After attending a Slayer/Megadeth/Anthrax concert last night, I returned home like any man would, cracked open a beer, claimed a spot on my couch, and watched 1987′s “Dirty Dancing” for the first time.
Somehow or another, even though I am a cable television subscriber, I managed to avoid seeing even a single scene from this film for 23 years. I distinctly remember a family gathering at my house in the late-80′s, where my mom and older sister got together to watch “Dirty Dancing”. I asked if I could watch too, and I was told that I couldn’t…presumably because it was too “dirty”. They were probably doing me a favor.
For those of you who haven’t seen this film, let me briefly sum it up (with a run-on paragraph)…
Frances Houseman and her family are vacationing at a resort in the Catskills. While there, Frances (I refuse to call her “Baby”) starts snooping around, sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong, spying on employee-only meetings, and trolling around their living quarters. Though uninvited, she somehow gets wrapped up in their social lives. Penny Johnson is a resident dancer, and she’s gotten herself pregnant by world class scumbag Robbie Gould (I believe he is the placekicker for the Chicago Bears, but also waiting tables at the resort). Penny has already decided she wants an abortion, but can’t come up with the money. Frances borrows the cash from her dad to help out her new friend, so the problem is solved. Not so fast. You see, the abortion doctor apparently travels from town to town, and will only be around on this coming Thursday night. Penny can’t get off work on Thursday night, and there’s no one to cover her shift, so she will be unable to have the abortion after all. I guess all is settled, and she’s going to have this child and raise it as her own. Right? Wrong. Frances volunteers to cover her shift as a dancer, even though she doesn’t know how to dance, so Penny can get the procedure done. Mutual friend Patrick Swayze is the on-site dancing beefcake, and he will show Frances the moves so Penny can get her abortion. Penny’s been having a troubled pregnancy, as she’s been alternating between beautiful aggressive technical dance routines and sweating, shaking, and moaning in pain over her first trimester. Luckily, soon she will abort the baby, and once she does, she will feel wonderful once again. Even though Frances learns the dance moves, she opens her big mouth and gets Patrick Swayze fired. He refuses to leave with his dignity, and instead crashes the final night’s talent show, barging onto the stage uninvited and commandeering the microphone. He cuts a promo, and unleashes a killer impromptu dance number with Frances. Inexplicably, his former employer and resort owner Max Kellerman lets the couple dance, and everyone loves it. They truly have the time of their lives. The end.
What exactly was so dirty about this? I’ll presume they meant the dancing that takes place behind closed doors, only amongst the risque dance staff at the resort. They did some bumping and grinding in revealing outfits, a style which has over the years made it’s way from a “forbidden dance” performed in backroom shows to Middle America’s junior proms all around the country. Maybe it’s because it was a different time, but this concept was lost on me.
Maybe the film was dirty because people had sex before marriage. Or maybe it’s because the film was decidedly pro-choice. The “keep the baby” argument was never even discussed, though doing so may have taken away from the focus of the film. Why discuss the morality of abortion when we are busy having “the time of our life”? Enough whining about your painful pregnancy…let’s dance!
“Dirty Dancing” is not a terrible film. For a movie that’s focused almost entirely on dance sequences, it’s probably better than it should have been. Considering the awful premise, it’s surprisingly well acted and somewhat entertaining throughout.
I could have done without all the dance routines, but I’m sure it’s target audience loved it. Judging by the 19 weeks it spent in the Top 10 at the box office in 1987, someone was paying to see this film.
The 1980′s were riddled with cheesy movies and even worse soundtracks, but “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” stands out as one of the finer selections of the decade. It’s a timeless track that not only provided a fantastic ( and Oscar-winning) backdrop for the climax of the film, but has gone on to become a staple at weddings across the United States.
I’m not going to recommend that grown men like myself run out to see “Dirty Dancing”. It’s a film that hovered around the “terrible” watermark but somehow managed to still avoid that label. It’s a passable entry from a poor decade in filmmaking, and only fair at best.