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STRICTLY BALLROOM (director/writer: Baz Luhrmann; screenwriter: Craig Pearce; cinematographer: Steve Mason; editor: Jill Bilcock; music: David Hirschfelder; cast: Paul Mercurio (Scott Hastings), Tara Morice (Fran), Bill Hunter (Barry Fife), Barry Otto (Doug Hastings), Pat Thompson (Shirley Hastings), Gia Carides (Liz Holt), Peter Whitford (Les Kendall), Sonia Kruger-Tayler (Tina Sparkle), Antonio Vargas (Rico), Armonia Benedito (Ya Ya), John Hannan (Ken Railings), Kris McQuade (Charm Leachman), Pip Mushin (Wayne Burns); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Tristram Miall/Jane Scott; Ronin Films; 1992-Australia)
“The exuberant film was breezy, well-acted and easy to like even if it was fluff.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An auspicious film debut for Aussie writer and director Baz Luhrmann. It ingeniously manages to tell a familiar themed story but makes it look fresh through a quirky narrative style, flashy dance numbers, and colorful photography. It’s a kitschy crowd-pleasing romantic/comedy that dazzles right from its splashy eye-popping opening.

Gifted ballroom dancer Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio) has been dancing since the age of six in hopes of winning the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix, which is sponsored by the Australian Ballroom Dance Federation and is run with an iron hand by the rigid Barry Fife (Bill Hunter). Scott breaks the Federation rules by trying out new steps that are not approved and as a result loses a dance contest even though he was the best one on the floor. This causes his dance partner Liz Holt (Gia Carides) to have a temper tantrum and quit. His manipulative dance-instructor mum Shirley (Pat Thompson) goes into screaming fits yelling at both son and his docile nerdy father Doug (Barry Otto). The Federation director threatens permanent disbarment unless Scott complies with the rules. The only one willing to partner with him is the shy, clumsy, bespectacled beginner dancer Fran (Tara Morice). It turns out that Fran’s Spanish father (Antonio Vargas, a dancer) is a great flamenco dancer and teaches them the secrets of the dance.

Luhrmann works it into both an amusing satire on the driven ballroom personalities and a charming romantic Cinderella fairy-tale. It keeps its all too familiar plot but piles on a bunch of inventive cinematic tricks which turns it into camp. At the same time it shows great compassion for the leads to get together and overcome those around them who smother them with fear, and to challenge the nasty power-tripping Federation director–the film’s main villain. Though we are always aware that Luhrmann is pulling our chain, he does it with a wink and a nod so we take it all with good humor.

The exuberant film was breezy, well-acted and easy to like even if it was fluff.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”