There are some movies that will never get old. Whether you watch them five times or five hundred, they are always, always great.
Dirty Dancing is one of those movies.
We all know the iconic lines. (“Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” “This is my dance space, this is your dance space.” “I carried a watermelon.”) We all know the music. (Can anyone hear “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” and not think of the lift?) We know the characters – Robbie the Creep, Neil and his two hotels, Lisa and her beige iridescent lipstick. We know the dances, the wardrobe, the words to Kellerman’s anthem. For twenty-four years, we have grown up with this movie, and it still manages to invoke a feeling somewhere between the thrill of a first love and the comfort of an old friend.
Dirty Dancing is more than a dance movie. It’s a coming-of-age story, a commentary on the times, and a pitch perfect romance between two characters who not only fall in love with each other, but make us fall in love with them.
I know that I’m not alone in saying that Patrick Swayze was one of my very first crushes, and that’s in no small part due to his role as the bad boy with a heart of gold, Johnny Castle. The minute he teaches a watermelon-toting Baby how to move her hips in the staff quarters, the audience is just as taken by him as she is. He has a fondness for wearing all black and a tendency to take an attitude (“No, Miss Fix-it, somebody else can’t fill in”), but underneath the sunglasses and the breaking of car windows, we see a sweet guy who just needs to be loved. (You just have to melt when he says, “The reason people treat me like I’m nothin’ is because I’m nothin’.”) He always takes the high road – not correcting Dr. Houseman when he accuses him of “getting his partner in trouble,” not even punching Robbie the Creep’s lights out (and I think we’re all in agreement, Robbie totally had it coming.) When he finally learns to stand up for himself, no character has ever had a more “in your face!” redemptive ending than Johnny Castle, busting into that end of summer talent show, grabbing Baby out of that corner, and interrupting Neil, Lisa, Kellerman, and the rest of the bland “Join, hands, hearts, and voices” crew with his kind of dancing.
And let’s talk for a minute about that terrific partner of his, the woman who taught him to stand up for what he believed in, Ms. Frances Houseman. We couldn’t ask for a better heroine than Baby. For a girl with big ideas but a sheltered life, she certainly knows how to leap into action when that shelter is cracked wide open. She’s young and inexperienced, but she’s not a giggling, shy schoolgirl, ogling the dark and dreamy dance instructor. She’s smart, and original, and has conviction, and teaches him even more than he teaches her. She never fails to step up to the plate, whether that means filling Penny’s shoes, trying to save Johnny’s job, or throwing a pitcher of cold water on Robbie the Creep. (Finally!)
Dirty Dancing is filled with iconic moments that are universally remembered. The log. Practicing lifts in the lake. The “Hungry Eyes” montage. Lip-synching to Mickey and Sylvia. The “Cry to Me” love scene. (Swoon. The “Cry to Me” love scene!) I know many people who could probably recite this movie from start to finish, but still we watch it again, and again, and again – and it is always spectacular.
So if the heat gets to be too much for you this weekend, why not stay indoors, crank up the AC, and fall in love with Baby and Johnny all over again? There are worse ways to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Like, say, rehearsing for a talent show at Kellerman’s.