John Hannan

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Strictly Ballroom Review


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There is weird cinema, and there is Australian cinema. There are weird movies about dancing, and there is Strictly Ballroom. Part Rocky with a touch of Blue Velvet, Simply Ballroom is the decidedly odd story of a boy (Paul Mercurio) and his tap shoes... a professional ballroom dancer who doesn't buy in to the rigidity the "sport" requires, instead busting out his own "crowd pleasing moves" and being frequently disqualified. His partner abandons him and he takes up with a plain Jane girl (Tara Morice), whom he teaches to be his new partner. Together, they manage to please the crowd even more, with or without music. What the film lacks in story, it makes up for with lots and lots of pompadours.

Now released on DVD (which includes a commentary from Luhrmann and his crew), it's easier to track Luhrmann's transition from Ballroom to Romeo + Juliet to the masterful Moulin Rouge -- and his road to greatness is an impressive one. Ballroom belies Luhrmann's love for the stage (beginning, Rouge-style, with a red curtain opening) and for gaudiness, but the tale is beyond his budget and sadly lacking in grandeur. Rouge took the ideas here -- from music to costuming to the idealistic hero -- and kicked it up about 20 notches. And in the process, Luhrmann learned how to make dialogue more thrilling and how to better develop his characters.

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