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Dirty Dancing (1987)

 
 
 

Swayze Dances into our Hearts

I carried a watermelon - Baby

Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing (1987)

It's the summer of 1963 and Baby (Jennifer Grey - Ferris Bueller's Day Off) along with her family have headed to Kellerman's, a holiday camp owned by one of her father's patients. There, she meets and falls in love with the camps handsome dance instructor Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze - Youngblood). But things don't run smoothly especially when Baby's father finds out about their secret romance leading to Johnny being fired.

On the surface the plot to "Dirty Dancing" appears to be nothing more than your typical romantic fluff where a blossoming relationship between two lovers on different sides of the track fails for one reason or another only for the young lovers to realise that maybe what they've got is worth fighting for. Turn this into a holiday romance and you then have a plot which will make every teenage girl and a few older ones fantasize, and of course a few men to. But most significantly, set it in the 60s a time when everything seemed so simple and no one was worried about what the future held and you have not the most complex of stories but one which many viewers will not only be able to relate too but also enjoy. The essence of "Dirty Dancing" is predictable and you know exactly how things will turn out for the young lover's way before you get to the cringe worthy climax, but instead of spoiling the movie it works in its favour making it unbelievably easy to watch. What is also good about this simple plot is that other than a couple of minor add-ons, such as Baby's sisters romance with a waiter and the old couple who happen to be small time thieves, nothing gets in the way of telling the main romantic story.

Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey doing the over the head lift in Dirty Dancing (1987)

Of course, "Dirty Dancing" is littered with some stereotypical scenes many of which revolve around the intimate dancing between Baby and Johnny, but also along the way we get scenes where Baby's father realises that his little girl has been hiding things from him and the now classic where Johnny decides that his love for Baby is more important than anything. Whilst they may be stereotypical and at times pretty cheesy they are worked well within "Dirty Dancing" giving it a dose of romanticism. Even the unbelievably cheesy dialogue actually works brilliantly in the film. Who has never heard the utterly terrible "No one puts Baby in the corner" without laughing but in this simple romantic story it works and like with some of the scenes, "Dirty Dancing" manages to use it to its full advantage, making it one of the most memorable movies from the 80s.

Of course "Dirty Dancing" would not be so memorable without the appeal of its stars, most notably Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. Despite having been in a few movies prior to "Dirty Dancing", both stars were not exactly house hold names and whilst Swayze's career went on to bigger and better things, Grey seems to reach her pinnacle with "Dirty Dancing". But despite not being huge stars, they carried the movie brilliantly, with Jennifer Grey beautifully portraying Baby who experiences first love whilst also dealing with no longer being the apple of her father's eyes after disappointing him. Whilst Patrick Swayze, a man who at times lacked the finesses of a stronger actor, manages to use his raw acting ability to make the character of Johnny feel very real, as he has to deal with being involved with someone on the more affluent side of the tracks.

Of course you can't mention Patrick Swayze without at least commenting on his snake hips, and although I cannot see what the great appeal is he can certainly dance and shows this skill off brilliantly through out the entire movie. Even the chemistry between Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey comes across as being pretty real and whilst it is hard to forget that you are watching two stars act, you get a sense that they were actually falling in love.

Looking at the supporting cast, they all do an adequate job allowing Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey to take centre stage, even Wayne Knight, who plays an entertainer, manages to be pretty unobtrusive. But one supporting actor does deserve a mention and that is Jerry Orbach as Baby's father, Dr. Houseman. For most of "Dirty Dancing" he is just there, but when it becomes apparent that his little girl has betrayed him by falling in love, his performance is brilliant as you see the angst of realising that his little girl is now a woman.

Whilst there is not much to say about the direction other than director Emile Ardolino has done a great job of keeping "Dirty Dancing" focused on the storyline, and brilliantly capturing the feel of the 60s. There is a lot to say about the soundtrack, one which is a huge factor in not only the success of the film but also a hugely enjoyable part for me. Littered with wonderful songs from the 60s, such as "Big Girls Don't Cry", "Do You Love Me" and "Love Man" to name just a few, it really does assist "Dirty Dancing" in not only setting the tempo of each and every scene but also taking you effectively back to an era of rock n roll and sweet soul music. But it is not just the old songs which make the film and probably the most famous song to come from the film is the slightly cheesy, but enjoyable "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" and who can forget "She's like the Wind", penned and sung by Patrick Swayze. All in all, a really fitting and enjoyable soundtrack.

What this all boils down to is that despite all that is wrong with "Dirty Dancing", from being predictable, soppy and incredibly cheesy I have to admit to liking it. Compared too many romantic movies it manages to stay focussed on the main plot and does not attempt to be anything more than a feel good, romance which will actually get you championing the course of the young lovers. It also helps that the performances and chemistry between the stars actually feels real, making it that little bit better than the majority of romances. But undeniably the soundtrack is a huge reason as to why the film is so good, well for me anyway. Even after 20 years, "Dirty Dancing" still seems as popular as ever and I cannot see it ever falling from the lists of people's favourite films. Definitely a film to curl up to, with a loved one and a decent glass of wine any evening of the week.

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