Dirty Dancing turns 25: Nobody puts this classic in a corner
Dirty Dancing officially turns 25 years old today. Where were you on Aug. 21, 1987? Probably not at the theater, because Dirty Dancing got off to a fairly slow start. With mixed reviews -- fave critic Roger Ebert gave it a thumbs down, citing its "idiotic plot" -- and a soundtrack trapped in another generation, the much-targeted teen audience didn't show up to see it. Instead it would be adults -- who identified with the era and music in which the film was set -- who gave Dirty Dancing its first success at the box office.
Word of mouth eventually led the film to become the No. 1 video rental of 1988. A re-release in 1997 made it a best-seller again.
You could dismiss it as a chick flick, but thanks to the performance by the late Patrick Swayze, it somehow grows beyond that label. (Why? Because the guy who played Dalton in Road House and Bodhi in Point Break could never be in a chick flick. Ummm, unless you count Ghost, which I'm going to label a horror movie just for the sake of my argument.)
And so somehow, over the years, Dirty Dancing has become embraced by the '80s generation. We all wince when Baby says "I carried a watermelon." We swoon over the Jennifer Grey and Swayze playing cat-and-mouse on the dance studio floor. And we all celebrate -- even men, very secretly -- during "the big lift" at the end.
But does Dirty Dancing qualify as a "perfect '80s flick" like, say, Breakfast Club, Fast Times, Say Anything or Ferris Bueller? Hardly. Here are five things that STILL bother me about Dirty Dancing, aggravating even 25 years later.
JOHNNY'S NOT TOUGH ENOUGH: Aside from hating the character name Johnny Castle (a name befitting only a Keanu Reeves flick, cough-cough, "Johnny Utah!"), Swayze goes from tough guy -- "You just put your pickle on everybody's plate, college boy, and leave the hard stuff to me" -- to wuss at the drop of a hat. Grey's cute and all, but I get sick to my stomach when he stutters out, "The reason people treat me like I'm nothin' is because I'm nothin'." Man up, Castle! (Oh god, I can't believe I actually said that.)
SPEAKING OF NOTHING: How is it that Neil Kellerman goes the entire movie without getting punched in his toady little face? "Oh, them. They're the dance people. They're here to keep the, uh, guests happy." So you're saying you know you hired "whores," Neil, but you're gonna belittle them anyway and force them to dance the "pachenga" at season's end anyway? Seriously, I don't ever want to a see a sequel or remake of Dirty Dancing unless part of the plot is Neil getting his butt whipped at least three times.
LISA, THE SISTER: Oh, between Baby's sister and Neil, I threw a lot of empty Solo cups at the TV screen over the years. My friend Jen Chaney at the Washington Post has a great column today about Lisa Houseman, who is really more of an interesting character than pretty much the rest of the cast combined. "What do we know about her?" Jen writes. "We know that her father essentially looks right through her, not caring to weigh in on such important matters as whether she should perform I Feel Pretty during the Kellerman’s season-closing talent show. We know that the poor girl can’t sing at all." I think we also secretly know that there's a "Lisa Houseman" in all our lives. And still, even collectively, we still hate her. Could the movie have survived or even prospered with one less villain? Sure.
THE CORNBALL LINES: I know it's a period piece -- don't get me started on why I never liked those in the '80s -- but I still feel the acid burn at "Go back to your playpen, Baby" and "My God, it's Cleopatra. I feel like such an asp" and even "God wouldn't have given you maracas if He didn't want you to shake 'em." And yes, even "Nobody puts Baby in a corner." Wow, Johnny. (Secretly, my favorite line? "I'm doing all this to save your a--, what I really want to do is drop you on it!")
THE FINAL SONG: Don't tease us all movie long with these relic tunes of the '60s and then unleash the drenched-in-the-'80s goodness of (I've Had) The Time Of Our Lives for the finale. And have the orchestra play along?!? Madness! Sheer madness! Why not have Thomas Dolby come out afterward and play a DJ set too while Neil and all the "dance people" make nice?
In the end, despite the sudden emergence of the electronica era 20 years too early, most people leave Dirty Dancing feeling pretty damn happy and empowered. And ultimately, which only a few exceptions, that's the hallmark of a great '80s movie. Pachenga or not.