Friday, April 26, 2013

Strictly Ballroom

Directed by Baz Luhrmann and written by Luhrmann, Andrew Bovell, and Craig Pearce from the play of the same name, Strictly Ballroom is the story about a young Australian ballroom dancer who decides to defy the rules by taking an ugly duckling as his partner while finding personal fulfillment in the paso doble. The film is a mixture of satire in the world of ballroom dancing as well as story of a young man trying to find personal fulfillment in dancing while dealing with the chaos of his family who are hoping to succeed in the world of ballroom dancing. Starring Paul Mercurio, Tara Morice, Gia Carides, Pat Thomson, Barry Otto, Peter Whitford, and Bill Hunter. Strictly Ballroom is a dazzling and heartfelt film from Baz Luhrmann.

The world of ballroom dancing is a place where dancers compete one another to display their sense of discipline, showmanship, and footwork under a strict guideline of rules where the prize is being a champion. The film is about a young ballroom dancer who is tired by the restrictions he has to bear as a dancer in a desire to find artistic freedom where he teams up with a beginner at his family’s dance studio as they eventually choose to dance the paso doble. The news would only cause chaos not just in the dancer’s family but also the Federation President Barry Fife (Bill Hunter) who holds all the cards for what is the future of ballroom dancing as he sees this young man being a threat of everything he’s believed in. It’s all taking place in this world of ballroom dancing where the idea of defying the rules just to express oneself can lead to trouble or it will the chance to change things.

The screenplay that Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce create explore isn’t just a young man’s artistic desire but also to find meaning as a dancer. While Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio) is someone who has trained to become a champion at the Pan Pacific Grand Prix since the age of six under the tutelage of his mother Shirley Hastings (Pat Thomson) and longtime family friend Les Kendall (Peter Whitford). There is this enormous pressure to win the Pan Pacific under all of the rules set by the dancing federation while having to compete with the more revered but over-the-hill dancing champion Ken Railings (John Hannan). By teaming up with this young ugly duckling beginner in Fran (Tara Morice), it gives him the chance to find some fulfillment in the dance steps that he wants to do while she would introduce to paso doble steps. The introduction of the paso doble through Fran and her family of Spanish gypsies wouldn’t just give Scott the artistic fulfillment he needs but also the chance to dance without compromise while showing that it could do more than just win the audience over.

The Barry Fife character is a very unique individual who was a great ballroom dancing champion and considered a God in the world of ballroom dancing. Scott’s defiance not only causes trouble where many in the ballroom dancing community fear that change is coming but it would press Fife to tell Scott some secrets that relates to his father Doug Hastings (Barry Otto) who was once a ballroom dancing champion. The Doug Hastings character is a man who has become a very meek individual who does maintenance chores in the studio while secretly dancing his own steps when no one is around. He is treated with disdain by his wife where the film’s climax in the Pan Pacific reveal not just some truths about what happened to them but also what kind of man Barry Fife really is.

The direction of Baz Luhrmann is very energetic in not just the way some of the more upbeat dancing is presented but also in some of the humor that he creates in the film. Notably as the film features an early sequence where many of the film’s principle characters talk directly to the camera as if it was a documentary to reveal what went wrong when Scott Hastings decides to break the rules and do crowd-pleasing steps. The film then becomes more straightforward while having an air of style such as the very dramatic outbursts of Scott’s former partner Liz Holt (Gia Carides) as well as Luhrmann’s zoom close-ups to play up the sense of dramatic tension. Style is part of Luhrmann’s forte as a filmmaker in not just the way he presents the world of dancing but also how he frames the actors in a scene or to play out something funny that can be natural or just off-the-wall.

There’s also moments where Luhrmann just wants to keep thing simple in not just some of the dancing but also in the dramatic moments. Particularly as Luhrmann wants to use the frame to tell a story while playing up the romance between Scott and Fran where it builds slowly not just in their dancing but the way they bond outside of dancing. The dancing definitely proves to be a major high point of the film as Luhrmann gets the help of choreographer John O’Connell and flamenco trainer Antonio Vargas as the latter plays Fran’s father. Even in the film’s climax where it is about Scott and Fran not just showing that rules are made to be broken but also to emphasize that it’s all about the dance and what joy it can bring to people. Overall, Luhrmann creates an exhilarating and enjoyable film about love and dancing.

