Here’s another Australian gem fresh off the film-festival circuit. But this one’s an anomaly: an art-house crowd pleaser. Tyro director Baz Luhrmann whips up an entrancing entertainment by lifting clichés out of every musical from 42nd Street to Dirty Dancing. Will maverick dancer Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio) introduce new steps into a contest even though it’s against the rules of old-fart judge Barry Fife (Bill Hunter)? You bet. Will Scott choose an experienced dance partner or go for Fran (Tara Morice) — a clumsy, mousy, four-eyed unknown — in the hope of turning her into Cinderella before the big championships? Stupid question. And will Scott and the transformed Fran win the top prize by doing the pasa doble, taught to them by Fran’s Spanish father and grandmother? You’d have to be a movie illiterate to doubt it.
So if Strictly Ballroom offers nothing new, why bother? Because Luhrmann is a director with the style and snap to have these tired routines on their feet and kicking like a line of Rockettes. Because Mercurio and Morice are marvels of sensuality in motion and pretty hot even when they kick off their dancing shoes. And mostly because the whole movie brings back the exuberant fizz Hollywood musicals like Newsies have lost. Funny thing about Strictly Ballroom, you see every trick up its sleeve, and you still keep smiling.