Strictly Ballroom has been showing near Soho for the last couple of years, bizarrely with a lead actor that is also one of the professional dancers on Strictly Come Dancing, and choreographed and directed by one of the Strictly judges, so I'd always assumed it was just a weird adaptation of the BBC show. I had no idea that this was effectively Baz Luhrmann's student project, and the launch board that they used to start their entire career 🤯
With that said, this film is niche. If you know nothing about ballroom or competitive dancing, there are still some fun plot points and decent character moments, but I think a lot of the humour and subtlety will be lost entirely. As someone only tangentially aware of these worlds, I can say that I definitely missed around 10-20% of the point of the film. Also, I've already mentioned that the stage show was created whilst Luhrmann was at university, but the directorial feel here is also distinctly amateur. To be fair, it's much better than most, but the gulf between Strictly Ballroom and Romeo + Juliet is extremely wide; it's actually amazing how much the director improved considering there are only a few years between their release dates. It largely lacks Luhrmann's signature aesthetic, too, though there are flashes of what it would evolve into throughout, and some moments of absolute ingenuity in terms of framing or subtle camera work.
Plotwise, I'd say the broad strokes are predictable, but it threw some curveballs in the final act that were more entertaining than I would have guessed. The double-bluff with the Dancehall President was a particularly nice touch and I thought the Dad really helped sell it, even if the actual goal was never that clear. I also loved Fran's family and the whole pasodoble sequence, which again cleverly sidestepped my expectations. I will say that this leaves the opening act feeling a little stilted and slow, but there's just enough off-kilter humour that it never truly drags.
The result is a very enjoyable, often funny, and ultimately feel-good movie with some great dancing, competent acting, and occasional flashes of genius from behind the camera. I do wish that the conclusion actually wrapped up the competition in some manner, but I guess the point here is that dancing is worthwhile in and of itself, so whatever. Campy, absurd, and heart-warming.