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The Big Zeroes

watch us go from zeroes to heroes

Dirty Dancing came out in 1987 – I looked it up – and I seem to have seen most of the major releases that year – Three Men and a Baby, Moonstruck (one of my favourite romantic comedies of all time), Good Morning Vietnam, Fatal Attraction (don’t get me started).  But somehow I missed Dirty Dancing.  Maybe because I never fancied Patrick Swayze …

Anyway, I decided it was time to fill this gap in my pop culture education, so I watched it recently, and here’s my review.  I suppose I should throw in a token *SPOILER ALERT* – just in case I wasn’t the last person left on the planet who hadn’t seen it.

In the summer of 1963, daddy’s girl and wannabe do-gooder ‘Baby’ goes on holiday with her family to a resort in the Catskills, where she finds herself drawn to resident dance teacher/rent boy Johnny.  In possibly the clumsiest plot set-up of all time, Baby has to learn to dance like a pro so she can fill in for Johnny’s regular partner while she takes the night off to have an abortion.  Because the only appointment she could get was the night of their gig at another hotel.  And she’ll get fired if she has a night off.  Or something. 

Having tricked her father into funding the illegal abortion, Baby get stuck into rehearsing.  Cue endless dance montages – Baby learns to let Johnny feel her up without collapsing in giggles; Baby dances up some steps; Baby and Johnny dance on a log; Baby dances down some steps; Baby and Johnny dance in a lake … you get the picture.  We get the picture a quarter way through the montage, but it keeps rolling on anyway.  Baby tries to master the art of taking a running jump at Johnny so he can hoist her over his head for their big finish – harder than it looks apparently, because come the big night it’s still beyond her capabilities, despite having spent half the film practising it.

In between dry humping sessions on the dance floor, Baby and Johnny fall in love – or so we’re told.  And that was the real problem with this film for me.  I just didn’t buy it – any of it.  I didn’t believe Johnny as a twinkle-toed tough guy ‘from the street’.  What street is that – 42nd?  I didn’t believe Johnny’s wild and crazy co-workers, who spend all their free time doing choreographed dance routines.  Most of all, I didn’t feel the love between Baby and Johnny.  It’s hard to see what Baby finds so irresistible about Johnny –is it the mahoosive chip on his shoulder, or the way he thrusts his trouser-snake at her before he’s even said ‘hello’.  Okay, yeah, I know – it’s that last one.  What girl could resist, right?

And I was too distracted by all the questions in my head.  Wouldn’t Baby at least hesitate a bit about jumping into bed with Johnny when she’s just witnessed his friend go through a botched abortion?  How the hell old is Johnny anyway?  Why hasn’t Baby’s father left her at the side of the road before now?  And many more.

I didn’t really care about the main characters either.  Baby is a well-meaning twit.  Johnny isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but he’s basically a decent guy.  They’re not bad people, but they’re both dull as a bag of doorknobs, and I didn’t give a damn about them getting together.

For all these reasons I couldn’t engage with the movie emotionally.  I just watched it as a detached observer.  Despite the clunky dialogue, cheesy dance moves and terrible acting, I found it mildly entertaining – though I did get a bit bored during the yawnsome dance sequences, and some of it was so cringe-making I could only watch it through my fingers.

And as for that ‘classic’ line – ‘nobody puts baby in the corner’?  It just came out of nowhere and didn’t make any sense.  It was as if the scriptwriters thought they’d come up with a killer line and had to shove it in somewhere.  So Baby’s sitting with her parents watching the end-of-season show, minding her own business, when Johnny storms back in, delivers this deathless line and drags her up on stage to dance.  Huh?

I was told that once I’d seen Dirty Dancing, I’d watch it again and again.  I won’t.  But at least I can cross it off the list.

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