Anthony's Film Review

Dirty Dancing (1987)

Two beautiful stars are mixed in with real drama, sensuous romance, and lively music...

The 1987 film Dirty Dancing can be described in plenty of ways. You can call it a romance film because it centers on a man and woman coming together. You can also call it a coming-of-age movie because the female lead is a young person who is exposed to another world and begins a slow transformation. On top of that, Dirty Dancing is a musical film (though it's not a musical in the true sense, with the characters actually singing in many scenes), a drama film about dealing with issues, and a portrait about celebrating life itself. Whatever it is, there is bound to be something for you to like about this film.

While Dirty Dancing is a 1980s film, its plot actually takes place in the summer of 1963. Francis "Baby" Houseman (played by Jennifer Gray), a college-bound girl, goes on a trip with her sister, mother, and father to Kellerman's Mountain House, a resort in the woods of upstate New York, for a summer vacation. ("Francis" is actually revealed as Baby's real name late in the film, but don't worry. It's not a spoiler to mention it.) The family arrives at the resort where all sorts of fun activities are available, such as swimming in a lake, golf, and dancing. Speaking of which, Baby develops an immediate crush on a dancer named Johnny Castle (played by Patrick Swayze).

To really illustrate what Dirty Dancing is about, I shall describe the first two dance scenes in the movie. One depicts a ballroom dance, with people young and old moving to the music with arms around each other. Baby also dances, but with a young guy whom she isn't too fond of. Meanwhile, one couple definitely stands out in this scene: Johnny Castle and his dance partner Penny Johnson (played by Cynthia Rhodes), who is not actually his lover but many would assume so given how much sizzling chemistry the two seem to have on the dance floor. Otherwise, it's nothing but good clean fun here.

Now contrast this with the second dance scene, where the film's title comes in. Baby, in an effort to meet her crush Johnny, stumbles into a secluded dance party only for resort staff members. It's secluded because, unlike the family-friendly ballroom dance, the dancing here involves hip thrusts and gyrations, plus other sexually suggestive bodily positions, to the tune of The Contours song "Do You Love Me." Baby is naturally in shock by what she sees. Johnny and Penny are also dancing in this scene and really let loose. Interestingly, Johnny invites Baby to do some dirty dancing, and while she might be reluctant to do so, she nevertheless gives it a try.

The romance between Baby and Johnny doesn't actually start here. Rather, the opportunity comes after Penny has a crisis: an unplanned pregnancy, for which she needs money for an illegal abortion. Baby convinces her father to lend her money, though without telling him about Penny's situation. In addition, Penny cannot dance publicly with Johnny, which means he needs a new dance partner. Baby becomes the replacement dancer, but she will have to be trained intensely to dance as well as Johnny.

From there, the movie goes back and forth between drama scenes with various characters, which are essentially side scenes, and the romantic dance scenes between Baby and Johnny, which I shall describe because that's the film's focus. At first, there is frustration as Baby gets several dance steps wrong, sometimes even stepping on Johnny's foot by accident. But later, there is excitement as Baby moves in unison with Johnny. Even better is that love gradually develops when they move closely with each other. One of the most memorable scenes takes place in a lake, where Johnny practices lifting Baby up in the air with his hands while she learns to stay balanced. Every time Baby falls into the water, one can't help but think that the character's dance skills and her love for Johnny are constantly growing.

If you think the coupling of Baby and Johnny is purely based on physical and sexual attraction, you're wrong. There is actually a little more to it. I say this because Johnny, who may be sexy to many women and might lose his temper now and then, is not a total jerk as one might assume. Unlike men who cover up their insecurities in destructive ways, Johnny actually reveals to Baby his insecurities and how he admires and envies her kindness. Here is a guy who (I can't believe I'm saying this) is sympathetic because he recognizes the value of a good heart, which goes against the Hollywood formula of shallow relationships. Speaking of which, if you're expecting some kind of love triangle with Baby, Johnny, and another woman like Penny, you won't see it here. In fact, Baby and Penny get along quite well, which I think is nice.

Dirty Dancing presents a nice combination of drama, romance, and music, and it ends nicely with a final dance number to the song "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes. Never mind the fact that this is a 1980s song in a movie set in the 1960s. It's truly a feel-good song (and also one of my all-time favorite songs) about enjoying life itself, and it fits perfectly in the scene as Baby and Johnny begin dancing before inspiring everyone else in the room to do the same. Dirty Dancing may not be the most extraordinary romantic and musical film ever made, but it's still good. I nodded, smiled, and applauded when it was all over, as I, too, was having the time of my life.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about Dirty Dancing, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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