Strictly Awesome

28 Jun

(Warning! This review contains spoilers. Granted, it’s a movie that came out almost 20 years ago, but I wouldn’t want to ruin it for you.)

You know I already have the hots for Netflix, but I love it even more when I find unexpected gems in the Recommendations list: Movies that make me laugh until I pee, movies that make me think, and especially movies that keep me watching until the credits roll. I have the attention span of a gnat, so that’s a lot harder than it sounds. Last week a 1992 Australian film called Strictly Ballroom made my list of all-time favorites. (Baz Luhrmann went on to direct Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge, you may’ve heard of them. Hee.) I know this review is two decades late, but bear with me. I was only twelve when it came out.

Strictly Ballroom opens with a classical track and the silhouettes of men in tails dancing with women in swirling finery. Graceful bodies dip and twirl through the shadows; the men link arms with their partners and walk toward the camera. When they burst into the light it’s HOLY SHIT EVERYTHING’S SO GODDAM YELLOW LOOK AT ALL THIS AQUANET I DON’T EVEN. It’s fashion hell, and when the glitzy cabaret moves onto the floor, a glorious eye-twitching reminder of the hot pink neon marabou rhinestone hairspray blitz that was the early nineties, it’s an orgy of sequins, bleached hair and orange tans. This is what Barbie would see if she dropped rainbow unicorn teardrop glitter acid.

It rocks.

There’s a documentary feel to the first scene of the movie which highlights the stark differences of opinion about the horror unfolding before us. Judges gasp, dancers falter and mothers weep as Scott Hastings, the most promising dancer in the ballroom dancing competition, resorts to–dare I say it–flashy crowd-pleasing steps to get out of a tight spot. The crowd fucking loves it, and why shouldn’t they? Sure, the judges aren’t going to like it, but their rogue dancer is GOING for it, dancing for the sake of dancing, loving every minute of this sparkly trainwreck, and it shows.

The scene ends with Scott’s sobbing mum (“Did I fail him as a mother?”) and the Australian Dancing Federation President condemning the fracas out of hand (“You can dance any steps you like. That doesn’t mean you’ll… –cue ominous music here–…win”).

The conflict’s no head-scratcher. There’s a clear villain, a hero, an ugly duckling that becomes a swan, and a love story. They even throw in a little redemption at the last minute, to remind you that even though people do lose their way, they can also surprise you by doing what’s right.

I love the film’s stubborn refusal to take itself seriously. Light and fun, the story shone a light on the fears and inhibitions that keep people from enjoying the things they love,  circling round and round the message at its heart: A life lived in fear is a life half-lived. Winning isn’t everything. The joy is in the dance, in the things we love to do and the things we do for love.

If you have Netflix, put this one in your queue.


2 Responses to “Strictly Awesome”

  1. Tami June 29, 2011 at 11:48 am #

    Ha! I remember watching that movie. I do so love dance movies. This one had rather an astonishing amount of sparkle to go along with the flashy dance moves, but I loved it!

    (And I loved this > “resorts to–dare I say it–flashy crowd-pleasing steps” PERFECT)

    • Bika June 30, 2011 at 12:13 am #

      And they really were that horrified about pleasing the audience, that’s what killed me x)

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