This perfect movie starts out with the perfect soundtrack that perfectly meshes two seemingly disparate, but upon closer look, rather parallel generations. Something about the late 80s meeting the early 60s feels so right. Both were precursors to major cultural upheavals. Both featured peppy, upbeat music. But one’s fashion sense was waaaaay better than the other’s. And throughout this movie, 80s fashion sensibility can’t help but sneak its way in. Case in point: the film starts with a classic 1960s car driving down a winding rural road in upstate New York while credits roll in a hot pink pizzazz font.
“That was the summer of 1963, when everybody called me Baby and it didn’t occur to me to mind.”
Baby: not conventionally attractive by Hollywood standards, but still beautiful in her own right. She has a slightly larger nose, unruly hair, and a somewhat homely fashion sense…she’s me. Awkward, gangly, fond of the chunky mom sweater. You wouldn’t see Jennifer Grey (as she was in 1987, pre-nose job) in a lead role in a movie today.
The owner of Kellerman’s gives a really sleazy speech to the staff about showing the female guests a good time, “even the dogs.” He tells the waitstaff to romance the girls, but warns the dancers “no funny business and keep your hands off!” I’m curious, why the distinction? Like, why is it cool for the waitstaff to fuck the girls, but the entertainment has to stay away? Is it because you put the waiters in white tuxes, but the dancers wear muscle tees? Are all the waiters going to Yale medical school? As a side note, I’d also like to resurrect “put your pickle on everybody’s plate” as a euphemism for being slutty.
Let’s all take a moment to reflect on how ridiculously hot Patrick Swayze is in this movie. The first five times I saw Dirty Dancing, I didn’t even notice the fantastic dancing or interesting plot. I just saw Patrick Swayze, my husband.
Baby takes a walk with a tiny penis of a man. “Are you going to major in English?” he asks. This is a dick 1960s assumption about chicks in college by the dick grandson of the dick Kellerman’s owner. “No, economics of underdeveloped countries,” she answers. BAM, BITCH.
All of a sudden, a gorgeous blonde does a backbend to end all backbends and starts dancing the mambo with Johnny (Patrick Swayze). “Oh them? They’re here to keep the guests happy,” says dickface, rolling his eyes. You kidding? (Penny, the blonde, high kicks behind her head.) Penny and Johnny are insanely good dancers. People would pay good money to watch people this talented perform. These are not your background dancers who pump up the crowd at batmitvahs. (Penny throws her leg over Johnny’s shoulder and he drags her across the room in a split.) Later on, when I was 16 years old in the local theater production of Guys and Dolls, the choreographer made all of us dancers do this move in the Havana scene, and I cursed Dirty Dancing a little for making this a thing.
Baby walks into a sweaty den of dance-grinding and her world is turned upside down. I’m really curious: did people actually dance-fuck each other in the 1960s? I know all the dudes in the 90s/2000s tried to press their junk against me in the clubs, and even then it felt pretty ick. Maybe I’m just underestimating how sexually repressed people were in the early 60s, but I’m thinking if everyone flipped out over the Beatles daring to have bangs in 1964, then dry humping each other on the dance floor in 1963 might be a bit much.
Johnny and Penny are still dancing together, but they’re all “we’re just friends” even though they’ve got more sexual energy between them than anyone in the room. Also, they used to be a couple. But God help anyone who assumes they are still an item in this movie.
Baby then sees Johnny and says what any female coming face-to-face with that much hotness would say: “I carried a watermelon.” Yup. IN MY PANTS.
Baby and Johnny dance. She has no idea what she’s doing, but he’s patient and a good teacher and she starts to semi get the hang of it by the end and you can just tell that MAN he would be amazing in bed.
Cut to Baby and her sister trying on wigs. Baby walks up to Penny to give her a compliment on her beautiful dancing. Penny responds with an attitude-infused backstory about her mom kicking her out when she was 16 because no one asked. Then she rudely walks away. Oooooookay.
Sir Dickface McDickerson hounds Johnny about Penny’s whereabouts, because he obviously knows where she is every second of every day. Then, when Johnny says she’s taking a break, dick replies, “As long as it’s not an all-night break.” You mean, like sleeping? The entertainment staff is not allowed to sleep at Kellerman’s? Oh, and then he delivers an unbelievably patronizing speech to Baby and I keep wondering why she hasn’t punched him in his dickhole yet.
So Baby sees Penny curled up on the floor crying and after being treated like shit by her, she runs off and finds Penny’s friends to help. Baby is a way better person than me. I would have been “sucks to be you” and left it alone. Once Baby informs Johnny and his random cousin about Penny, instead of being all, “thanks, we’ll take it from here,” Johnny’s cousin just casually lets slip that Penny is knocked up. Guess who’s never telling Johnny’s cousin any of her secrets? This gal.
