Baz Luhrmann does his ostentatious thing with Strictly Ballroom

Baz Luhrmann does his ostentatious thing with Strictly Ballroom

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: With Battle Of The Year 3-D waltzing into theaters, we look back on other movies about dancers.

Strictly Ballroom (1992)

Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!, this year’s The Great Gatsby) validates his own outlandish cinematic style with Strictly Ballroom, the Australian’s debut feature based on his own stage play. Risking his career by choosing to do his own idiosyncratic “crowd-pleasing” moves, ballroom dancer Paul Mercurio upsets everyone—controlling mom Pat Thomson, dance-federation bigwig Bill Hunter, partner Gia Carides—by throwing caution to the wind and teaming up with novice Tara Morice. Embracing the paso doble techniques he learns from Morice’s Spanish gypsy relatives, Mercurio sends his subculture into utter disarray. Compelled to spark a revolution by letting his flamboyant creativity fly, he’s an uninhibited maverick in a distinctly Luhrmann mold. The director mirrors his protagonist’s wild spirit via outrageous aesthetic choices: cartoony close-ups, whooshing pans and zooms, garishly glittery costumes, sappy pop-song covers (specifically, Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”), and a theatricality made plain by bookending opening and closing red-velvet stage curtains.

Like Mercurio spicing up Hunter’s time-honored dance numbers with his own distinctive touches, Luhrmann weds his audio-video grandiosity to narrative clichés. Strictly Ballroom’s story about challenging the status quo in search of liberating personal expression plays out with rigorous predictability. The director’s exaggerated approach pushes the proceedings to the brink of outright parody. However, the affection he clearly has for his narrative formulas and archetypes is so enthusiastic that the action comes to feel like a tribute to the enduring power of age-old routines, and the way in which dressing them up with novel embellishments doesn’t destroy them but, in fact, serves to enhance their lasting appeal and affect. Giddy, glitzy, and gaudy, it’s a film that bucks convention in order to celebrate it, right up to a delirious finale that climaxes with that most hoary of devices, the slow-clap.

Availability: Strictly Ballroom is available on Blu-ray and DVD (as part of Baz Luhrmann’s Red Curtain Trilogy), for rental or purchase from the major digital services, and to stream through Netflix.

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