Baz Lurhmann’s crazy.
Seriously. The guy’s insane.
For years, I’ve struggled with his films. But not because he’s crazy. I struggle with them because he’s not quite crazy enough. Or at least he’s not whole-heartedly crazy. Not uncompromisingly crazy. He’s always holding a little something back.
Wow, you know who sounds crazy now? Me. Luhrmann holding something back?
Yes. The things about him that are most insane are stylistic things: zooming, wooshing, wildly-windmilling camera work; extreme, over-the-top and in-your-face acting; crazy musical mishmashes. The guy’s a walking encyclopedia of visual and aural tricks; a cinematic mad scientist.
But the stories he’s telling? They’re not crazy. Shakespeare, for example. Or Dumas/Verdi/Boethius. Or F. Scott Fitzgerald. Those stories are sort of straight-forward, even somber. They’re not crazy. But he’s telling them in such a crazy way, and that clashes. Always makes me feel like he’s putting old wine in new wine skins, and things are splitting up and spilling out all over the place.
There is an exception to this rule, though. A story that is as absurd and awesome and inexplicable and impossible as his style. A film that is, as a result, far-and-away my favorite Luhrmann. And it’s on NETFLIX INSTANT.
Dumped by his partner just before a major dance competition, gifted hoofer Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio) is forced to take a graceless neophyte (Tara Morice) as his new partner. But much to everyone’s surprise, Scott soon turns his unpromising protégé into a topnotch dancer.
Wow. That sounds pretty tame. And like something I’d never want to watch. Quick! We’d better go to the tape:
There we go. That’s the Baz I know. And love. Because everything (and everyone) in it is as insane as he is. So it works. And it’s wonderfully, really and truly crazy.
Yes, that’s an actual endorsement. Not a “damning with faint praise.” It’s a great film, filled to bursting with life and vigor and the joy and beauty of movies and dancing and a whole lot of fun. (Also, PG for mild language and sensuality. And because competitive ballroom dancing costumes are the only things in the world crazier than Baz Luhrmann.)
The ending (SPOILERS!) has left me grinning goofily every time I’ve seen it. And I’m sure it will again. Because I’ll definitely watch it again. And again. And again.
Interesting side note: Luhrmann’s mother was a ballroom dance teacher and dress shop owner, and his father was a farmer. The movie (and Baz) make a bit more sense once you know that. But don’t worry…only a bit.