Strictly Ballroom is understated for writer and director Baz Luhrmann, and he really doesn’t do understated. His signature bright-colored costumes and makeup were there, but the overall the pace of the film is a bit slower than Luhrmann’s later work such as Moulin Rouge or The Great Gatsby.
The heart of Strictly Ballroom is a solid dance competition film/ugly duckling story based on Scott Hastings’ (Paul Mercurio) ballroom career and his family’s push for him to find the right partner who will keep him in the limelight and as a top contender at the competitive level.
Scott has been dancing since he was a kid and wants to do just that, not be the most popular one with the prettiest partner.
His partner jumps ship after Scott goes rogue with his own moves in an early competition, sending his mother into a frenzy to do whatever it takes for the one and only Tina Sparkle to be his next dance-floor companion.
All the while Scott, who 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die contributor Ernest Hardy, describes as “devastatingly sexy,is practicing with Fran (Tara Morice) in secret.
The rooftop dance scenes between Fran and Scott are right up there with Dirty Dancing (not to mention Center Stage and the classic Step Up) and she inspires Scott to try more new steps on the dance floor.
The line “You really are a gutless wonder!” certainly put Scott in his place early on in his partnership with Fran and I hope one day I have a legitimate reason to say that to someone.
Strictly Ballroom does have some clichés in terms of Fran’s character, such as when she takes off her big plastic glasses to dance and suddenly appears pretty and starts wearing makeup (what would later become known as the She’s All That syndrome) and how Scott’s family and coaches believe he could never date — or even dance with — a woman like Fran.
The clichés are far from weaknesses of the film and don’t take away from how it brings together ballroom dancing cliques and quarrels over the future of Scott Hastings and Tina Sparkle while he is really falling for Fran.
There have been a lot of dance movies since 1992 and Strictly Ballroom holds true to the formula of competition drama, love and music while establishing its own influence of the genre for years to come.
“If you say run, I’ll run with you
If you say hide, we’ll hide
Because my love for you
Would break my heart in two
If you should fall
Into my arms
And tremble like a flower.”