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Review: “Dirty Dancing”

Dirty DancingDirected by: Emile Ardolino
Produced by: Linda Gottlieb
Written by: Eleanor Bergstein
Edited by: Peter C. Frank
Cinematography by: Jeffrey Jur
Music by: John Morris, Erich Bulling
Starring: Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey, Jerry Orbach, Cynthia Rhodes, Kelly Bishop, Jane Brucker, Jack Weston, Max Cantor, Lonny Price
Year: 1987


It speaks to a film’s popularity when a single song can instantly remind you of the film, even if you haven’t seen it. For this movie, the song that most people think of is the Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes duet “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” the declaration of love in the form of a cheesy 80s pop ballad that inexplicably serves as the catalyst for the film’s final dance number, despite the film being set in the early 1960s. Oddly enough, this wasn’t the song that reminded me of this film’s existence and necessitated its inclusion into Girly Movie Month. The credit for that goes to yet another 80s pop song, “Hungry Eyes,” which similarly finds its way into the film as one of many anachronisms that likely served to make the film more palatable to the 80s teen audience the film was aiming for at the time of its release.

Dirty Dancing - Jennifer Grey

Apparently they underestimated this film’s appeal, however, as the film was a massive hit in theatres, earning $10 million in the first ten days of release in the US and ultimately earning a worldwide gross of $170 million. Dirty Dancing was the first film to reach 1 million copies sold on home video, as well. For a romance film, it hasn’t done too shabbily, either, currently holding a 72% approval rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. But, again, I had never actually seen the whole film myself, so the timing of my decision to start Girly Movie Month and the happenstance of not only Spotify deciding to play “Hungry Eyes” soon after that post, but also Netflix getting the film on streaming was taken as a sign that, yes, I had to review this massive hit, which, according to Wikipedia, is considered to be “the Star Wars for girls” – which, I dunno, kinda seems sexist and wrong, as I had always considered Star Wars to be “the Star Wars for girls,” but, you know, whatever. Maybe things were different back when I was still an infant…

So, yeah, anyway… on to the passing of judgment.

Dirty Dancing - Patrick Swayze

Dirty Dancing follows a teenage girl nicknamed “Baby” who goes with her family on vacation at a resort where rich white folk do things like put on little talent shows and learn to dance the mambo, amongst several other dispassionate things. Baby, on the cusp of becoming one of those peace-loving 60s young people, falls for the male dance instructor, Johnny Castle, who is both older than her and far more, well, dirty, which only serves to make him even more attractive in the eyes of Baby, which then triggers in her a rebellious spirit. When Johnny’s dance partner, Penny, finds out she’s pregnant, Baby volunteers to take her place by Johnny’s side as she goes to seek out an illegal abortion. Baby’s father, of course, does not approve of the sort of people his daughter is getting herself mixed up with, but, as their relationship continues to grow, Baby becomes all the more rebellious and continues her training with Johnny while the two fall deeply in forbidden love with one another.

The film follows your basic story about young people teaching older people that it’s okay to feel something passionately, do something passionately, while also reminding them what it feels like to fall in love for the first time. You have your scenes of the two struggling to get along – Baby’s not exactly the nimblest person on her feet, while Johnny’s incredibly serious about his craft, as it’s not only his means of living, but also his reason – and then their inevitable kiss and sleeping with one another, as well. Then there’s the misunderstanding that seems to doom the two to lead lives without one another. One impassioned speech from daughter to father and a sudden realization on the part of the father later, the couple is reunited once more, and the two supposedly live out their lives dancing and happily ever after.

Dirty Dancing - Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze

I’ll give the film credit for one thing: the two lead actors, Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, do a fairly good job of making the story not seem ridiculous thanks to some solid performances. Never once did I buy that she was a 17-year-old, mind you, but the character manages to still feel like a fairly normal young woman who believes she has found her reason for being. Swayze meanwhile channels the film’s inherent corniness and embraces it, making every cheesy line and declaration of love feel genuinely meant, if not entirely like something anyone would actually say if this were really happening. But you act what you’re given, and both do fine jobs of it. Everyone else really could’ve honestly been replaced without the film being harmed in any way. Except for maybe Jane Brucker, who plays Baby’s kooky sister, Lisa. Her performance of that daft, faux-Hawaiian song on stage is just spectacularly awful. (All sources also point to Brucker as the writer of the song, as well, so there you go!)

And while I’ll refrain from docking the film any points for all those anachronisms (it seriously is a schizophrenic soundtrack, which also features a song performed by Swayze himself, “She’s Like the Wind,” originally meant for the film Grandview, U.S.A.), I can’t exactly recommend Dirty Dancing as an entirely enjoyable experience. Sure, you might find yourself getting swept away in the romance, sex, and dancing, which is honestly quite rare for a film called Dirty Dancing (this isn’t a musical or anything – dance is more plot device than it is a highlight), but the film is just so artificial and silly, and not in a good, unintentional way.

Dirty Dancing - Lift

As with The Notebook, perhaps it’s a gender thing. Maybe also an era thing, though the film seems to remain quite popular with younger generations, as well. I just found myself wondering when the film would start entertaining me with some nicely choreographed dancing or something. By the time it reached the one dance sequence in the film that was supposed to sum it all up, it ended up being the corniest and, yes, even the “cleanest” of all the film’s dance sequences while all the film’s plots are neatly tied up with a few asides just before credits roll.

Was it sufficient enough? I guess. But sufficient is hardly satisfying, and in a film that supposedly tries to take itself seriously (what with apparent attempt to foreshadow the sexual revolution of the 60s and that whole abortion subplot), this kind of conclusion to what was already a fairly corny film just feels too… safe. Wasn’t this supposed to be DIRTY Dancing? Isn’t that a metaphor for sex? Then why does the final stand for the forbidden dance (double entendre!) involve the participation of everyone and their mother, grandmother, and, yes, even a few children? Either the filmmakers lost track of what their point was or they should’ve just avoided making this movie in the first place. Seriously, somebody go remake this and take it seriously this time! … Oh wait…

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 2 / 5



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