Tuesday, July 24, 2018

2018 Blind Spot Series: Dirty Dancing


For a couple months now, The Blind Spot Challenge has been rolling on without me. Sorta. I've been watching. Mostly. I haven't been writing. Obviously. Now I'm back. For now. And I'll keep it going. Hopefully. The challenge is headed up by Sofia over at Returning Videotapes. My apologies to her. I'm trying to be more consistent with this the rest of the year. Wish me luck, guys. If nothing else, I've got this movie to talk about...


Why did I pick it? My movie blogger reason is that it's an iconic film that I haven't seen. More accurately, I haven't seen it in its entirety. I was a teenage boy when Dirty Dancing came out and it didn't appear to be anywhere near macho enough to warrant my attention. I couldn't escape the movie completely, of course. In the three decades since this movie's release, I must've come across it on TV a few thousand times as I was flipping channels. Sometimes I stopped and watched, sometimes not. This means I've seen every part of this, just not all at once and not in the right order.

A few years ago, I came across the Dirty Dancing DVD in a bargain bin somewhere. I was about to pass it over when my youngest daughter spotted it, picked it up, and begged me to buy it. She had watched it on Netflix and fell in love with it. Since that day, she's watched it quite often, but for whatever reason, I still hadn't. I decided it was time to change all that and see what the big fuss is all about. My daughter made sure that she was in on my enlightening.

The fuss focuses on Frances, a.k.a. Baby (Jennifer Grey). It's 1963, and her well-to-do family is on their annual summer vacation that she doesn't really want to be there for. They stay in some swanky resort with other swanky people, eating swanky food, and frown upon the help. The help, made up of way cooler locals, doesn't only wait tables and clean, they also teach dance classes to their rich clients. One of those dance teachers is Johnny (Patrick Swayze), whom Baby immediately takes a liking to due to his bad boy sheen. Since he's the proverbial boy from the wrong side of the tracks, she has to sneak around to be with him. He takes her where the locals hang out, has run-ins with his ex, and exposes her to regular folk.

The first thing everyone talks about, aside from the iconic dance move and the quote about babies in corner, is how great the love story is. That's not really the case. It's generic, at best. It dutifully follows the steps taken by many movies before it and retread by many movies after it. The chemistry between Grey and Swayze elevates it a bit, but it's not the explosive romance I'd been led to believe. Looking back, it's a bit odd that Swayze became the much bigger star given that Grey gave the clearly better performance. He's not bad, just not on the same level as his co-star in this particular film. Still, they did have a spark that much of the production smoothly rides.


Writing is the film's bigger issue. Of the performers, it most hurt Swayze and Jerry Orbach, as Baby's dad. For Swayze, he was stuck with the movie's hokiest dialogue, including that famous baby line. Perhaps it's been parodied too often over the ensuing years, but it just made me chuckle when he actually said it. His Johnny also comes across as whiny. This detracts from the edginess the film works really hard to create for him. In Orbach's case, his Dr. Houseman is neutered. He has no spine until the plot requires him to. Besides hat, he's a punching bag for his daughter's verbal jabs. I his exchanges with her, he's mostly used for reaction shots. Thankfully, many of the ones he gives are glorious.

The writing also focused on the wrong person. The story of Baby and Johnny is fine, and certainly the more commercially viable one, as it has proven to be. However, it's far less interesting than one of its subplots. That story deals with Johnny's ex-girlfriend, Penny (Cynthia Rhodes). She's a local girl who finds she's pregnant by a co-worker with a brighter future than hers, who also happens to be dating Baby's sister. She still has a bit of a thing for Johnny, too. There is so much more meat on that bone than the main plot. I perked up whenever the film dealt with Penny and spent much of the latter half of the runtime wishing the movie were about her ordeal rather than Penny. Had it went that route, it may not have been as beloved as it is, but it could potentially have been a much bolder film with more important things to say.

If you've been reading closely, you may have figured out that this is one of those reviews where I spend lots of time bashing the movie in question even though I don't really hate it. There is some lighthearted humor I enjoy. There are also some high-energy scenes revolving around the locals that really help the movie find a nice rhythm. That rhythm keeps the film move along at a nice pace without dragging or rushing. Of course, there are a couple of transcendent moments involving the same dance move - one in water, and the more iconic one on land. The other issues remain, though. Therefore, I might not have had the time of my life watching Dirty Dancing, but it wasn't bad.


