Strictly Ballroom (Australia, 1992)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio), one of Australia's best ballroom dancers, is targetted for a number of championships until he abandons the Dance Federation's rigid steps in favor of his own moves. Horrified by his unorthodox behavior, his partner, Liz (Gia Carides), leaves him, and Scott is forced to take up with an amateur. Fran (Tara Morice) matches Scott's zest for life, but one question hangs over them as they teach each other about life, love, and dancing: can they win by rejecting tradition?

Strictly Ballroom, based on an Australian play of the same name, was one of that country's biggest 1992 screen hits. It's easy to see why. The movie is funny, energetic, and enjoyable -- the perfect film for a night or an afternoon out, regardless of what mood you're in. While the plot and characters don't boast any special depth, there's enough freshness to hold just about anyone's interest.

The movie possesses an inventive sense of humor that becomes apparent in the riotously funny opening scenes. Although Strictly Ballroom never recaptures the brilliantly offbeat quality of its beginning, there are still nemerous laughs peppered throughout, and its upbeat sense of fun is infectious. Strictly Ballroomis filled with energy and color. The dance numbers are splendidly choreographed and the soundtrack is vibrant and varied. The romantic elements, while skillfully downplayed, are relegated to the background.

Both of the lead performers are good actors and dancers. There's no "stunt dancing" here. Mercurio and Morice (reprising her role from the stage show) are at home on the dance floor, as evidenced by their competence and energy. In the acting department, Morice has the edge, but Mercurio doesn't embarrass himself, and the two work well together. Also, in Morice's case, it's nice to see someone in a starring role who doesn't look like she belongs on a magazine cover. She's physically plain, but her talent gives her a wealth of charisma.

Like Dead Poets' Society, Strictly Ballroom's motto might be "Seize the day!" When Scott is dancing to satisfy everyone else's expectations, he isn't happy, but when he takes a chance and does his own thing, he finds fulfillment, and, with Fran, love. In a world where winning means everything, Scott learns how hollow victory can be if the price is stifling creativity. His own father, as it turns out, is a living example of this.

Strictly Ballroom represents the best in light entertainment, and, apart from a slight fall-off during the second half, there aren't many flaws. The movie has wit, style, and a special brand of irreverence that allows it to work as a love story, a comedy of manners, and a satire. Strictly Ballroom is a welcome surprise, and the perfect antidote for the late winter blues. Even though it's cold and icy outside, you'll leave the theater with a warm feeling deep inside.

Strictly Ballroom (Australia, 1992)

Director: Baz Luhrmann
Cast: Paul Mercurio, Tara Morice, Gia Carides, Pat Thompson, Bill Hunter, Barry Otto
Screenplay: Baz Luhrmann and Andrew Bovell
Music: David Hirschfelder
U.S. Distributor: Miramax Films
Run Time: 1:34
U.S. Release Date: 1993-02-26
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Mature Themes)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1