HAVING THE TIME OF MY LIFE
an abnormally in-depth review of the 1987 classic, Dirty dancing.
Words by Maria Archilla // the .gif isn't our property, but it's pretty cool isn't it?
By my estimate, I've seen Dirty Dancing 50 times. I’d say I've cried about 44 of those times. No matter my mood, a line or a scene will resonate with me and the next thing I know, I'm crying. Therapeutic crying aside, Dirty Dancing has every element I want in a romance movie—a grand scene, declarations of love, intense chemistry between actors, unrealistic situations that allow for escapism—but with the added bonus of a memorable soundtrack and choreography.
However, if you strip away the cast and dancing, you're left with a sloppy plot. In 1963, Frances "Baby" Houseman (Jennifer Grey) and her family (her father played by Jerry Orbach, the best Law & Order detective of all time) go to Kellerman's Mountain House, a Catskills resort. Baby gets a crush on the resort's dance instructor Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze). Turns out Johnny's dance partner Penny (Cynthia Rhodes) got pregnant by Robbie (Max Cantor), the sleazy waiter at Kellerman’s who reads The Fountainhead. The only day a doctor can stop by to perform an abortion happens to be on the day they perform at the Sheldrake—if they don't perform they "lose this year's salary and next year's gig." With Maria working all day and Janet filling in for Penny's dance classes, and Kellerman's apparently only having three female dancers available, it's up to Baby to learn all the moves. And learn it she does, as from what I've gathered from my 50 viewings, she's learned it in about a week. Maybe two. But it doesn't matter, as we spend the rest of the movie watching Baby and Johnny become enamored with each other.
While I sing the film's praises about once a month—"Dirty Dancing is the best movie of all time” being a sentence I have yelled to many—it's not without its faults. Why is a 25-year-old falling for a 17-year-old? Why did Baby’s father hand her $250 (equivalent to $2000 in 2018), even after she admitted she couldn't say what the money was for? Was the role of Billy, Johnny's cousin, only written to provide exposition? With most movies, these questions would plague me for the rest of the screening. But Dirty Dancing is not most movies. Even with a weak plot and dubious elements, I get transfixed by the chemistry between Grey and Swayze as they dance and all my questions are promptly pushed aside.
In a pivotal scene between Baby and Johnny, Baby confesses, “I’m scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I’m with you.” Hasn’t Baby only known Johnny for two weeks? Sure, but the line highlights what it feels like to be in love with someone. (And yes, I have cried after hearing that line often.)
Obviously, I'm a hopeless romantic. I love the concept of love, and I love watching fictional characters fall in love. My logical side can recognize when Hollywood is selling me on unfeasible ideas but, unfortunately for me, my emotional side always prevails. This is most evident in the scene in which Baby and Johnny lip-sync to Mickey & Slyvia's "Love is Strange." Baby playfully berates Johnny with the same critiques he gave her earlier in the film ("You're invading my dance space. This is my space, that is yours.") as they dance. It's a sharp contrast from the Baby that couldn't move her hips to Otis Redding's "Love Man" when we first met her. The scene exudes sensuality, yet it remains endearing, as it demonstrates the sexual awakening and confidence Baby has achieved throughout the movie. My emotions swell watching this scene, envying the way Baby and Johnny tease each other as they lip-sync before embracing each other again. It's only a one-minute scene, but in that minute I'm convinced what I’m witnessing on the screen is true love. All I've ever wanted was to reenact that scene, knowing full well that I never will. "Nah, it smells weird," is the response I got once when I just wanted a guy to moisturize his face. Now imagine if I asked him to lip-sync while he lies on the dance floor.
Memorable and tender scenes are what Dirty Dancing excels in, evidenced by the number of people that wish to reenact scenes (it’s not just me). Couples have been injured for trying to recreate the iconic lift from the film’s climactic dance number. You can't blame them for trying though, the final dance scene to "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" is enthralling. Not only does Baby finally do the lift (after so much practicing in lakes for it), but as the scene invites all the characters to join in on the fun, it's impossible for the viewer to not want to join as well.
Despite some flaws, you can’t mistake the emotional impact of the film. Dirty Dancing provides the viewer the sensation of falling in love, without the potential heartache that lingers in reality. It's fun, it's romantic, and it's ridiculous—that's the formula of its charm.
Couple that got injured and I laugh every time I see the pictures because I’m a horrible person: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/love-sex/dirty-dancing-lift-fail-couple-knock-each-other-out-andy-sharon-price-bristol-a7839566.html
Maria is kind of a writer and kind of a nerd. Her instagram is @llamaria if you want to compare dirty philosophies.