Baz Luhrman’s 1992 film Strictly Ballroom delivers everything you should expect from a good performing arts movie, but it’s far from the niche, overly serious stories made just for dancers. It’s hilarious and odd and heartwarming and still manages to be artsy enough to appeal to the highbrow filmgoers out there.
The male protagonist Scott Harrison is an up and coming dancer in Australia Dance Federation, destined it seems for the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championship. But he has a problem – his addition of new and unapproved steps into his dance routine have lost him his partner.
Through the course of the movie, Scott pairs up with a homely beginner dancer named Fran, and they both go through a transformation as dancers and as people. There are over-the-top performers (dancers are insanely committed), musical training montages, and a key conflict between tradition and innovation along the way. So it’s kind of like Zoolander crossed with Karate Kid crossed with Footloose*.
Like other Luhrman films, this one is bright and (as one watcher put it) “zany,” with a great deal of color in the set and characters. Luhrman loves close-ups and big facial expressions. You can imagine from watching this that it would make a great musical – and (as I found out tonight) it has indeed been staged as one.
The movie incorporates its tropes well, from “girl with glasses who is beautiful without glasses” trope to the “powerful seemingly guy is actually a bad guy” trope. Among other noticeable elements to love are the completely non-subtle product placements for Coca-Cola, Scott’s Hispanic cultural and dancing education, and the “Time After Time” theme, which was economically reused and recycled for multiple scenes of the movie.
Finally, there’s a wonderful message: “a life lived in fear is a life half-lived”. We see this in the climax of the dancing competition, in which Scott learns the truth about his father’s demise as a dancer. I’ll leave it to you to watch the film to see how things turn out.
*This partially observed by other folks who watched this with me.