Dirty Dancing was the coolest, most grown-up movie when I was eight years old and it was an entirely different movie. The 1987 film was a mainstay of sleepovers and cable tv throughout my ’90s childhood, and it’s where I learned about family summer camps, partner dancing and I guess also abortion. [Traci saw it for the first time as an adult – read her pop culture blind spot post here.] Thirty years (? and also !) have passed since the release of the original Dirty Dancing. Since then we’ve been treated to 2004 sequel Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, a stage musical that I saw only because it was part of my season package, and now ABC’s TV movie treatment. The 2017 version of Dirty Dancing loosely adapts the original screenplay, makes it a musical – sort of – and stars Abigail Breslin as Baby, Sarah Hyland as Lisa, Debra Messing as mom Marjorie (in what I can only assume is a bid to make us feel even older than we did when we realized Dirty Dancing was 30), Colt Prattes as Johnny and Nicole Scherzinger as Penny, among others. I wanted to like it a bit, but it wasn’t really my cup of tea.
Question: Does this meta-Dirty Dancing framing device serve any purpose?
Dirty Dancing (1987) is the story of a young woman going to family summer camp in 1963 to learn about dancing and herself.
Dirty Dancing (2017) is the story of a 30-something woman going to a stage musical in 1975, of a movie that in the actual universe was released in 1987 (but don’t worry, the 1975 musical still has INCREDIBLY ’80s-looking posters), which is the story of the time she went to family summer camp in 1963 to learn about dancing and herself.
Maybe ABC just wanted to show off their green screen technology:
Places I’ve seen a more accurate depiction of a person standing on a street in NYC:
(1) New York, New York in Las Vegas
(3) Sesame Street
Comment: Baby is an early adopter of Betty Friedan-era feminism
Neither a question nor a concern, just mentioning that the first dialogue is a convo about The Feminine Mystique for whatever reason.
Concern: A costume designer hates Abigail Breslin, a cute young lady
Or is completely unable to tailor clothing to a non-hanger-shaped human. Not sure which would be worse. Two more inches and some work on the darts, PLEASE.
Comment: At least Baby still has anachronistic hair
One of my tv/film pet peeves is anachronistic hair in period films. It was especially prevalent in films of the 1950s to 1980s, but even in this 2017 version Baby has hair that would’ve looked positively nutty in the early ’60s. Still not as bad as Jennifer Gray’s ’80s perm.
See also: Jennifer Gray’s 80s-style jean shorts, crop top, keds combo.
Question: How many former So You Think You Can Dance contestants do you think are in the Den Of Vice where the employees go to sing and dance after-hours?
They do a good job.
Comment: Baby looking bemused while wearing Wendy Darling’s nightgown is my vibe during this whole movie.
Question: Honey, what’s this, what’s happening, what’s going on here?
A word on fashions of the late ’50s and early ’60s. Foundation garments were still a THING and ’50s-’60s silhouettes are immensely flattering on ladies with boobs, butts, etc. because the waist is emphasized. These ill-fitting costumes without a proper foundation are just all wrong – even if a fashion-clueless teenager might have looked dowdy by accident, there’s no real need to do that here. Making such an adorable girl dress like my grandma after she gave birth to her fifth child in 1960 ought to be a crime.
Concern: Everyone is really crabby at Baby. Constantly.
Baby: I’ll pay for your abortion.
Johnny: Literally buzz off forever, Baby.
Comment: White struggle: learning to move/clap on the twos and the fours.
Comment: What gets me is, I KNOW Abigail Breslin can sell a dance number.
While I’m watching the classic log scene, I’m blown away by how stilted the dance sequences are, and not just in a “Baby’s just learning to dance” way. I don’t know what to blame – the choreography, the direction, the chemistry – but I stop short of blaming Abigail Breslin because we all remember how she totally sold that iconic dance scene in Little Miss Sunshine.
Question: Is anyone watching Dirty Dancing for middle-aged parents coping with a stilted, loveless marriage?
Doesn’t matter. That’s what you’re getting.
Comment: The scene with Penny and Baby dancing is kind of cute.
The Penny/Baby friendship chemistry is a hundred times better than the Johnny/Baby romantic chemistry. Then they start singing, which is a thing that happens in this production. It’s fine. Oldies, not original songs, which is the way to go I think.
Concern: I have to wait for the end of Johnny and Baby’s mambo performance to find out if it was supposed to have gone well or not.
The audience cheers.
No lift, though.
Started on the two.
Question: Why was Johnny in prison?
I mean, Johnny was in prison for car stuff. But WHY, you know?
Comment: White struggle #2: Having to leave family camp early.
Not my particular struggle (the idea of my parents ever spending money on something like a family resort-camp is laughable), but presented like it’s a very real tragedy here. Debra Messing pointedly sings They Can’t Take That Away From Me, which is how women in 1963 showed their emotions when their vacation and marriage was about to be cut short.
Concern: Is Debra Messing’s lawyer in her rolodex?
Marjorie wants a divorce and says “I called my lawyer” (and also “I’d rather be alone than lonely”), which causes me to hop on the memory train and get off in the era before cell phones and internet. She either had her lawyer’s number written down or memorized, or the main office had a yellow pages for her home region. Then she either had to use the office phone or a pay phone. Which is all to say that she wants this divorce hard.
Comment: Baby has to tell her whole family she slept with Johnny in order to absolve him of stealing a watch.
And THAT is why you don’t go to summer camp with your family.
Question: Could the costume designer be trolling us?
All of the ’60s styles that would look gorgeous on Abigail and they do this:
Comment: The last half hour of the movie.
Hulu keeps freezing, but I caught the last hour on live TV so we’re good.
The parents aren’t getting divorced because the dad sings the same song the mom did earlier, which is the magic formula to undo divorce feelings.
Debra Messing gets a nice dress. Abigail Breslin gets a better dress than before.
Sarah Hyland learns how to play ukulele and instead of the fun warbling off-key song from the original, we are treated to her singing Bob Dylan. Yes, just a week or so at Kellerman’s and she’s a Betty Friedan-reading, Dylan-listening folk singer with an interracial love interest. As Hairspray – another ’80s flick set in the ’60s with a (better) 2000s remake – would say, Welcome To The 60s. (Marco, Lisa’s friend who teaches her about ukulele and probably love, is cute and charming, played by newcomer J. Quinton Johnson. I like him. And Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright) Is probably one of my top 10 Dylan songs, anyway.)
The less said about the closing song, the better. I’m just going to say this: the spoken phrase “I had the time of my life” segues into the sung phrase “I had the time of my life.”
Concern: Oh. This framing device, again.
We’re back in 1975. A baby-faced 30-year-old Baby leaves Dirty Dancing, the smash 1970s musical, and runs into Johnny, who stars in it? Directs it? Choreographed it? The musical is based on her book. Their romance belongs to the past, just like the last three hours of our lives. Baby has a husband and young daughter (who really does resemble young Abigail Breslin) who is probably way under the target demo to be watching Dirty Dancing or to care about her mother’s coming-of-age summer. Baby FINALLY has makeup, hair and clothing that suits her. I kind of wish they went full This Is Us and set the bookends in the present day with Abigail Breslin aged up to 70 years old, watching this telefilm from her living room as a grandchild distractedly live-tweets it. Now THAT is an unnecessary framing device I could get into.