Monday, November 2, 2009

A Rebel Takes to the Dance Floor in "Strictly Ballroom"

Scott Hastings is a first-rate ballroom dancer with a problem: He’s a rebel with a cause—and his cause is to expand the boundaries of traditional dancing. Unfortunately, Scott’s goal doesn’t sit well with the Australian Dance Federation nor his dancing partner Liz.

When he gets “boxed in” during a competition, Scott lets loose with some energetic, flashy moves…and promptly gets disqualified. Even worse, Liz walks out on him just weeks before the most important dancing competition of the year—the Pan Pacifics—stating adamantly: “I won’t dance with you until you dance like you’re supposed to.”

Scott’s mother, who operates a small dance studio, is temporarily crushed. She immediately sets out to find a new partner for his son. Unknown to her, the ideal partner is one of her students, a shy inexperienced dancer named Fran. After class one night, Fran approaches Scott about dancing with him. Initially, he brushes her off, but Fran impresses him when she confides: “I want to dance with you—your way—at the Pan Pacifics.”

There is much to enjoy in Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom (1992), which works as a quirky comedy, an unlikely romance, and a Cinderella story. At the heart of the film is the marvelous chemistry between leads Paul Mercurio (as Scott) and Tara Morice (as Fran). Ballroom should have done for the charismatic Mercurio what Dirty Dancing did for Patrick Swayze…but, alas, it didn’t. Still, he impresses in Strictly Ballroom, both on the dance floor and in the tender scenes with Morice. She shines , too, and offers a nice vocal on a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.”

Indeed, Lauper’s song provides the background for one of my favorite scenes: a practice montage between Scott and Fran that has them dancing on the studio’s rooftop next to a glittering Coca-Cola sign. But then, fine scenes abound in Strictly Ballroom, as evidenced by a Pasodoble duel between Scott and another character—and a closing scene set to Paul Young’s “Love Is in the Air” that always leaves me with a smile.

There are few surprises in Strictly Ballroom, but that’s all right. It’s one of those movies where you can see where it’s headed and you look forward to getting there. And when it ends just the way you imagined, then you have that satisfying feeling inside. That, my film friends, is what a “feel good” movie is all about.


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  2. Rick,
    Comedy,romance,drama. Sounds like my kind of movie. I really want to see this movie.Thank you for your wonderful review.

  3. What a terrific film! I agree that the chemistry between the two stars is topnotch. Even with the beautifully choreographed dances, this movie would not be nearly as good if that chemistry wasn't there. Baz Luhrmann is a great director (and a very nice judge on "Dancing with the Stars"!). Thanks, Rick, for a perfect start to the "Feel Good" flicks of November!

  4. Did you ever avoid a movie just because it didn't seem like something you'd like, then see it finally and love it? I need to give this movie a chance. Your review gives it enough life to make me interested. (I like "Time After Time" and it sounds perfect for the scene you described.)

  5. I love "Strictly Ballroom!" It swept me off my feet instantly. The chemistry of the two leads and choreography are top notch. I also enjoy Scott's father's quirky performance. I much prefer this Luhrmann film to "Moulin Rouge." And the covers of Lauper and Young are impeccably utilized. Excellent choice and review, Rick. I am feeling good tonight!