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Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio) has his sights set on winning the Pan Pacific Grand Prix Ballroom Dancing title, but defies the rules with improvised non-federation ‘flashy crowed-pleasing steps’ and is disqualified in a lead-up event. His dancing partner, Liz (Gia Carides), dumps him for Ken (John Hannan), and Scott is left to find a new partner. His ambitious stage mother Shirley (Pat Thomson), a former ballroom champion is devastated and President Barry Fife (Bill Hunter) suggests he partners champion dancer Tina Sparkle (Sonia Kruger). But Scott’s father Doug (Barry Otto) seems to be quietly pleased by his son’s new steps and plain-Jane beginner Fran (Tara Morice) offers to become his partner and to dance ‘his way’. 

Review by Louise Keller:
Listen to the rhythm of your heart in Strictly Ballroom, where tears and laughter blend seamlessly in an extravagantly theatrical story about love, dreams and overcoming your fears. With one of the most oomphy, emotion building openings of any film I can remember, the red curtain parts and we are thrown headlong into a whirlwind of spangled gowns, transfixed stage smiles, spontaneous applause and the magnificence of Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz (beautifully arranged by David Hirschfelder). 

By using a mockumentary interview style integrated into the narrative, Baz Luhrmann has successfully married a bizarre stylised world of caricatures as a sharp contrast to the film’s heart and soul. Music, dance and passion are viscerally integrated, allowing our emotions to go wild from one extreme of comedic fantasy to deep pathos and tragedy. I have seen Strictly Ballroom about half a dozen times now, and each time I never fail to be totally swept away by the emotion and fabulous production elements. Luhrmann has hand-picked his team – off and on screen, with splendid results. 

Talented dancer/choreographer Paul Mercurio excels in his once-in-a-lifetime role, while multi-talented Tara Morice is compelling as the ugly duckling who blooms into a swan. All it seems to take is an apricot face scrub, a good shampoo and losing her spectacles. The characters are all so vital to the story and the late Pat Thompson gives a powerful performance as Scott’s ambitious mother, who puts on her ‘happy face’ when things are looking grim. What a treat to see flamenco dancer Antonio Vargas as Fran’s father, who puts on a mean display of the pasa doble. Barry Otto makes our hearts melt as the tragic Doug, whose peculiar, introverted character is a cross between a shy Norman Gunston and a geriatric Fred Astaire. 

How could we ever forget the scenes when Scott and Fran are rehearsing by the clothes line in front of the giant neon Coca Cola sign on the roof, while Doug reminisces with his steps of yesterday in the studio below? Bill Hunter is also terrific as the sleazy president who uses a bit of bogo pogo to make the world spin by, and buxom-blonde bombshell Gia Carides is simply a knockout. A romantic comedy mockumentary set on a backdrop of ballroom dancing, Strictly Ballroom never stops delivering, with a show-stopping theatrical climax when Scott and Fran strut their stuff at the Latin final. Beautifully edited by Jill Bilcock, with breathtaking production design by Catherine Martin (who also shares a costume credit with Angus Strathie), Strictly Ballroom is a spectacle of flair that angles straight for the heart.

Classy packaging and superb presentation is what you would expect from Baz and his team, and the DVD does not disappoint. The audio Commentary with Baz, CM and choreographer John ‘Cha Cha’ O’Connell is fascinating, offering many insights into not only the making of the film, but how the project came to be, the title and why the interview technique was used. Did you know that Baz was a ballroom dancer himself? His mother was a ballroom dance teacher and we are treated to see some old photos of Baz in action as a child in one of the segment features. The Samba to Slow Fox documentary is an unusual look at real dancing competitions, and there are sections that canvas the search to find the right actors to portray Scott and Fran.

A breath of sunshine with a twist of emotional panache, Strictly Ballroom is strictly not to be missed.

Published November 28, 2002

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(AUS - 1992)

CAST: Paul Mercurio, Tara Morice, Bill Hunter, Pat Thompson, Gia Carides, Peter Whitford, Barry Otto

PRODUCER: Tristram Miall

DIRECTOR: Baz Luhrmann

SCRIPT: Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce (from a screenplay by Baz Luhrmann & Andrew Bovell)


EDITOR: Jill Bilcock

MUSIC: David Hirschfelder


RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Ronin (International Distributor: Beyond International)



SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary by Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin and John O'Connell; Documentary; "Samba To Slow Fox"; Design Gallery;

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: November 27, 2002 (as part of Red Curtain Trilogy Box Set)

DVD RELEASE: Fox Entertainment

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