Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dirty Dancing (1987)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from the Tisch Library at Tufts.

Somehow I just missed the whole Dirty Dancing... thing. Never saw it, never really had a reason to. Until Ryan over at The Matinee put a call out for his "Falling For the First Time" series, in which bloggers watch a "classic" from the 80s for the first time and he interviews them on their reactions. I took on Dirty Dancing for this project, and am glad someone finally motivated me to watch it. Inspired by screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein's own experiences, the film details a privileged teenage girl's summer at a resort in the Catskills. Known as "Baby" for some inane reason, Frances Houseman (Jennifer Grey) is a serious-minded student who finds herself entangled with a group of resort employees involved in secret late-night "dirty dancing". To help out Penny (Cynthia Rhodes), the lead dancer, Baby must learn a complicated mambo dance routine and perform with hunky dance instructor Johnny (Patrick Swayze) at a nearby hotel. While practicing the choreography Baby gradually falls for Johnny, but he feels their different socioeconomic backgrounds will strain their relationship if they date seriously.

I had expected all the cheese and ridiculousness of its decade, but Dirty Dancing honestly surprised me. It's primarily a well-written drama dealing with issues of class and relationships in 1960s upstate New York. Baby is a fairly strong character, an open-minded young person surrounded by stuck-up jerks, who wants to follow her physician father's example and help everyone she can. For her this means falling in with "disreputable" types and expanding her awareness of how different people live. Though pegged as a romance the film is more a coming-of-age tale for Baby as she learns how to apply her ironclad values in the real world, and how to act outside of her family's classist regulations.

But there's also some dancing. And some light cheese at the end, to be sure, since you can't get away from "Time of Your Life". Luckily the 60s setting lends itself to awesome music, and there are a few scenes that might not have worked as well if not for the excellent period soundtrack. The dance numbers are solid, and feel more grounded in reality than full-blown musical sequences. I assume Jennifer Grey did her own dancing, since she's good but not unbelievably good, while Swayze shows off his moves (and his ever-shirtless abs). Their chemistry is fantastic and I loved the very 80s use of montage showing their dance routine and DANCE LOVE develop. Lots of sexy grinding and tickling.

Sure some of its visuals and techniques keep it set in 1987, but on the whole I'd say Dirty Dancing has aged well due to its strong script and good cast. And the dancing! Oh, the dancing.


Pair This Movie With: Maybe another teenage romance with dancing? There's Save the Last Dance, or Grease, or Hairspray. I haven't seen the Step Up movies but maybe they work too.