85. Dirty Dancing
1987, 100 Minutes
Director: Emile Ardolino
Starring: Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze
By J.T. Tepnapa
“Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”
I was budding teenager when I first saw Dirty Dancing. I thought it was an amazing love story and I owned the soundtrack on cassette tape (cassette!). My girlfriend at the time felt it was very important for us to learn how to “dirty dance.” So we would play the cassette and grind our hips to “Hey! Baby” and “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” Maybe she was trying to get me to be more frisky? Maybe she was hinting that she wanted to “go all the way.” All I learned was how to dance hip to hip that summer. Watching Dirty Dancing years later makes me reminisce about a simpler time in my life. And I suppose that’s exactly what Dirty Dancing was trying to do in 1987. Mission accomplished. Again.
It’s the summer of 1963 and Baby (Frances Houseman) played by Jennifer Grey is going on a family trip to Kellerman’s resort. Baby is quite innocent compared to her older sister. While on vacation she secretly wanders into the Staff Only part of resort and watches the dancers do much more than the Cha Cha and Merengue. They are grinding their hips and exposing their sweaty bodies to Rock ‘n’ Roll. And the leader of this sexy band of dancers is Johnny Castle, played by Patrick Swayze. After the lead female dancer, Penny, becomes pregnant by a sleazy Yale student, she must choose between having a job or having a baby with no financial support. Baby steps in to learn Penny’s dance moves so on the same night Penny can get an illegal abortion. And in the process, Baby falls in the love with bad boy with a heart of gold. She looks up to these dancers as free spirits. And finds out that she too is a free spirit ready to chart a different path from her family.
Does this sound like a movie full a schmaltz? Yep! And I ate up every second of it. The casting of a Plain Jane pining over the sexy dancer is Film 101. The writing is simple and earnest. And the music! The music carries the movie through every scene guiding the characters to their climatic lift. If the movie was set in 1987, it would have failed as misguided overly dramatic romcom. But because it’s a snapshot of a airbrushed picture-perfect 1963 family, those rose-colored moments feel nostalgic.
I love period movies. It’s not that these time periods were actually better or safer. It’s just that we were younger and our knowledge of the world around us was so much smaller. I also love coming-of-age movies. It’s that brief moment in our lives between fearless innocence and fearful knowledge. It’s a time where we want to change the world for the better. I wish we could stay in this state of mind perpetually. Some people do. And sometimes movies can remind us that it’s OK to be courageous, it’s OK to want to save the world. We just have to do it little by little.
MY FAVORITE scene is Baby and Johnny in the rain. Johnny locks his keys in car and breaks the back window to get in. It’s done mostly in one shot and it’s cute little moment. I also love the dancing montages. It’s just all-around fun for me to watch Baby get better and better at dancing. I suppose it’s a bit like Silver Linings Playbook, only without crazy people.
Is Francis “Baby” Houseman the female Benjamin Bentley? She’s chasing after the hottest guy at the resort. She’s curious and has a unique perspective on the world. She’s not like her family. It’s a great female-centric movie with Jennifer Grey as the hero underdog and Patrick Swayze as the sexy love interest. Seeing strong women making bold choices rather than swooning over men is just more interesting to me. Yes, there is swooning in Dirty Dancing, but there is also courage and intelligence. Just as Baby might have been a voice for strong independent women of 1987, I hope Ben Bentley can be a voice for tomorrow’s gay teens.
You can stream Dirty Dancing on Netflix and Amazon or you can just buy a physical copy on Amazon.