Dirty Dancing (1987)
Dirty Dancing (1987)

Genre: Romantic Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 40 min.

Release Date: August 21st, 1987 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Emile Ardolino Actors: Jennifer Grey, Patrick Swayze, Jerry Orbach, Cynthia Rhodes, Jack Weston, Jane Brucker, Kelly Bishop, Lonny Price




efore the Beatles came and before Kennedy was shot, during the summer of 1963, the Houseman family heads to a resort on the outskirts of New York for a much-needed vacation. At Max Kellerman’s (Jack Weston) sizable property on a lake, adorned with cabins and greenery and glamorous dining rooms and ballrooms, numerous classes are held to occupy the guests. There are even employees dubbed “the dance people” assigned to attend to lonelier vacationers, to keep them feeling included and happy – and to sell lessons. But they’re explicitly warned to adhere to the limits of their purview. “Keep your hands off!”

One such dancer is Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze), who takes every opportunity to show off on the dance floor. Although he’s frequently scolded by supervisors, he still catches the attention of “Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey), who is immediately intrigued by his skills – paired with his audacity. It’s obvious she wants to be swept off her feet – literally – as she determines to master a few moves of her own.

From the opening pop song through to the proper mambos and the fast-paced rock, “Dirty Dancing” is instantly bumping, grooving with a perpetual, exceptional soundtrack and remarkable litheness from a collection of expert dancers. Curiously, the allure isn’t just from the sensual grinding and sharply choreographed twists and twirls; Baby has an unusually praiseworthy relationship with her father (Jerry Orbach), even if it occupies a relatively small space of time (though they have arguably the best scene together in the whole picture). They have that rare cinema collaboration in which she can communicate freely and ask for anything, largely without judgment. And it’s directly involved with the heart of the plot, which finds Baby substituting for professional dancer Penny (Cynthia Rhodes), requiring the newcomer to learn a complicated series of maneuvers in just a few days.

Though the premise is simple and the bulk of the film is comprised of montages, there’s an undeniable effort put into the abundance of romantic scenarios. From the specifics of the mambo to lifts practiced in the water to a quiet car ride, Baby’s timid, naive, fish-out-of-water persona is a sensational match for Johnny’s confidence and charisma and intermittent pessimism (the good girl and the bad boy pairing). It’s engaging and believable, merging the fantasy of a whirlwind romance with the darker realism of taboo topics (from abortions to the truths about class warfare); tragedy and heartbreak lurks just around the corner of every embrace. But the peaceful moments of slow dances and cuddling are quite endearing. It’s a very convincing love story, even when it follows formulaic patterns. Of course, the finale puts this picture over the top, culminating in a tremendously crowd-pleasing talent-show closer – a return to outright fantasy but one that is spectacularly honest and joyous and momentous.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10