Apparently, I'm supposed to have seen every iconic film of my generation. You see, I get mocked quite often by my friends for having missed the films that they claim are major life experiences. How can I call myself a film critic if I've never seen Pump Up the Volume? The mind boggles - boggles, I tell you.
Dirty Dancing is the film I get the most ribbing about, primarily from my female friends. Apparently, one cannot enter college these days without having seen it at least once (I think I may have eked by due to my extensive viewings of the Back to the Future trilogy). It's not like I was avoiding the movie; I just never had a real reason to dig in.
Well, now I've seen it, and I hope all of you ladies are happy. I'm certainly not displeased.
Set in the summer of '63, Dirty Dancing is the story of Baby (Jennifer Grey), an 17-year-old little girl who loves her daddy (Jerry Orbach) and wants to save the world, one starving Southeast Asian country at a time. While vacationing at a ritzy summer resort with her family, Baby meets Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze), a dance instructor who teaches the mambo by day and does his own kind of steppin' by night. She is instantly attracted to him. He is slightly annoyed by her. But when Baby takes a risk to help out one of Johnny's friends, there begins a powerful romance, one that must be hidden from both the girl's father and the resort owner.
What makes Dirty Dancing work is that it isn't just about the romance - which, though it is the main thrust of the plot, seems incidental in light of the larger message. The film takes a few stabs at the hypocrisy of the close-minded attitudes of classist societies. Each half of the retreat, the poor entertainment staff and the rich guests, are shown to be bound by their own chains: the former by their lack of opportunity, the latter by their judgmental need for keeping up appearances. That really struck home for me, having been asked (on more than one occasion) by a relative whether a girl I was interested in was "worthy of me."
Writer Eleanor Bergstein also works hard to make sure that none of the main characters are two-dimensional. Each one has a life, an opinion, and a reasoning behind their actions. This may seem like a minor point but so many romance flicks neglect it. It helps that most of the cast do really good work (most notably Orbach and Grey). Swayze is the only one who is inconsistent, but he isn't terrible (and that's a lot coming from a Swayze loather).
The choreography (by Kenny Ortega) is really phenomenal. The moves during the actual dirty dancing sequences are sweaty, primal, and overtly sexual. The numbers between Swayze and Grey (and before that, Swayze and Cynthia Rhodes) are pumped up with an unheard of sensual energy. You nearly need a cold shower once the credits roll.
This isn't to say that the film is perfect. The romance between Baby and Johnny is a little TOO nice, and never gets weird. You never believe that their relationship is in any sort of real trouble. The ending, while very romantic and passionate, ties things up a bit too neatly and seems to go on forever.
However, there is a reason that this is a favorite of teen girls everywhere and why it plays on cable nearly as much as The Breakfast Club - it tells a really good story, and it does it in a way that lends itself to repeat viewings. Dirty Dancing is a great little flick.
The Artisan Special Edition DVD comes with a commentary track by the screenwriter, three featurettes, and the complete "Dirty Dancing in Concert," featuring performances of most of the tunes on the soundtrack.