I’ve been feeling a little burnt out of late, so this month Jill and I decided to opt for a Free-for-all with a Summer flavour to keep things light.
I have the week off work and honestly, I couldn’t be happier about it. We’re not holidaying this year due to lack of vacay funds but really all I want is reading, writing, eating and lying in time with the man I love. I’m definitely a simple girl with simple tastes, which leads me nicely into this ‘review’ of a film that really needs no introduction at all.
*Spoilers* as always, but really, if you haven’t gotten around to watching this in almost 30 years, will you ever? (I hope you do, truly).
Dirty Dancing (1987)
IMDB Synopsis: Spending the summer at a Catskills resort with her family, Frances “Baby” Houseman falls in love with the camp’s dance instructor, Johnny Castle.
As Jill said to me before we both settled down for a re-watch (separately, unfortch), “Objectivity is just not happening for this one” and that statement completely nails the experience of ‘reviewing’ such a well-worn favourite. I love this movie with the fire of a thousands suns and I can’t really see it in anything other that rosy gold light.
It’s the Summer of 1963, and Francis “Baby” Houseman has just arrived at Kellerman’s, a family holiday resort in the Catskills mountains. She’s a right daddy’s girl with her heart set on the Peace Corps. Meanwhile, her sister Lisa (Jane Brucker) is glamourous and bitchy.
I really don’t need to break this one down but Baby discovers the camp’s underground ‘entertainment’ scene and falls in with a ‘rougher’ crowd AKA the dancers. Her moral compass leads her to seek help for Penny (Cynthia Rhodes), a former Rockette who’s found herself in a tricky situation (knocked up) and left in the shit by the scumbag father. Her decision not to turn a blind eye puts Baby in a precarious position with her own father, who has her on a pedestal.
At first, the cool kids don’t want Baby’s help, nor her company but she sticks with them, even filling in for Penny at a dance gig at another hotel. Although Baby has been brought up to help people wherever she can, there is an ulterior motive and that motive is Johnny Castle (the late, great Swayze).
It’s basically lust at first sight and who can blame the 18-year-old Baby for wanting a piece of that? (I’m not sure any man has ever looked as good in a skin-tight black t-shirt). To begin with Johnny has nothing but disdain for our heroine, who clearly hails from the right side of the tracks and knows nothing of the life he knows. And he sure as heck doesn’t respect a person who runs to her father when the going gets tough. Or so he thinks.
The film would have been much shorter if this opinion didn’t change and the two of them didn’t fall in love but luckily for us all, they do and Swayze’s forced to eat his words. Not only does Baby teach him valuable life lessons, she also teaches him how to value himself and it’s a beautiful thing, it truly is.
So, Penny has a back street abortion and Baby saves the day by outing herself to her father who can’t forgive her for hanging with the faster crowd (or can he?). Doctor Houseman fixes Penny right up without shaming her for her actions, though he heavily judges Johnny, as the man who got her into this mess (and for now, the wrong man).
You mostly all know what happens next so I’ll spare you and move onto my thoughts instead.
I admire Dirty Dancing for not pussy footing around the topic of abortion and for not judging, really. This seemed progressive for the eighties (and for being set in the 60’s) and stood out amongst other admittedly great but less dark eighties movie themes.
There is a sense of slut-shaming, of Penny and the ‘Bungalow Bunny’ Vivian Pressman (Miranda Garrison), who pays Johnny for sex. This is almost entirely by Robbie and the Management, all male (of course) but Baby looks at these women with fascination, which falls in line with her own burgeoning sexuality. I remember gazing at glamorous women in the same way as I grew up and shed my child-like wonder.
Baby doesn’t judge Penny when she finds out she’s pregnant, nor does she judge her sister when she decides to go after the same man, Robbie the Creep (Max Cantor), though she tries to talk her out of it.
And, while Baby is aware of the differences between her world and Johnny’s, she isn’t condescending. She thinks he’s the best thing since sliced bread and only ever encourages him to seek a better life for himself. At the beginning of their relationship she shows astonishing maturity and doesn’t criticise him too harshly for being kept by the sugar mummies who swarm to him.
Eighteen year old me would not have been able to control my jealously, nor trust in my own powers, so I love how comfortable Baby is in her own skin, and at such a young age. She makes the first move with Johnny sexually and that scene in his cabin is still one of the hottest ever. Dude sure could move.
I love the father-daughter scenes, which break me if I’m honest. Although Doctor Houseman is ferociously against the man he thinks Johnny is, he realises soon enough that he’s been backing the wrong horse. It wouldn’t have hurt him to actually apologise to Johnny though, “When I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong” is not “Sorry”, Doc. You can do better!
I also love the scene in which Lisa and Baby finally understand one another and of course, the end of this film is pure perfection. I wouldn’t change a thing about this movie; dance montages, soundtrack, Jennifer Grey, Swizzlestick’s hip action: all just as incredible as they ever were.
My Rating: 100/5. The best. I might watch it again, right now.