When Baby asks “what’s [Johnny] gonna do about it?” Johnny gets super defensive because she assumed, after seeing them dance together like a couple and knowing they used to be a couple, that it was possible they were sleeping together. Dude…take it easy. I think it’s a pretty natural conclusion to draw.
This next scene is what elevates Dirty Dancing from great dance movie to great movie, period. It was, and frankly still is, revolutionary. Penny is pregnant and instead of completely avoiding abortion as an option like they would in any movie in 2014, they discuss trying to find the funds to obtain an illegal abortion while Penny drinks a glass of whiskey. I’d just like to bring that point home once more. In 1987, nearly 30 years ago, we could include a scene like this in a major motion picture. We could have a woman chose to have an abortion, even an illegal one, and not have her wrack herself with guilt and regret and not have the world heap mountains of judgment on her. It was the move that was right for her. Period. And since Fox News wasn’t around then, no one flipped out about it. It was just part of the backstory.
Unfortunately, revolutionary act aside, Penny is still a raging bitch to Baby for no reason. She tells her to go back to her playpen when Baby tries to offer encouragement. At this point, I would TOTALLY have written this woman off and let her deal with her problems herself. But instead, Baby confronts Robbie, the rich baby daddy who won’t pony up the cash for the abortion. “You make me sick. Stay away from me, stay away from my sister, or I’ll have you fired.” Then she pours water on his crotch. This is the move she should have pulled on King Dickwad the Third.
Then, because Baby is trying to solve the problems of the world one abortion at a time, she asks her dad for the money (but won’t tell him why she needs it). This dude thinks his daughter is so great that he just hands over $250 (a very large sum in 1963) no questions asked. I promise you, as much as I will love and trust my son in the future, I will never hand over a huge chunk of money without knowing what it’s for. That’s just irresponsible parenting right there.
Now we come to the least believable storyline of the movie, which is unfortunately the entire impetus for, basically, the rest of the plot. Penny now has the money but can’t make the appointment for her abortion. I guess they can only do it on a Thursday, which is the night they do their act at the Sheldrick hotel, and if they cancel, they’d lose the entire season’s salary and next season’s gig. So, say someone came down with the flu…that’s it, you’re fired? Not just fired, but you lose the whole season’s salary and any future gigs? Not to say that it’s completely unbelievable, because I’ve read some horror stories about the ways in which hotel staff are horribly abused, but that seems a bit much, especially considering what awesome dancers they are.
So okay fine, they can’t cancel, but Johnny can still dance. Johnny and Penny run down this laundry list about how the other staff is working and they don’t have time to learn the routine, and this is where they get the brilliant idea to teach the girl who has zero dance experience the number. I’m just going to lay this plothole out there and let you do with it what you will: If the rest of the staff—who are trained dancers and could probably learn and practice this routine in far less time than someone with zero training and very little natural talent could—don’t have the time to learn the routine, HOW DOES JOHNNY HAVE THE TIME TO TEACH IT? That’s all I’m going to say.
Still, I’m not complaining, because watching Baby learn to dance and grow ever more confident in herself and her womanhood is the best part of this movie. I will take any excuse to watch Patrick Swayze dance, even if it’s from the knees down and I have to stare at terrible white Keds. And then this line happens:
“The steps aren’t enough. You have to feeeeeel the music. It’s a feeling, a heartbeat. Gah-gong. Gah-gong.” This scene still gives me butterflies.
Next we have more gratuitous dance montages featuring more unfortunate 80s dancewear. Sorry Penny, your leotard is too high cut and your thick leopard print belt is a fashion era fail. Johnny doesn’t care. He makes Penny and Baby sexy dance together while he watches. Then we all get to witness Patrick Swayze shirtless and twisting, his pecs and abs and delts and spine and ribs all flexing and bulging and shifting, and he runs his hand down Baby’s side boob and the ladies of the 80s all do a collective shudder.
This whole time Baby is busting her tail, Johnny is giving her shit. Finally, she serves him up a little realness and tells him she’s doing all this to save his ass, and they go dance in the rain. But not before Johnny discovers he’s locked his keys in the car, so instead of calling Triple A (was there roadside assistance in the 60s?) or using a hanger to jimmy the lock or any other less destructive method to get the keys, he takes a tree stump and busts a hole in his car window (because he can afford to fix that no problem). Then Baby goes “you’re wild…you’re WILD!” And they go do a little barefoot soft-shoeing and ankle-rolling on a log.
Now it’s the night of the big performance and Baby’s hair and makeup make her look middle-aged (though the dress and heels are fabulous). I sort of love that they don’t nail the number. She screws up a couple times and doesn’t do the lift, but it’s not a total disaster. This is pretty realistic. Even as hard as they’ve been practicing, she’s never performed before and she is not a dancer, and she learned a fairly difficult routine in what, a week? Which begs the question: Why wouldn’t Johnny just change the choreography to make it easier? Why include moves she clearly couldn’t pull off (at least not just yet)? It’s not like the Sheldrick could fire him for taking out the lift.
