Oh, Baz Luhrmann, you nutty, nutty devil, you. I’ve now seen three of your films, and every one has been an absolute extravaganza for the senses. But what really surprised me about your debut work, Strictly Ballroom, was how big of a heart it has. Here was my thought process going into Strictly Ballroom: I bet it’s going to be a visual splendor, filled with music and production value, which threatens to overly swamp the rest of the particulars about the film like the plot or the characters; you know, typical Buhrmann. Here’s my thought process coming out of Strictly Ballroom: How in the bloody hell did I just enjoy that as much as I did?
The plot reminded me amusingly enough of Footloose; Scott Hastings is a star amateur ballroom dancer, but blows his shot at winning a competition because he ends up doing his own thing and dancing his own steps on the ballroom floor. You know, refusing to commit to conformity, a passion for dancing, etc etc; Scott is really Ren McCormack in shiny sequins and baubles. But anyway; after the scandal, his dance partner leaves him, and he is forced to find another. Enter Fran, a frumpy beginner dancer who comes up to Scott and very bluntly asks him to dance with her. Several days later, the two aren’t just a dancing pair, but in love as well, and they (once again for Scott) threaten to blow traditional dancing out of the water, much to the chagrin of damn near everyone else in Scott’s dancing life. There were a few quibbles I had with the plot, and they were ones I’ve had with other films; namely, how things seem to happen in the film merely because they are the obligatory thing to happen at that moment in a film. Chiefly, this flaw is personified in the villain of the piece, who basically tries to stop Scott from dancing his own steps because… well, because he wants everything to stay the same. But it didn’t call for half of the things we find out he ended up doing in the film, which altogether made him a villain for villainy’s sake. This, and there were a few moments near the end that, though sure to arouse a cheer from the audience, didn’t really make sense as they had no setup or inclination to happen prior to them happening; they just happened because Luhrmann insisted they do so. That said, though, this was still undeniably enjoyable. The production value wasn’t on the level of Moulin Rouge, but it was exactly what it needed to be; at times, excessive as a nod to the culture of ballroom dancing that the film pays tribute to, and merely the minimum needed to be utilized to tell the story at other times.
I don’t know why, but for Luhrmann’s debut film, I was expecting it to be a bit more normal than his other films I’ve seen. It ended up meeting that expectation, as I explained above, but the typical Luhrmann touches are definitely here to be found. But, more than anything, I ended the film with a big smile on my face, and that’s what makes Strictly Ballroom work as well as it does; the pure entertainment value of it. I really was not expecting to like this nearly as much as I did, and what’s more, I like it even though I was able to see through the film and find numerous flaws in the storytelling. That’s how well this film sells itself. Maybe some of it is my history in the theater, including musicals, so I know what it means to be a performance artist and to be a showman, which is really what Strictly Ballroom is about; it’s a love letter to the whole concept of dancing. And in that regard, this is a definite success.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10