Tuesday, June 17, 2014

So, I Was On Netflix: Dirty Dancing Review

Talk Dancing To Me (Cue Saxophone Solo) 
Each Tuesday I review a film that can be found on Netflix Instant Streaming. This week, Patrick Swayze teaches dancing....or should I say, teaches Dirty Dancing.

Every decade has its movies that have earned a place within cinema as some of the greats. Surprisingly, there's actually tons from each respective era that can be called truly exemplary, but it seems that the ones that have gotten the most attention in recent years are the ones from the 80's. While it hasn't gotten a remake like The Karate Kid (interestingly, Lionsgate scheduled one for a July 26th, 2013 date that never came to pass), the 1987 smash hit Dirty Dancing has still endured as a popular movie over the years. After finally seeing it, I'm struggling to truly figure out why.
The films plot is kicked into gear by Daddys Girl Baby, whose real name is Francis (played by Ferris Buellers sister, Jennifer Grey) staying at a very hoity-toity complex that is home to vacationing rich denizens. But what catches her eye is local dance instructor Johnny Castle (played by Patrick Swayze, in all his 80's glory), who decides to teach her how to dance. Every cliche in the book, from the disapproving dad to a record scratch signifying a particularly pivotal dramatic moment, are used here in all sincerity. That's admirable, but I wish they could have actually made these guys actual characters, and not just pieces of big dance numbers.

Now, I've got two specific issues that really hinder the film, one small, one gigantic. The small one is that there's little contrast  with Francis before and after she meets Johnny, rendering the sense of rebellion and freedom that should come from her dancing nonexistent. The major one is, holy crap, is Johnny Castle an awful romantic interest. He's insulting and condescending to Francis when he first meets her, and after teaching her some dance moves, she starts to fall in love with him after he bashes his car window in. "You're wild!" she exclaims to him as they drive off shortly after he damages his vehicle. "He's crazy!" I exclaimed, hoping the movie wouldn't expect us to believe anyone could truly love someone as temperamental as this.  

Thankfully, Johnny mellows out a bit towards the end, even if all attempts to humanize fall flat (a monologue he delivers noting how women used him for sex is especially unintentionally humorous). As I said before, Francis doesn't advance, and the rest of the supporting cast remain stereotypes until the final frame. At least the music and dancing, which are the center of the films best scenes, are pleasingly entertaining. Choreographer Kenny Ortega and director Emile Ardolino do a great job making sure all the energy the characters are feeling as they groove to the movies superb soundtrack translates to the audience.

The final scene of the movie is the one the movies most famous for, and for good reason. It's a peppy sequence set to the song (I've Had) The Time Of My Life, which is sung perfectly by Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes. The only problem is anything not involving dancing to that awesome song just fails, which surprisingly includes the films notable line "Nobody Puts Baby In A Corner", which is delivered in a clunky manner that robs the scene of all possible emotional potency. Notice how I said possible; with a pitifully developed character like Francis and an inconsistent violent basketcase like Johnny, even a perfectly delivered one-liner likely couldn't salavage their "romance". Honestly, the most you can hope for out of this film straight from the 80's is some good music and dance moves, which they at least have the kindness to deliver. Oh! and you can also see Wayne Knight in one of his first film roles, which is super neat to catch. 

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