Written by: Victoria Arch & Boaz Yakin
Starring: Diego Luna, Romola Garai, Sela Ward, John Slattery, Jonathan Jackson, January Jones
The power of dance brings people together in moments of celebration and unity, no matter where they come from. It’s an integral part of many cultures, including Cuba where Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights takes place. A sequel/spin-off of the original 1987 film and a story that cannot be described as good but it has a romance as touching as the circumstances are wild.
During the Cuban revolution, Katey Miller (Romola Garai) and her family move to Cuba against her wishes, as she wanted to spend her senior year in the United States before heading off to college. While in Cuba, she meets a waiter named Javier (Diego Luna), who dances in a way she has never seen before. As they commence a romance as they begin to dance together, sparks of revolution begin to combust around them.
If you have seen the original Dirty Dancing, the plot synopsis of this film may feel familiar and you would be justified because it’s mostly the same scenario but in another country. A young girl, on the verge of going off to college, spends time in a place she does not frequent, fends off a boy her parents find acceptable, and falls in love with another boy who’s different from her in a major way. Only in this film, the difference appears in race and national origin as Katey falls for a Cuban, Javier. Many of the thematic elements remain, including the difference in the way she dances with others and what she witnesses the locals doing to express themselves.
Having this story take place in Cuba, during the revolution in the 1950s makes me chuckle because of the Titanic-level of tragedy and circumstance surrounding this dance movie. The original had its bit of darkness but to have this taking place in a time where people were getting killed and people were revolting does not vibe with this kind of story, but it becomes one of the reasons it proves to be somewhat enjoyable. The ridiculousness of it all provides a different tone and just allows for it to be a fun and wild ride for Katey to ingratiate herself with Cuban culture.
Some readers may be wary of the trope where white folks go to different countries and learn a valuable lesson about themselves through using the folks of the other nations as props. As tired as it may be, at the very least this film provides some nice dancing to admire as well. It serves as the strength, as the relationship between Katey and Javier flourishes despite the different pressures in their life. Katey must deal with having her senior year in Cuba and Javier must contend with providing for his family and worrying about his brother getting involved in the revolution. Those two situations carry equal amounts of pressure on each of them. I hope the sarcasm there was fairly obvious.
The moments in the Cuban clubs bring the most energy because it shows a group of people letting loose and moving their bodies in an unfettered and passionate manner. When Katey agrees to feel the music and just let herself go to the dance, it shows her blossoming. The difference in dance style could not be starker with Katey’s parents being more traditional, and the styles she learns from Javier has much more sensuality and generally more hip movement overall. Watching the reaction her parents have when they see her perform with this dancing is worth the price of admission on its own.
As a complete surprise, Patrick Swayze makes a cameo in the film, which may be a spoiler but I’m trying to sell this movie to you here. His presence in this film is funny to think about considering the original film took place in the 1960s and this one occurs in the 1950s. Not only does Swayze look older, because of the span in the filming of the movies, but there’s no way the same Johnny Cash from Dirty Dancing would have been in Cuba years before the story took place. It can be ignored even if it does not make sense, because his presence brings a level of familiarity and connection to these two films. Also, we can never have enough Swayze in our lives.
With plenty of hip movement and passion, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights lives up to the name of its title and does so through its calling card. The dance sequences work well despite the very subpar storyline bridging everything together. Yes, the revolution feels like such a strange background for this story, but the audacity to put together this feeling of romance in the middle of it deserves some semblance of praise.