Cinematographer Steve Mason does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography from the look of some of the exterior scenes as well as some of the lighting in the interiors scenes including some of the dancing competition scenes. Editor Jill Bilcock does brilliant work with the editing as it plays to not just to the rhythm of the music and dancing but also in some of the crazier moments such as a few montages and some slower moments in the dramatic scenes. Production designer Catherine Martin and art director Martin Brown do great work with the set pieces from the studio that Scott’s mother runs to the ballroom dancing arenas as well as lovely sequence about Scott’s father.

Costume designer Angus Straithe does fantastic work with the costumes from the lavish clothes the dancers wear for the competition to the more casual clothes they wear outside of the dancehalls. Makeup designer Lesley Vanderwalt and hair designer Paul Williams do terrific work with the look of some of the characters in the makeup and hair design for some of the ballroom dancing competition as it‘s meant to play up that sense of extravagance. Sound recorder Ben Osmo does nice work with the sound to capture the atmosphere of the dancing competitions as well as the more intimate moments in the dancing such as the sound of the paso doble steps. The film’s music by David Hirschfelder is wonderful for some of the music that is played in the dancing competition while also creating a soundtrack filled with pop songs to not only play out some of the romance that includes a duet of Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time by Tara Morice and Mark Williams.

The casting by Faith Martin and Fiona McConaghy is superb for the ensemble that is created that features some memorable small roles Lauren Hewett as Scott’s young sister Kylie, Steve Grace as Kylie’s partner Luke, Pip Mushin and Leonie Page as Scott’s fellow dance friends Wayne and Vanessa, Kris McQuade as Fife’s longtime associate Charm Leachman, Sonia Kruger as the famed ballroom dancer Tina Sparkle, Todd McKenney as Tina’s old partner Nathan Starkey, and John Hannan as the revered but alcoholic ballroom dancer Ken Railings. Armonia Benedito and Antonio Vargas are terrific in their respective roles as Fran’s grandmother and father who help Fran and Scott how to dance the paso doble. Peter Whitford is wonderful as Scott’s longtime mentor Les who tries to make sure Scott takes on the right path to success as he’s trying to deal with Scott’s sense of defiance.

Gia Carides is funny as Scott’s former dance partner Liz who feels upset that Scott doesn’t want to do things the old way as she briefly become Ken Railings’ partner. Pat Thomson is excellent as Scott’s mother Shirley who is hoping that Scott would finally succeed to capture the elusive dream of becoming a Pan Pacific champion only to realize that he doesn’t want to do things their way. Barry Otto is great as Scott’s meekly father Doug as a man who carries a secret about himself as he is awakened by his son’s desire to dance his own way. Bill Hunter is brilliant as ballroom dancing president Barry Fife as he brings charm to a man who is quite devious but also intent on making sure no one rebels against the old rules. Tara Morice is remarkable as Fran as a young woman who wants to dance with Scott while helping him to find freedom in his dancing. Paul Mercurio is fantastic as Scott as a young dancer eager to find some fulfillment in dance while wanting to show that you can do something new and get some rewards.

Strictly Ballroom is a marvelous film from Baz Luhrmann that showcases the world of ballroom dancing. Armed with a great ensemble cast, a fun soundtrack, and some dazzling moments, it’s a film that does more than just entertain while creating an engaging story about following dreams and doing what one feels is right. In the end, Strictly Ballroom is an enchanting film from Baz Luhrmann.

Baz Luhrmann Films: William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet - Moulin Rouge! - Australia - The Great Gatsby (2013 film) - The Auteurs #23: Baz Luhrmann

© thevoid99 2013


Unknown said...

I keep forgetting that this was an early movie for Baz. I remembered watching it when I was younger thinking that I wished more Dance movies would look this well done. It made me interested in a subject I did not care for at all. Great review

thevoid99 said...

Thank you. It's a film that got me interested in the world of ballroom dancing before it got dumbed down by Dancing with the Stars.