There once was a couple steadfast
Who danced on the floor unsurpassed,
Till, thrilled by the groove,
The man busted a move,
And every last judge was aghast.
They groaned and bemoaned the upstart.
They claimed he disgraced their whole art.
Yet those like the pair
Who were willing to dare
Realized they didn’t care
About outlawing flair
And let them keep dancing their heart.
MPAA rating: PG
Have you ever started watching a movie and knew from the first ten minutes that you didn’t care for it, and then, by unexpected degrees, warmed up to it until you realized that you did actually like it? I can’t think of another time when that was the case, but that was my experience with Strictly Ballroom, the first film from Australian director Baz Luhrmann. I’ve only seen his rather forgettable version of The Great Gatsby (the second half of which was better than the first), but Strictly Ballroom is his most critically acclaimed film, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 95%.
Centered on Australian competitive ballroom dancing long before Dancing with the Stars, the movie starts out as a garish mockumentary, detailing the unconventional style of dancing favorite Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio) and trying to paint his haughty mother and the judges as unbearably pretentious. The gaudy close-ups and quirky editing were probably meant to be comedic and cater to Luhrmann’s penchant for flashiness, but it just comes off as bad acting and direction.
I was about ready to write it off as not for me, but I stayed with it. I watched as Scott was approached by the ugly duckling of the dance academy Fran (Tara Morice). I watched as their unlikely partnership bloomed into romance and Fran’s Spanish family showed their dancing chops. (There are Spanish people in Australia. Who knew?) I watched as Scott was torn between winning a competition for his sheepish father’s sake or dancing for himself and Fran. The whole movie just kept improving until I was left pleased and cheered by the finished product. The choreography was excellent, and certain scenes with Scott and Fran seemed to have a memorable quality, as if they should be much more famous and iconic.
Why did it have to start so poorly? I’ve read that the film plays with stereotypes, but the beginning employed a stylistic choice that fell flat, in my opinion, and persisted in the insufferable authority figures who refused to allow Scott’s personal dance choices. While they were consistently grating, I did appreciate how his foe’s stance was explained as both uncertainty at what would be acceptable or able to win and cutthroat greed to protect a “sport” that had become an industry.
Either way, I wouldn’t watch Strictly Ballroom for the antagonists. Scott and Fran and their dancing are the core of the film and an endearing cinematic example of the whole “follow your heart” cliché. My ranking it as List Runner-Up rather than List-Worthy lies mainly in the beginning’s shortcomings and the fact that it wasn’t very funny for a comedy, but another viewing could easily raise my opinion. Strictly Ballroom is a prime example of why you should finish what you start; it just might surprise you.
Best line: (Fran, with a quote that seems like it should be more famous too) “A life lived in fear is a life half lived.”
Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2016 S. G. Liput
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