Click below for reviews of other dance movies

14 comments:

  1. I haven't seen this in years but I never cared for it. It was just too corny, and not the amusing corny that Grease was for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Corny, that's the word i was looking for. And Greade is the king of being corny and amusing.

      Delete
  2. Great review. This is a movie that was played at my house so much (thanks Mom) that I developed a weird appreciation for it. But let's be honest, it's just not very good. As Brittani said, it's so corny. But it sure was a big deal when it released.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was a huge deal when it came out. Even though I didn't watch it back then I know that it was everywhere. I see why, though. It is corny, but it hits the right notes at the right moments for people who are into light romance.

      Delete
  3. I'm not a devout fan, that would be my sister, but this is a sweet innocuous film. I think several factors came together to make it the durable favorite it's become.

    First Swayze and Jennifer Grey have a funky offbeat chemistry with each other, the kind that can't be manufactured, that comes through on the screen. Her scenes with Jerry Orbach also have a certain snap that makes them feel more like a real parent/child relationship than most. Then there's the fact that while she's not a bad looking girl she's no raving beauty either making her someone the audience can relate to and think "Well if it could happen to her maybe it could happen for me too." It's got that intense side story (which could have been its own movie but focusing on it here would have thrown the film out of whack.) A terrific soundtrack and a sense of nostalgia. So a pretty potent package when mixed together apparently.

    I was managing a movie theatre when it was released and it played for months....and months....and months!! That sucker had legs because its fans would come back to see it again and again, including said sister-I know she saw it at least 10 times during the run. I never understood it but much like Titanic and Gone With the Wind its adherents are loyal.

    Jennifer Grey is much better than Swayze, that's partly because Baby is a better written and more interesting character and partly because she's a better actress than he is an actor. I think the reason he had a more successful post career is that she made the unfortunate decision to get a nose job which completely changed her appearance removing that recognition factor with her core audience. To this day when I see her I never know who she is unless the photo is captioned. Swayze also had several sizable hits, Ghost being the biggest, afterward and she never did.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Swayze and Grey's chemistry has lots to do with this movie's success. Plus, it is mixed together in a way that has given it staying power.

      Yeah, I'm very familiar with the story of Grey and her nose job. It pretty much had the opposite effect on her career than what she intended. And yeah, I've seen Swayze's other hits (mostly). For my money, the best he's ever been is in Point Break.

      Delete
  4. This is a film that I admire but I don't really think it's that great. In fact, I think it's overrated for the fact that it had been played on TV so many fucking times whether it's on cable, basic cable, or network TV. That's a film I'm tired of. Still, I'd rather watch that than the made-for-TV remake that was made a few years ago which got not just some of the worst reviews ever written but it got gutted into pieces by the people on Twitter.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, it's not great. However, I'm sure it's better than that remake or sequel or whatever. I've nothing but bad things about that.

      Delete
  5. My favourite part is that you watched it with your daughter. Even if you don't love it, I'm sure she loves sharing it with you.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I finally sat down and watched this movie as i had no interest in seeing it when it came out. I love 60's music and i like Patrick Swayze but something about Jennifer Grey just makes me want to slap her. When I heard her name was "baby", I really wanted to slap her. There seemed to be a lot of whining although I did appreciate the dancing and I love Jerry Orbach. I found the love story ho hum and thought he should have dunked her in that water and keep her there..now that would be a good horror version:) I had heard that Swayze and Grey didn't get along too well because she did whine a lot and swayze, an excellent dancer, had a tough time dealing with that nonsense. She was on Dancing With the Stars and she was whiny there as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lol. Great comment. Whatever there differences were off-camera, it did not affect what showed up on the screen. The movie does have that going for it.

      Delete
  7. If we're talking corny movies always had a soft spot for Ghost. Dirty Dancing goes to show that a strong soundtrack, a literally uplifting moment and the right leads is always going to last.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah yes, Ghost. I've got a bit of a soft spot for that one, too.

      Delete