STRICTLY BALLROOM whirled like a joyful rom-com dervish into 1992, spun by some devilishly talented folks from the land Down Under. The first of director Baz Luhrmann’s dazzling “Red Curtain Trilogy”, it’s outrageously cheeky and wildly colorful fun from one end of its 94 minutes to the other, with a chipper cast looking to be having a grand time of it all.
The setting is the no-mercy combat zone of competitive Ballroom Dancing in what seems to be a literally blistering, extra-feverish slice of a not-exactly-inhibited Australia. Rebellious ‘Scott’ (Paul Mercurio) wants to win the “Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championship“. But he wants to do it his way, using ‘new steps’, which stuns his controlling Mum, ‘Shirley’ (Pat Thomson), and spleens tyrannical Australian Federation numero uno ‘Barry Fife’ (Bill Hunter). Affronted partner ‘Liz’ (Gia Carides) teams up with snaky ‘Ken’ (John Hannan); Scott secretly pairs off with the dance studio’s resident ugly duckling ‘Fran’ (Tara Morice). Rocket Science 101 dictates things will work out as they should: getting there is the fun part.
Luhrmann originally conceived it in 1984 as a student play, and over a period of years it turned into a success, and ultimately Luhrmann was given his first shot at directing a film when it came time to make the dancing leap from stage to screen. His script, co-written with Craig Pearce and Andrew Bovell zings cliches in an affectionate and exuberant fashion; the direction is a blizzard of merriment. The cast devour it, the music is good, the eye-spanking costume design by Angus Strathie is a total hoot.
With Peter Whitford, Barry Otto, Sonia Kruger (‘Tina Sparkle’), Antonio Vargas, Pip Mushin. Cinematography by Steve Mason. One sad note: Pat Thomson died from an aneurysm a few months before the film premiered: she was just 51.
Filmed for around the equivalent of $4,000,000 in US currency— if I’ve converted and inflation-corrected it right from 3m Oz bucks back in ’92 (feel free to correct me, Brizzy May). A huge success in Australia, grossing seven times its outlay, it also stirred $11,738,000 worth of smiles in the States. Worldwide success was pegged at $80mOz or $149,182,000 today (US $107.8m). Anyway, it was a ripper, fair dinkum hit.