We return to Kellerman’s to discover that Penny’s abortion has gone wrong. My 7-year-old self had no idea what was happening in these scenes, only that some doctor screwed up. Baby gets her dad, even though she knows she’ll be in deep trouble. Also, when Baby’s dad goes “who is responsible for this girl?” I sort of want to say, what do you mean by responsible? And when Johnny answers that he is, I sort of want to go, why would you say that? You flipped out on Baby for assuming you were the father, but then you tell the doctor dad you’re the sleaze who got her pregnant and sent her to a quack? Or are you just saying you’re her caretaker in general? Confusing moment for me still, as an adult.
And then the first time Baby and Johnny Do It happens. This was THE sex scene of the 80s. Moms everywhere were fast-forwarding this part (even though we just watched a doctor treat a patient after a botched abortion), and when we finally sneak-watched it in the basement when mom was out, it made us feel adult feelings. Now I watch it and I’m like…we don’t see boob, we don’t see ass, we don’t see sex-like movements or hear sex-like grunting. It’s so very tame but still so very hot. Take note, Hollywood. Sometimes less is more.
There are so many good scenes in this movie…this blog is getting LONG. I haven’t even talked about the “Sylvia? Yes, Mickey!” scene where Dickliest Dickfart comes in to tell Johnny that this year he will dance the pachanga OR ELSE. Baby tells Johnny to fight the man, but right in the middle of her argument, she sees her dad walking by and makes Johnny duck and hide. Oh yes, girl. You’re a hypocrite.
After tapping some of that virgin ass some more, Johnny decides he’s all set with old vagina and turns down rich lady Vivian with the side banana clip hairdo (another 80s slip up). This will come back to bite him in his sweet, sweet ass. Even though rich side-pony lady goes and bangs Robbie later than night, she sees Baby exiting Johnny’s room and gets super jealous. As she balls up her nylons and puts them in her purse, she plots her revenge by casually accusing Johnny of stealing wallets from the guests.
Baby then has to awkwardly provide alibi for Johnny when he is falsely accused by Vivian by admitting she was sleeping with him in front of her dad. Dad is more angry about this than he was about his daughter taking $250 of his money so she could pay for another woman’s illegal abortion.
After all this goes down, Baby and her dad’s relationship is severely damaged. They have a heartbreaking talk (or rather, Baby talks while her father pretends to ignore her).
I’m sorry I lied to you. But you lied, too. You told me everyone was alike and deserved a fair break. But you meant everyone who was like you. You told me you wanted me to change the world, make it better. But you meant by becoming a lawyer or an economist and marrying someone from Harvard. I’m not proud of myself, but I’m in this family too, and you can’t keep giving me the silent treatment. There are a lot of things about me that aren’t what you thought, but if you love me, you have to love all the things about me. And I love you. And I’m sorry I let you down. I’m so sorry, Daddy. But you let me down, too.
Then you see the dad crumble.
After all the drama, they find out it’s the old couple the Schumachers who are guilty of stealing wallets. But Johnny gets fired anyway for banging a rich girl. Baby gets a taste of adulthood by losing a bit of her idealism. “You can’t win no matter what you do.” This lesson helps her hop off her white savior horse. But what’s beautiful about this movie is that it’s not just working class hero teaches rich girl about reality. It’s also smart, caring woman teaches a hardened dancer “from the streets” to have a little faith in humanity. No one is saving anyone. They are just helping each other grow up.
Final dance scene: Dad finally realizes what a douche Robbie is, Johnny gets redemption and…
NOBODY PUTS BABY IN THE CORNER.
Baby just happens to be wearing the perfect footwear and dress for an impromptu dance number. And now she and Johnny execute the routine perfectly because it’s not just the steps, it’s the feeling! And then my favorite thing happens that musicals and dance movies are infamous for: random people get up and join in on the intricate choreography, stepping into perfect formation and nailing the movements in perfect synchronization. Nevermind that NO ONE AT KELLERMAN’S HAD TIME TO LEARN THIS ROUTINE, REMEMBER?!?! I don’t care, because Patrick Swayze does this incredible tuck jump off the stage, slides on his knees, throws his hair around a little, and grinds his hips before totally nailing the lift with Baby. Now all the problems at Kellerman’s are fixed! People can dirty dance in public! Douchebags get their comeuppance! Dads accept that their college-bound daughters are in love with guys making minimum wage! The entertainment staff is finally allowed to bang the guests!
But shhhhhh…because we have to have one more swoon-worthy moment with Patrick Swayze. As the music slows, he adorably mouths the words to “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” and crinkles his nose as he emphasizes “I owe it all to you!” No, Patrick Swayze. It is us who owe it all to you.