Written by: Eleanor Bergstein
Starring: Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey, Jerry Orbach, Cynthia Rhodes, Jack Weston
People from different walks in life can certainly come together despite the differences in the way they’ve been raised, even with life’s circumstances making it difficult to do, if you go by Dirty Dancing. A film willing to examine a classist system within a resort and the equalizing effect of dance. With plenty of steamy sequences and classic 80s moments, this film shows why it’s beloved by so many and why there will never be another Patrick Swayze.
Vacationing with her family for the summer at a bougie resort, Baby (Jennifer Grey) has her mind set on helping others for a career. While spending time with other individuals in the same tax bracket as her family, she discovers the help staff, who engage in a different style of dancing as compared to rigid and boring kind of people like her. There she gets introduced to Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze) where they begin a lovely summer romance.
At Kellerman’s, there is a divide among the employees working there. There are the waiters, who are all Ivy League students given the opportunity to rub elbows with some powerful people, and then there are working class entertainment workers. They all have the same function, which revolves around entertaining the guests, and specifically the wives if they request it. At this resort, the men love to gamble all day and night and these workers are tasked with entertaining the wives in whatever way they please. A strange set up for sure, but one where Baby finds herself trying to find some entertainment herself. She finds this when she sees where the working-class employees spend their time, which includes some very provocative dancing as compared to the rigid and “proper” dancing in the main halls. This becomes attractive to her and opens up her eyes to a completely different set of people.
The budding romance shared by Baby and Johnny has so much heart because of their different upbringings and future prospects. Baby has a father who works as a physician and will set her up to achieve whatever she wants in the future while Johnny had to scrap his way into this summer job with his best prospect coming in the form of being a painter like his father. Different life circumstances but they find themselves this summer together in a sprawling romance. The relationship may not have much of a future, but they will certainly enjoy this abbreviated time in each other’s arms.
Several moments throughout the film do not let you forget it came out in the 1980s, as it has plenty of the trademarks, but the darkness it’s willing to engage in sets it apart. This story includes an abortion storyline with one of the workers and trying to get her support. With this story taking place in the 1960s, the illegality of the procedure certainly came into play along with the emotional stakes involved with all of the characters. In a way, many things happening on this resort serve as a microcosm of classism existent in the country then. The way the wait staff and owner looked down upon the entertainment crew, who desperately need their jobs speaks volumes and certainly tracks.
With a title like Dirty Dancing, an expectation of good dancing is valid and the film delivers it inconsistently. The moments where Johnny dances alongside his usual partner, Penny (Cynthia Rhodes), shows two excellent dancers on display but the moments where he dances with Baby have less technique but plenty of sensuality. The dancing relationship between Johnny and Baby occurs when the latter steps in to dance with the former. It begins with friction but as they get to know each other, their relationship blossoms, and the dancing then turns fairly sensual. Many of the memorable imagery comes from the sequences where they stay close to each other and execute different moves together.
Starring as the couple are Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, who develop excellent chemistry in their roles together. They sell this summer romance beautifully and Swayze proves why he will forever be one of the most memorable heartthrobs of the 1980s. With a spectacular physique and the nimbleness to be an excellent dancer, he puts his skills on full display with all of the complicated dance sequences the film requires. He builds this shell with the character, which allows the vulnerable moments to be all the more meaningful. Baby represents this innocence, which makes sense with the nickname, but Grey does well to capture this with her longing looks and chipper demeanor. Baby does not know much of what occurs outside of her bubble of privilege and this film opens her up to the reality of life most others must take on and Grey’s representation goes a long way in communicating it.
With Dirty Dancing, you may have the time of your life, as the final number indicates because of the steamy romance and the larger discussion about class relationships within this resort. Things get overly dramatic and cheesy throughout, sure, but it has so much heart and passion for this story and how dance can break down barriers. Passion flows throughout the feature and provides yet another showcase for the one and only Patrick Swayze.