“Dirty Dancing” was a major surprise at the box office. For me, it is such an eye opener because of how good it actually is, and how well it still holds up. It’s energetic and fun and a different kind of escape from the endless supply of action films and gross out comedies.
Here’s a film with a no name director, Emile Ardolino (I’m sorry, who????) and produced by…excuse me…Vestron Video???? It did not carry a cast with box office clout either; the tallest guy from “The Outsiders” and the older sister from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Yet, the film wins out in the end.
“Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey) arrives with her family to a Catskills like vacation resort during the summer of 1963. Usually costumed in whites, Baby is as virginal as her moniker suggests. Eventually, she gets taken with the entertainment staff who spend their off hours dancing in, shall we say, a non conservative manner. Particularly, she falls for the gorgeous head dance instructor, Johnny Castle (macho name, dressed in cool blacks) played by Patrick Swayze.
Every development of their relationship is telescopic. Yes! We know they’re gonna fall in love despite coming from two different worlds. They’re gonna sleep with each other. Then they’re gonna argue. Then they’re gonna make up and then they’re gonna have the big dance to close out the film with one huge extravaganza. However, it’s the material within that grabs me, and much of that is thanks to the chemistry of Swayze and Grey.
The leads dance beautifully together, and when a music montage comes up, it is adoring to see the frustration of the dance instructor with his giggling student. It’s also charming to see them work it out as well. Reader, I’ve seen this stereotypical “chick flick” many times and I still get caught up in it. The movie comes alive in their puppy love with music and dance. Hey, I got a sensitive side to me. What can I say?
The subplots of the film are lacking though. An abortion storyline really is not necessary to assemble all these characters together. Jewish high income guests meet rebellious, but mostly kind hearted, staff members. There are a couple of distracting jerks too. Something more substantial could have been here. Perhaps, a more meaningful acknowledgment where the two parties favor or do not favor each other, and why. Abortion is a heavy subject matter that does not blend well with the rest of this film, though. The fact that the script never even utters the word “abortion” tells me that the film isn’t even sure of itself with this side story.
As well, when one dancer friend (Cynthia Rhodes) needs emergency medical help, couldn’t Baby’s doctor father just stop to listen for the explanation? Guess not. He just chooses to stop speaking to his daughter. Thus, making it hard for Baby to hang with Johnny. This could all be resolved with a quick sentence of dialogue. As my colleague Miguel suggests however, then there’d be no movie!!! It’s called the idiot plot, I guess.
A third sub plot involves a pick pocket thief and the reveal comes ridiculously out of nowhere. It’s here to give reason for Johnny’s reputation to be threatened one more time, while Baby defends him. Now this storyline has next to no purpose of existing. Johnny’s reputation in the boss’ eyes was tarnished enough already. This is cutting room floor material.
“Dirty Dancing” is a film that is merited in its special talents, but not necessarily its whole story. The consistently good soundtrack of oldies mixed with some anachronistic 80s tunes work so well. The setting is completely absorbing with its mountainous camp getaway cabins and intermittent calls for entertainment activities like with its social director (played deliberately corny by comedian Wayne Knight). It feels authentic and escapist. Therefore, I look past those silly plot developments that scotch tape one enthralling moment of dance and sex appeal and music for another.
This most recent time of watching the film was especially fun as I got to witness my twelve year old daughter seeing it for the first time. Nothing shows how special a movie, any movie, can be than to see your daughter slap her face when Baby chickens out from doing “the lift” with Johnny during a performance. Later, when she finally accomplishes that feat, my daughter sat up with a huge smile on her face. If you ever ask me why movies are so special, I might just have to reiterate this experience when I watched “Dirty Dancing” with my daughter.