Friday, June 21, 2019

The Ugly Duckling

This is my first entry in the Blizzard of Oz blogathon hosted by Me


There is absolutely no logical reason why I should like this movie.  It's a romantic comedy, for one thing and I'm not enamored of romantic comedies in general.  I'm not entirely sure if "love" even exists.  (I'm a 57 year old jaded single man, if that helps...)  Also it involves a lot of dancing.  I have yet to watch a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie simply because I'm not interested in classic dancing (although, give me Saturday Night Fever and I'm hooked for the next 2 hours...)

But I must admit the movie captured my interest one dark night back in 1994 when I saw it on cable.  And, although unlike the reviewer in Videohound's Independent Film Guide, I haven't seen it a dozen times yet, every time I watch it I'm entranced by it.  Peopled by several actors and actresses who are making their debut in film, including stars Paul Mercurio and Tara Monice, and being the directorial debut of Baz Luhrmann, the film has an attraction that will draw many into it's web.

Luhrmann, who also gave us Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge, Australia and the recent remake of The Great Gatsby has been on the scene for over 25 years now, but hasn't got a very long credit list.  The 5 movies mentioned here comprise his entire output of theatrical releases (although he has several "shorts" in his repertoire).  But I think it's pretty significant that those 5 are well remembered by any fans.  Strictly Ballroom, along with the aforementioned Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge comprise what is known as his "Red Curtain trilogy". 

"Trilogy" is a bit of a misnomer to those who think that "trilogy" means they are all related in plot.  Instead, "trilogy" here means that all three use a certain motif of theater: (Strictly Ballroom: dance, Romeo+Juliet: language, and Moulin Rouge: music.)

Strictly Ballroom (1992):

Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio) is the son of ballroom dancers.  His mother (Pat Thomson) has dreams of her son achieving the glory of being the king of ballroom dancing, something that she never quite achieved.  But Scott has his own ideas about dancing, including incorporating some rather outre moves that don't quite fit in with the standard rules for ballroom dancing.

Mom and Dad

In a contest against the undisputed current king, Ken (John Hannan) and his partner Pam (Kerry Shrimpton), Scott not only disqualifies himself with his rather strange moves, but he manages to piss off his partner, Liz (Gia Carides), who bemoans that she wishes her partner was the rather egotistical Ken.  "What do I want?  I want Ken Railings to walk in here and say 'Pam Short's broken both her legs and I want to dance with YOU!'"  Which is exactly what happens.

Ken and Pam

Now Scott not only has his illegal dance moves but he has no partner to do them with.  Enter Fran (Tara Morise), an amateur, who has a secret love for Scott and asks him to dance with her.  At first Scott is rather reluctant.  Not only does Fran not have the extensive training needed to perform at the professional level, but she is rather plain looking to boot.


Fran convinces Scott to give her some lessons which, after seeing her perform some of her own creative moves, he agrees.  Meanwhile Mom frantically searches for a new partner for Scott.  The deadline for the next dance contest is only a few weeks away.  But most of the partners that Scott tries out with are unacceptable.

Gradually Scott and Fran work out enough that Scott is convinced that she is the acceptable partner, and wants her to be his partner.  She turns from the ugly duckling into a swan, especially after she removes her glasses and lets down her hair, and revels she's a pretty damn good looking woman after all, and she can dance too.  The trouble will be convincing Mom and Dad to allow such a thing.  Because while Scott has been training Fran, Mom has worked out a deal in which the top female ballroom dancer, Tina Sparkle (Sonia Kruger) will agree to being Scott's partner.

Fran and Scott

In all this time, Scott has finally met Fran's father, Rico (Antonio Vargas) and her grandmother (Armonia Benedito),  Fran's family is Spanish, and Scott tells them he wants to dance the Paso Doble with Fran.  But Rico sneers at Scott's attempts to prove his ability.  Grandma insists that Rico teach Scott how to do it with feeling.  Eventually he becomes a fantastic Paso Doble dancer with Rico's instructions.

But Mom has insisted that Scott take Tina as his partner, much to the disappointment of both Fran and Scott.  See, in all this time Scott has fallen in love with Fran.  But he reluctantly goes along with Mom and dances with Tina.  Mainly because he has been told that his parents missed out on their chance at a championship because Dad (Barry Otto) had, like Scott, insisted on using his own unconventional dance moves.  But that was a lie just to get Scott to play ball, as he later finds out.

So will Fran and Scott finally get to dance in competition?  I think you know the answer to that.  Check out this film, and if you are not at least enthralled by it, I'll gladly refund your misery so you can watch a depressing movie instead.

Time to head home.  Drive safely, folks.



  1. Money back guarantee, eh? I may just have to give this a look-see.

    1. No. Misery back guarantee. In case you just prefer your movies to be downers.


    2. Every once in a while I'll go whole Mourning Becomes Elektra, but if I don't get at least a smile out of something, I feel cheated.

  2. This film tends to get a lot of good reviews. If you liked it, then I know I will. Thanks for putting this on my radar – sounds like it could be a new fave.

    1. Hope you like it. The first 5 minutes are a bit weird but it definitely draws you in. Thanks for reading.

  3. Quiggy, I am so so surprised and delighted that you like this movie--me too, I need to buy the dvd after your wonderful review. There's something about Aussie humor that is so dead-on funny and witty, and the backstage cat fights ahere are hilrios, as well as the wonderful dancing. I am so watching this again in the coming days!

    1. Chris-

      You, of all people who read my blog, were the one I hoped had seen it and liked it... Thanks for reading.

  4. I'm a huge fan of Strictly Ballroom (1992)! Love the surreal touches and the satirical tone. Glad to see that you gave it a chance.

  5. Replies
    1. This is one I'm surprised you haven't seen. I think even your kids might like it. Not sure about Larry since I know virtually nothing about him... Thanks for reading.

    2. I'm not quiiiite interested enough to buy it, and no library I've ever used has had it. So... maybe it'll pop up at the used bookstore sometime.

      Larry tends to like teams of people going up against incredibly high odds -- think Lord of the Rings, The Magnificent Seven, The Longest Day, and The Avengers. But he will watch most anything with me if I ask him to :-)


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