Strictly Ballroom ★★★

"He resorted to his own flashy, crowd-pleasing steps."

Baz Luhrmann's Strictly Ballroom is a trifling prance through the hothouse Australian competitive dance scene. The scenario manages something of a feat by being both convoluted and predictable. Scott (Paul Mercurio) is a skillful but unorthodox dancer with a browbeating stage mother and a cowed, insecure father. Abandoned by his shrill dancing partner on account of his maverick sensibility, he learns to trust his instinct that free expression means more than competitive glory by mentoring another heretical hoofer for the upcoming competition; sparks fly when his protege transforms from depressed-Mia-Farrow-in-the-1980s-with-bad-skin to suddenly being really hot. With their union (romantic and professional) all but certain fate intervenes in the form of a sought-after partner's unexpected availability, much to the delight of Scott's jaundiced mother and corrupt federation president Barry Fife. Will Scott succumb to their conformist demands or listen to the song of his heart? Neither, exactly. He resolves to make the wrong choice and is inadvertently redirected by an insipid deus ex machina involving his father's stolen career.

The film is so streamlined for innocuousness that I have a hard time feeling strongly one way or the other about it. The hyper-camp aesthetic is a diverting gloss over a pretty traditional narrative. Mercurio is a lovely dancer and very handsome but not much of an actor. However Tara Morice as dance partner cum love interest Fran is very endearing, and Pat Thompson gives the role of Scott's mother a piercing bite. I wish there was more dancing and fewer TV-style talking head cutaways and reaction close-ups.

Some stray notes:
-A BIT OF MUSICALITY PLEASE
-STOP THAT SHUFFLING—YOU STUPID MAN!
-RETIRING BECAUSE OF COMMITMENTS TO HIS LANDSCAPE GARDEN BUSINESS
-WHO WILL SNAFFLE TINA?
-IT'S THE BOGO POGO
-A BUNCH OF OLD FUNSTERS
-SPUD OUT, NERD!

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