Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
Imagine, if you will, a young woman. Not particularly attractive, with frizzy hair, bad skin, and large, unflattering glasses. A woman who is overlooked much of the time, and patronized the rest. This woman lives among the beautiful, perfect people with lots of make up. They barely know she exists unless they want some menial task done. Now imagine that she somehow manages to convince the local hot shot young man to collaborate with her on a project of both importance and secrecy. Imagine her gradually, albeit inexplicably, becoming more attractive as the two young people inevitably begin falling in love. Oh, no! Tragedy strikes! Obstacles stand in the way of the young lovers. The young man breaks his word, leaving the young woman crestfallen. But wait! Does the young man realize the folly of his ways before its too late? Will he make the right decision? Will true love win out? Will there be a grand romantic climactic moment?
What have I just described, you ask? The plot to 75% of all romantic comedies ever made. The basic premise has been the same since Cinderella. What determines the success or failure of the movie is an almost intangible combination of factors. All must work together or the movie is sentimental, boring tripe. Strictly Ballroom is one of those movies where the stars align, and the pieces all come together to form a fun, entertaining whole.
Strictly Ballroom is the story of Fran (Tara Morice) and Scott (Paul Mercurio). Scott is a big deal amateur ballroom dancer with dreams of breaking the mold. Fran is the overlooked woman who can help him realize his dream. What makes the film special is that the obstacles put in their way reach a level of absurdity that makes them hilarious, rather than devious. This is intentional, Strictly Ballroom never takes itself too seriously.
First we have Scotts mother, Shirley (Pat Thomson). A former ballroom dance champion, she now teaches and has high hopes for her son. She wears so much makeup that you can barely see her face, and is an over the top archetype of every stage mother ever known. Then we have Scotts father, Doug (Barry Otto). An odd duck of a man, he often slips away to pursue his own interest in dance privately. He is tormented by his hysterical wife, and is often seen filming various proceedings. We also have various and sundry other figures in the world of Australian ballroom dance. Barry Fife (Bill Hunter), the big shot on the judging committee; Les (Peter Whitford), Shirleys old dance partner; Liz (Gina Carides), Scotts current dance partner, and a plethora of other hangers-on and wanna bes within the world of the dance, each convinced that the upcoming Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Championships are the single most important event in Scotts life. As all the peripheral characters scheme and plan Scotts future, he is busy dancing, and falling in love with, Fran (and her marvelous Latin family).
What we end up with is something of a cross between Dirty Dancing and Best in Show. A very sweet romance entwined in this crazy behind the scenes scenario. Director and co-writer (with Craig Pearce) Baz Luhrman manages to pull off these very disparate styles, the romance and the parody. By handily splicing the two together, we dont get too much of either one. The romance doesnt get too sappy, and the parody manages to stay fresh. While the dance studio crowd is nearly apoplectic over the upcoming competition, the romance is allowed to develop within the confines of Frans home, where dance comes from the heart. The back and forth between these worlds keeps things from stagnating.
The dance scenes are wonderful on their own, both at the competitions and between Scott and Fran. The competitions are a marvelous mockery of big hair and makeup, and even bigger costumes (wonderfully done by Angus Strattie) as well as a beautiful example of traditional ballroom dance. Quite a bit of it is deliberately way over the top, but that doesnt diminish the skill required. Its basically physical comedy, or, more accurately, physical parody. Comedy is always harder than it seems, especially good physical comedy, so this is quite a treat. The scenes between Scott and Fran have their own special chemistry, and the dance is just as impressive. A good deal of the credit for these sequences has to go, not only to the performers, but also to the cinematographer (Steve Mason) who was able to capture both the beauty and the absurdity that abound here.
Overall, Strictly Ballroom is a fun parody and a sweet romance rolled together into something quite unusual and charming. Definitely not for everyone (no explosions, dismemberments, nudity, car chases or deep, powerful messages) it is definitely a good choice if youre looking for a light romance with a twist (and a turn, with a dip).
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