Dirty Dancing (1987) / Romance-Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sensuality, adult themes, and language
Running Time: 100 min.
Cast: Jennifer Grey, Patrick Swayze, Jerry Orbach, Cynthia Rhodes, Jack Weston, Jane Brucker, Kelly Bishop, Lonny Price
Director: Emile Ardolino
Screenplay: Eleanor Bergstein
Review published January 21, 2004
Dirty Dancing is a bit of a cult favorite film for some, particularly for those who like song and dance films, regardless of how corny they may be in the drama department, and this one is cornier than most. Even so, there is an infectiousness that surrounds a film that is mostly carried by its killer soundtrack, dance numbers, and a lot of excuses to show a lot of gyrations and flashes of skin, so if you are looking for pleasures that reside on the most visceral of levels, you may come away loving the film despite its substantial narrative flaws. However, even if you don't get swept away by the magic, it's also quite a good movie to laugh at for the unintentional camp value, and you'll most likely be entertained just the same.
Jennifer Grey (Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Wind) stars as Baby, coming of age in the early 60s during a family vacation at a summer resort where she meets the dance instructor, Johnny (Swayze, Ghost). In addition to the normal routines, Johnny and the rest of the local dancers head out to a local underground club where they perform the sexiest of dances in the raciest of attire for the times. When Johnny's dance partner is out of commission for a while, Baby, ever the eager helper, jumps in and agrees to learn all of her moves. Love soon develops, but Baby's over-protective and conservative father is a hard man to please.
As far as the dance numbers go, they are nicely done, with Swayze and Grey doing an excellent job performing to the needs of the situation with flair, although this isn't really an acting showcase. The real impetus to success comes from the constant soundtrack, which balances popular golden oldies along with newer songs that propelled to the top of the pop charts in 1987, like "Hungry Eyes" (Eric Carmen), "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" (Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes), and Patrick Swayze's own "She's Like the Wind". If you like this sort of music, or just think the dancing is steamy, you'll get plenty of mileage here.
As far as the dramatic and storytelling aspects go, Dirty Dancing is extremely predictable and lacking in the depth department. Eleanor Bergstein's script attempts to tie-in the storyline as a coming-of-age for the country as well as one young girl, as other films set in the same era have done. It's a ham-handed delivery, to say the least, but the simplicity of the structure will probably make it palatable to audiences who enjoy mass appeal fare.
If you are the type of person who thoroughly enjoys any movie with lots of music and dance numbers, Dirty Dancing will probably rank high on your list of favorite films. Those who are looking for a compelling romance or a gripping drama should definitely look elsewhere, as this is paltry entertainment for more discriminating audiences. Still, watching the way the producers manage to show Swayze shirtless as much as possible, or reciting lines such as, "Nobody puts baby in the corner," definitely gives the film a level of watchability for those who like poking fun at movies that are unabashedly corny, and there's enough corn here to make you think it must have been filmed in Iowa.
©2004 Vince Leo