Wayback Wednesday: Dirty Dancing (1987)

I had the time of my life. And I owe it all to Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze.

I originally wanted to review Dirty Dancing (1987) a few weeks ago when I foolishly assumed that it was still streaming on Netflix. When I went to check if it was still there, I found that Netflix had removed it, probably a long time ago. People ask my why I still bother buying  DVD copies of my favourite movies and it’s for this exact reason. When I’m in the mood to watch something, I want to be able to watch it whenever I want without the soul-crushing disappointment of finding out it’s not available. Anyway, because fate is a funny thing, guess what popped up in my Netflix suggestions over the weekend? That’s right: Dirty Dancing. See Netflix? Nobody puts Luke in a corner.

Screen Shot 2019-09-10 at 7.36.12 PM
Credit: imdb.com / Vestron Pictures

Set in the summer of 1963, Dirty Dancing follows Frances “Baby” Houseman, a teenager vacationing at Kellerman’s resort with her family. There she meets Johnny Castle, the passionate dance instructor who sweeps Baby off her feet in more ways than one. When Baby volunteers to fill in for Johnny’s dance partner Penny, the two begin a forbidden romance as Baby learns to dance and Johnny learns to let his walls down.

Dirty Dancing, Flashdance (1983), Footloose (1984)…the 1980s sure produced a bunch of iconic movies about dancing didn’t they? Of them all, Dirty Dancing is probably one of the most beloved thanks in no small part to its sensational soundtrack. Looking to up the romance on date night? Just throw on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. “Do You Love Me (Now That I Can Dance),” “Hungry Eyes,” and “She’s Like the Wind” are just a few on a soundtrack full of bops! Of course, the crown jewel is “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” which while sounding very much like an 80s song and not at all like anything from 1963, is excusable because that song absolutely slaps. It’s such a fun, romantic, musical-ish song and hey, did you ever notice that it’s woven into the score as well? Makes sense because as a whole, Dirty Dancing is a fun, romantic, musical-ish movie that totally holds up. It’s a movie that I think has something for fans of any age and if any young readers haven’t seen it yet, I strongly recommend you do. As I’ve been made recently aware, it’s streaming on Netflix.

Even though Baby is the star of an 80s movie set in the 60s, I think it’s her ability as a protagonist to speak to any generation that makes this movie so lovably comforting and enjoyable. Kind, optimistic, dedicated to doing the right thing, and brimming with a passion and interest in the world outside her front door, Jennifer Grey brings so much life to the role. Can we talk about Jennifer Grey for a second? First of all, no matter what she does, she will always be Jeanie Bueller from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) to me. Secondly, why did she never take off and go on to star in a handful of prominent roles? She more than possesses all the spitfire charisma that leading ladies had in 80s teen movies, as well as a naive innocence. In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off she’s pure hell on wheels and in Dirty Dancing, she’s the angelic good girl. Hollywood, cast the charming and talented Jennifer Grey in more things! She has the range!

Starring opposite Grey is the mesmerizing Patrick Swayze. As Johnny, Swayze plays the pessimistic dancer with a chip on his shoulder to perfection. Though he is initially considerably hostile towards Baby despite her good intentions, you can tell that there’s more to him. That he’s only so against accepting her help because he knows he’ll begin to fall in love with her if he does. And boy, do they fall in love. Swayze and Grey share a real palpable chemistry between them, creating a tense romantic fire that fuels the movie. I love their relationship because it grows in an organic and interesting way, blooming from a simple favour, to friendship, to intense love. In the process, they both learn to stand up for what they want out of life and use their voices. Now, if there’s one thing I love more than montages, it’s when main characters learn from each other.

In addition to the fire soundtrack and the dynamic romance, what rounds out Dirty Dancing‘s trifecta of excellence is the dancing itself. Much like the acrobatics in Bring It On (2000) – check out my review here! – or the martial arts in The Karate Kid (1984), Dirty Dancing is worth watching for the incredible display of athleticism alone. I literally gasped every time Johnny held Baby over his head. Sure, this is a movie and there may have been wires involved to assist, but it’s still amazing to watch. Watching the gorgeous and frankly, fun, dance scenes in this movie certainly inspire you to give dance classes a chance. Like cooking or doing math, dancing is one of those skills I wish to God I had been blessed with. Oh well. Guess I’ll just have to settle for being able to write and do enough shots to win a free t-shirt. Seriously. Check out my Instagram @luke_elisio_96.

There are so many small, fun things to take pleasure in when watching Dirty Dancing. Like, how about the fact that Baby’s parents are played by Jerry Orbach and Kelly Bishop, A.K.A. Lumière and Emily Gilmore from Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Gilmore Girls (2000 – 2007, 2016) respectively? Or that Wayne Knight of Jurassic Park (1993) and Seinfeld (1989 – 1998) fame shows up in his first credited film appearance? My personal favourite moment though is Baby’s sister Lisa performing that God-awful hula number. It’s fantastic and horrible all at the same time. These delightful additions, bountiful and minuscule, make up for the fact that plot-wise, not very much actually happens in Dirty Dancing. Except for the relationship between Baby and Johnny that is. Which culminates in a pretty epic way.

The last 15 minutes of the movie are undoubtedly the best. A triumphant finale, this is easily one of the most iconic songs, dances and endings in all of movie history. Full of joy, you’d have to be made of stone not to swoon as Baby and Johnny share their final dance with that ICONIC lift. Speaking of iconic, let’s talk about the line, “nobody puts Baby in a corner.” It’s iconic and phenomenal for sure, but what exactly does it mean? Is Johnny saying that she’s so special she should never have to sit in a corner? Or that she shouldn’t be underestimated? To this day, I still have no idea. Please, enlighten me in the comments. Also, I can’t help but laugh at the fact that he just walks up to the table and says it unprovoked then walks away.

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Credit: imdb.com / Vestron Pictures

In so many ways, Dirty Dancing is a classic. While I personally may not go as far as to put it on my list of all-time favourite movies, I still find myself pleasantly entertained each time I watch it. As the characters all sing and dance together in a toe-tapping number that sums up the lovely story we’ve just sat though, I can’t help but ask myself the question I ask every 10 reviews or so: Has this been made into a stage show yet? Because I would 10,000 per cent see “Dirty Dancing: The Musical.” Broadway, give me a call.

Are you a fan of Dirty Dancing?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

 

 

 

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