It was all going so well. Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio) was on his way to becoming the Pan-Pacific ballroom dancing champion until he made a grievous misjudgement in his behaviour which cost him this local final: he improvised his own steps. This was a definite no-no in the eyes of the judges, and especially that of the legendary Barry Fife (Bill Hunter) who happened to be attending that night, so in spite of the fact that Scott had pleased the crowd, he was not given the trophy and his partner walked out on him in tears. However, there was one person there who thought they should have won, and she was Fran (Tara Morice), a pupil of Scott's mother's...
If there was ever a film that deserved the tag of "feelgood", a word which it helped to popularise when it was first released, it was Strictly Ballroom, the directorial debut of the ever-ambitious Baz Luhrmann. It was a sleeper hit across the globe, proving that a dose of old fashioned corn was sometimes precisely what audiences wanted, but this was more than a case of old wine in new bottles, it was genuine and fresh as entertainment in a way which made you wonder why nobody had thought of taking this setting and making something out of it before. Well, maybe they had, but nobody had succeeded with it quite so enjoyably.
Perhaps its secret was that it fully admitted how campy it was, but played the whole thing straight, so you could comfortably laugh along at how seriously the characters took themselves and their pasttime while still buying into its deeply felt sense of romance and indeed, injustice when we see how Scott has been treated. The fact that he simply wishes to be the best entertainer he can be without abiding by the petty rules of the establishment not only sets up his rebel status - always important in films trying to be "cool" - but also makes us recognise that he has the skills necessary to be the champion if only the powers that be would acknowledge him.
Chief bad guy is Barry Fife, ruling over his kingdom with an iron hand and making sure not one contestant branches out on their own without his say so. But Scott also has his mother (Pat Thomson) to contend with, she of the dancing school and rabid adherence to what their dancing society views as proper deportment, and she very nearly sabotages his happiness for the sake of her own. Her husband, however, is a different matter and although he seems meek and cowed we notice that when he busts a few moves when no one is looking he may have a secret that will come into play later on. Well, a happy ending is never in doubt but it's the path we take to get there that provides the pleasure so we feel we've earned it.
Though Scott is without a partner, he still plans to take part in the grand final, and to help him out plain but plucky Fran suggests herself as a replacement. With the pattern of a fairy tale, we can understand how this will work out, and if Luhrmann and his co-writers Andrew Bovell and Craig Pearce are predictable, then at least they make their characters work hard for their eventual triumph. Mercurio was a better dancer than he was an actor, but he has the talent of Morice to back him up, as she proves herself not only a decent dance partner but adept at the comedy and heartstring-plucking as well. Strictly Ballroom was adapted from an improvised stage play drawn from Luhrmann's own experiences, so for all its kitschy veneer it has the ring of authenticity, with the cast playing up their roles to the point of caricature, but never over that fine line. All in all, this was warm and cheering, traditional in the best sense. Music by David Hirschfelder, along with some well-chosen pop tunes.
Australian writer and director with an ebullient, emotion-packed sensibility for his films. He started out in the business as an actor, appearing for a spell in his homeland's soap behemoth A Country Practice before the ballroom dancing experiences of his parents prompted him to create the stage play and later film Strictly Ballroom. The movie was an international success and took him to Hollywood where he reinvigorated Shakespeare for teenagers in Romeo + Juliet and fashioned a musical tragedy in Moulin Rouge!, which either swept you up in its swoons and glitter or gave you a splitting headache. With three big hits under his belt, Luhrmann turned back to his origins and would-be blockbuster Australia, but it was judged a disappointment. His long planned a version of The Great Gatsby was released to mixed response in 2013, but was one of his biggest hits regardless.