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Dirty Dancing (1987)

| August 21, 1987

Dirty Dancing seems to be a movie that is made for people that don’t watch a lot of movies, or in fact know much about movies in general.  That’s would explain why it employs a plot that would have seemed worn out in about 1959.  Seriously, you could have made this movie in the blissful years between the rise of Elvis and the Day the Music Died and you wouldn’t have to change one thing.  I think the filmmakers know this because they’ve managed to cover it up with a movie that looks great, a photogenic cast and a soundtrack that one could easily play on FM radio without a single edit.  

The plot seems to recycle elements from Splendor in the Grass, a collision of class distinctions bound up in teenage lust that the parental figures just don’t understand.  It takes place in a resort hotel that might as well be the Catskills at a hotel run by Jack Weston who, it seems, hopes to unload this obnoxious son Neil (Lonny Price) by marrying him off to a family that is, he hopes, possibly loaded.  That family, it turns out, is the Housemans who are, in fact, loaded.  Daddy is an important Doctor and their daughter Baby (Jennifer Grey) is pretty, sweet and virginal.  That’s important in a story like this.

Baby is bored by Lonny, his father, her father, their friends and the hotel in general.  So, she strays away to the staff housing out back where she finds the young staffers engaged in rock and roll and a style of over-choreographed dance that would have made Elvis think twice  

Baby falls in love with the handsome Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze), a dances at the hotel’s show.  And being that this is a romance movie fit for 1959, that means that she falls instantly in love with him and he pays her little mind but gradually comes to love her back.  That might be enough, but then the movie gets into some murky water involving Johnny’s dance partner who gets herself pregnant and Dr. Daddy assumes that Swayze is the cad who did the deed and insists that he stay the ferk away from his precious little daughter.

Nothing really connects here.  The budding romance between Johnny and Baby is sweet but it is complicated by a lot of plot developments in which the plumbing is not hooked up right.  It is never explained why Dr. Daddy thinks that Swayze is the father of the bastard child (which he’s not) except through his own gross prejudice against people of a lower social status.  Plus, Baby gets a few days of dance lessons from Johnny and suddenly she’s ready for the show – a show so overly-choreographed that she might need months of training, maybe years.  The end of the movie is something that you can see coming from a mile away.  But like I said, this wasn’t made for people who watch movies.  It is made as a replication of a lot of other movies.

I kept wishing that the movie would get out of the way of the stars.  Leave Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze to build a very sweet relationship without it getting all mucked up with the unwanted pregnancy, with Dr. Daddy, with Lonny or with the choreographed dance numbers.  Let them get to know each other without all the movie clichés stuff bungling things up.  They’re good actors, especially Grey who shows a certain intelligence and sensitivity.  I would love to see these two in a much better movie.  Any movie.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1987) View IMDB Filed in: Drama