Directed by Emile Ardolino
Written by Eleanor Bergstein
“That was the summer of 1963, the year everybody called me Baby, and it didn’t occur to me to mind.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this movie. I also read the books and watched the spin off TV show. But it was never my favourite movie, no this movie was my sister’s favourite. Every single time we went to the video shop she’d get this one, and watch it endlessly, rewinding it as soon as the credits started rolling and then starting again. Eventually mum and dad bought her her own copy, same with The Princess Bride because we all loved that one.
As a kid I knew that Dirty Dancing had a main girl who fell in love with a boy and that there was lots of dancing and a very catchy soundtrack (my sister bought it on vinyl), and that there were some boring talky bits but also a neat dancing training montage where they fell in the lake, a girl got sick and the main girl’s dad helped out and then was angry and then there was an awesome big dance at the end with the iconic flying lift thing.
Watching it again as an adult a few years back I remember being legitimately surprised that Penny is ‘sick’ because she has a botched abortion from a guy with a folding table and a rusty knife D: and that the waiters at the holiday resort are encouraged to hit on the daughters of the guests ‘even the dogs’, but the lower class ‘entertainment staff’ are told hands off. That actually, being set in 1963 this movie is about class issues and love overcoming prejudice. Of course Johnny Castle is white, and good looking and a fantastic dancer, so hardly the bad boy type they could have had – like if he was black for example, but these are political things and went right over my head when I was 7 – 12 years old, which was probably roughly the time this movie played a lot in our lounge.
The interesting thing I noticed on this watch through was the portrayal of the sisters. I really like good sister relationships in movies, i.e. ones that aren’t necessarily all smiles and happiness, because family isn’t like that all the time and sister relationships are tough. This one is quite wonderful for the way they look out for each other and snipe as well. Baby is genuinely surprised when Lisa scoffs at her concern over sleeping with Robbie “Oh, come on. You don’t care about me. You wouldn’t care if I humped the entire army… as long as they were on the right side of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.” But of course Baby is totally wrapped up in her own life, and treats her family as mostly discardable, so it shouldn’t be a surprise.
Which of course makes their reconciliation so much more touching, because it comes from love and forgiveness. Lisa offers to help by doing her hair, and offering her compliments on her looks because those are the things Lisa cares about and knows she can help with. Baby accepts this for the genuine offer that it is and they hug. It’s a quiet moment, and one that you could use to scoff at Lisa, as we are so often invited to, for being stupid, or fixated on her looks, or just plain clueless but I think it shows an acceptance of the different kinds of people and can be viewed without judgement.
I also have to give a shout out to the young Emily Gilmore, aka Kelly Bishop, playing Marjorie – the mother who is mostly left out of the story but always present. The moment at the end where Baby is dancing with Johnny for everyone to see and she says ‘I think she gets this from me’ is adorable, because it follows from her telling her husband to sit back and let Baby do what she wants and also shows a huge amount of pride. Plus Kelly is a trained ballet dancer and won a Tony for performing in a Chorus Line on Broadway so I like to think it’s a nod to that.
Does it make me love the people? It does. A deeper understanding of what’s going on helps of course, but Jennifer Grey’s performance is goofy, sincere and utterly fearless throwing herself into the role so completely that it’s easy to forget she’s playing a role. Patrick Swayze gets to show off his dancing skills and he’s a good level of sweet vs angry. He does the right thing almost all the time.
Bechdel test: Many many times. Most of the main characters are women after all, which is rather wonderful. For example, Lisa and Baby talk to each other about covering for each other with their parents, snark at each other and have a night time conversation where Lisa accuses Baby of not caring about her. Also Penny and Baby talk about dancing, Penny wants Baby to know she doesn’t sleep around and that she’s scared about the abortion. There’s lots here, which is wonderful.
Baby: I told you I was telling the truth, Daddy. I’m sorry I lied to you, but you lied too. You told me everyone was alike and deserved a fair break. But you meant everyone who was like you. You told me you wanted me to change the world, to make it better. But you meant by becoming a lawyer or an economist and marrying someone from Harvard. I’m not proud of myself, but I’m in this family too. You can’t keep giving me the silent treatment. There are a lot of things about me that aren’t what you thought. But if you love me, you have to love all the things about me, and I love you. I’m sorry I let you down; I’m so sorry, Daddy. But you let me down too.
State of Mind: For how many times I thought I’d seen this movie, and that I was over it, watching it again with full attention opened my eyes some. This is a great film.
Obviously the big hit from this movie is Time of My Life, but my absolute favourite song is She’s Like The Wind (‘Just a fool to believe I have anything she needs…’)