting (Mercurio, the principal dancer with the Sydney Dance Company in his first movie role), who has been trained by his mother Shirley (a brash Pat Thomson, who tragically succumbed to cancer merely weeks before the film’s premiere) and instructor Les Kendall (Whitford) to win the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championship ever since he was six, is facing a setback when he doesn’t follow the strict competition rules and improvises his flashy moves instead, which causes him being jilted by his dancing partner Liz (Carides, an uncanny splitting image of Alicia Silverstone). With the forthcoming championship battle only three weeks away, what comes to Scott’s rescue is actually an amateur, the wallflower Fran (Morice, as a non-dancer, emboldened by off-screen crash courses and on-screen magic of dress sense and cosmetics, works up a tried-and-tested transmutation in contentment), who carries a torch for him and is willing to follow his unorthodox moves.
Scott and Fran’s secret partnering doesn’t get the imprimatur from Shirley and co., and most heinously, it is poised to be sabotaged by the vile Barry Fife (Hunter, grandstanding with villainous bravado), the head of the competition, who is later revealed that he has already scuppered the chance of Shirley and her husband Doug (a specky Barry Otto, father of actress Miranda Otto, brilliantly saves the day in the eleventh hour, also quirkily headlines a cartoonish re-enactment in a faux-flashback segment), but no worries, Luhrmann makes sure the same mishap will not happen twice, Scott and Fran win plaudits from spectators with their paso doble-inflected innovation, much obliged to the instruction of Fran’s Spanish-sporting father Rico (Vargas) and the inculcation of her grandmother Ya Ya (Benedito), and seal the film with a kiss.
On the whole, STRICTLY BALLROOM’s terpsichorean kinetics ebulliently gleams over its garish mise-en-scène (which accounts for Luhrmann’s Red Curtain trademark), but the film’s somewhat hokey theatrics, more often than not, grates with a disorientating editing rhythm (from awards-winning editor Jill Bilcock) that belies Luhrmann’s rookie impulse and greenness, which would be smoothed over in his subsequently much grander, ambitious undertakings.