A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 123 – Strictly Ballroom

Strictly Ballroom – July 1st, 2010

We do own a lot of dance movies. Not that I’d really put this alongside Save the Last Dance really, though there are some similarities, but it’s a very different creature. Maybe when I review Save the Last Dance I’ll play compare and contrast. Anyhow, this movie stands out not just because it’s Australian and directed by Baz Luhrmann, but because of the style of the movie and the style of the dancing. It’s not quite parody, but not quite serious. It’s Latin ballroom, with twists that are half the point of the plot.

There’s a bit at the beginning where the main character’s mother is being interviewed by someone, crying and worrying that she’s done something wrong, alluding to a dancing career down the toilet and what a waste it was. As we find out soon, said career is that of her son, Scott Hastings. An up and coming star of the Australian Dance Federation, Scott’s been making up his own steps and getting in trouble with the judges. There’s another interview segment, Scott is identified in a freeze frame with text, we get an interview segment with Fran, a student at Scott’s mother’s studio, and it’s set up to be this sort of quasi-Spinal Tap feel. But that doesn’t stick. In fact, aside from a cut-away to a traffic accident and some flashbacks near the end, the rest of the movie is done in a far more straightforward fashion.

The story follows Scott, who wants to break free of the restrictive rules of the ADF; Fran, a beginner who plays the ugly duckling role, eventually partnering with Scott when he alienates his regular partner with his experimentation; and Scott’s family and the little circle of competitive ballroom dancers and judges. Scott’s been training for the big competition, the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix, since he was six. Fran’s only been dancing for two years and mostly does the tidying up around the studio. Now, there are some predictable turns here. You know that when the ugly duckling character starts to dance with the dashing young man, she’ll eventually turn beautiful (oh hey, you don’t need those thick glasses to see, right? oh my god! without glasses you’re breathtaking!) and they’ll dance together and fall in love. This is not a spoiler. It’s a trope. There’ll be bumps along the way, and other women who are more “traditionally” beautiful, and there’ll be tears and assumptions and all that. And then in the end there’s the climactic dance scene and of course they belong together! Bravo!

I swear, I’m not actually criticizing the movie. Sure, it follows a pretty well-traveled path in regards to Scott and Fran. And sure, I find the whole glasses = ugly thing annoying (somehow her skin clears up as she dances too – someone patent that as an acne cure!) but for one, there are plenty of new steps tossed in with the old and a good dash of humor. And for two, it’s done so very well. Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with a plot you know already if it’s told well. This movie tosses in some history with Scott’s mother and father and the head of the ADF (played by Bill Hunter in a decidedly less affable role than that of Bob in The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert). It’s got the flashbacks to the 1967 Grand Prix. And it’s got the immensely over-the-top ballroom.

Except, okay, everything I know about ballroom I know from a few clips of professional competitions on PBS before my parents changed the channel (they’re not fans) and from So You Think You Can Dance. I’m serious. So while the costumes seem, well, over the top? I seem to recall the dresses being, well, big. And what little I know about American competitive ballroom is enormous in comparison to knowing even if there’s much difference between American and Australian rules. So for all I know, this could very well be a Spinal Tap situation, where it’s a parody that actually manages to get many things spot on.

But really, the focal point of the movie is the dancing. Not only do we get the ballroom in the competitions and the practices, but then there’s Scott and Fran’s dancing. And we get a lot of Scott and Fran. That’s fantastic, because they’re a hell of a lot of fun to watch. They start out experimenting, and are instantly more interesting than the students in Scott’s mother’s studio since they seem invested in the dancing, not in the competing. It only gets better once Scott meets Fran’s family and really gets passionate about it, not just invested. The movie is about loving dance and doing it because you feel it and can’t not do it. I almost wish the movie had kept up the whole mockumentary thing it had to start, but then I don’t think it would have worked as well at the end. So, a little uneven, but that doesn’t stop it from being wonderful.

July 1, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , ,

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