Susan Omand finally admits to a softer side, full of glitter and love, as she brings Dirty Dancing out of the corner for Guilty Pleasures Day...
That was the summer of 1963 - when everybody called me Baby, and it didn't occur to me to mind. That was before President Kennedy was shot, before the Beatles came, when I couldn't wait to join the Peace Corps, and I thought I'd never find a guy as great as my dad. That was the summer we went to Kellerman's.
Anyone who knows me knows I don’t “do girly stuff” very easily. The stereotypically sugar-pink, fluffy and sparkly is not for me, romance is for suckers and life’s far too short for vapid happy-ever-after movies. So why do I absolutely adore Dirty Dancing? [waits for screaming, laughing and general accusatory finger-pointing to subside]
Well, yes, the music has a lot to do with it (see my review of the soundtrack on AlbieMedia) and, yes, at the time (I was nearly 19) Patrick Swayze probably had quite a lot to do with it too – this was the first film I saw him in and I have watched just about everything that he did now, Roadhouse is still one of my top movies. But it’s not just that. The film itself just makes me happy. It’s a typical story of girl sees boy across a crowded dancefloor, girl carries watermelon to staff party, girl steps in to learn a dance with boy in a week that will save the day for other girl who needs the day off to get an abortion, medical emergency, ultimate high, ultimate low, big family fight, happy ending. Simples *squeak*. And, as a story, it really is that simple. It doesn’t moralise, it doesn’t set out to prove a point or hammer home a message. It doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it actually is and I think that’s part of what makes it a good film to watch on those days when you don’t want to be preached at, or have to think too hard.
The other thing that works in this film is the casting. Jennifer “career ruined in a single nosejob” Grey is perfectly cast as Baby , the awkward kid sister daddy’s girl of a straitlaced family, who "finds herself" when she meets dancer Johnny Castle (Swayze) and the rest of the backroom staff at Kellerman’s where the family is on holiday. Swayze too is terrific as Johnny – he has the swagger, the confidence, the anti-establishment attitude and his chemistry with everyone, not just Baby, just fizzes on screen. And Jerry Orbach is brilliant in everything. As Baby’s father, Doctor Houseman, he espouses everything you could want for in a baby-boomer father – grouchy but compassionate, opinionated but trusting, and he plays the part with such integrity that you just really believe in him as the family man.
So that’s what makes this film a guilty pleasure for me – simple story, great music, great casting. It also probably helps that I know the film inside out and upside down because I’ve watched it that often and can quote great chunks of dialogue. However I don’t. Because, unlike things like Hitch-hikers Guide (which I do quote swathes from) it’s “not cool” to like it – it’s not intellectually challenging, it’s not artistically ground-breaking, it’s not been made by a cult director who can pretend to be ironic about creating a fluff film (Emile Ardolino went on to make 3 Men and a Little Lady and Sister Act for pity’s sake, hardly an esteemed back catalogue). But what Dirty Dancing is, for me, it’s comfort. When I stick on the DVD I know what I’m going to get and I’m happy with that. I still smile at the start as the radio DJ introduces the first Frankie Valli song as they’re in the car heading for Kellerman’s. I still get a bit of a thrill of illicit excitement the first time Baby “crosses the tracks” to party with the hotel staff. And, yes, I still well up a bit at the end because everything has worked out just how it should do – the bad guys lost, the good guys won and everything is just about cotton-candy perfect.
Just don’t tell anyone, ok?
Image - IMDb.