This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, I picked “Saturday Night Fever.”
The Movie: “Saturday Night Fever”
Starring: John Travolta, Karen Lynn Gorney, Barry Miller
Director: John Badham
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A Brooklyn teenager feels his only chance to succeed is as the king of the disco floor. His carefree youth and weekend dancing help him to forget the reality of his bleak life.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 86 percent
Froemming: After watching a maid deceive her way to the top in Manhattan last week, I was not quite ready to leave the Big Apple just yet. Because the JOE-DOWN has been careening off the rails here a bit, I realized we needed to right this ship. And how do we do that here?
One answer: John (REDACTED) Travolta.
I picked “Saturday Night Fever,” a film whose poster is the symbol of an era of care-free, coked-up abandon set to the feverish beat of the Bee Gees. The film itself, on the other hand, is the symbol of a nihilistic dead-end life being lived by our protagonist, Tony Manero (Travolta).
But before we don our slick polyester suits and stomp our feet to “Night Fever,” Brown what are your first thoughts on this grim, dark world of 1970s Brooklyn?
Brown: You know, going into this movie, I thought the main criticisms we’d have would be all about disco as a genre of music since you’re a former record store employee and I’m an opinionated jerk who has a soft spot for the Bee Gees. And through the first 3/4ths of this movie, I felt confident in that.
But the last act of this movie, holy (REDACTED). I don’t know if I’ve ever been angrier at a movie. Not just our JOE-DOWN picks, ANY movie I’ve seen. If we’ve learned anything in the JOE-DOWN, it’s that John Travolta really knows how to play a garbage person.
Froemming: I will say I was taken aback by the last third of this film. It got way dark for a film about dancing in clubs and the casual racism and homophobia that went with that era.
But let’s get to the film. Right away we get Travolta strutting along to “Stayin’ Alive” as he is heading to his dead-end job selling paint. And I admit, as a record store snob for many years, I actually liked the music in this film. It got me pumped because Travolta is gold for the JOE-DOWN and the Bee Gees knew how to make great hooks.
Brown: Oh, the intro of this movie is great. One thing did bug me: Tony goes to a pizza place and orders two slices of pizza. He then puts the two pieces on top of each other and eats them at the same time. It’s pizza, you slob, not a lasagna.
After his shift at work, we get a glimpse into Tony’s home life, where he lives with his parents, grandma, sister and the overbearing shadow of his brother, Frank, looming over him.
Froemming: This movie is made up almost entirely of Italian stereotypes.
Brown: Oh, you mean how the overtly Catholic family practically makes the older brother a saint? Good on him for being a man of the cloth, but all this family does is yell at and hit each other.
Before the family meal/battle royale, we see Tony getting ready for a night out on the town. As he’s gazing into the mirror, perfecting his pompadour, putting on tacky gold chains and picking out what I can only assume is a shirt made from his grandma’s curtains, all I could think was Tony was some lipstick away from having a mental breakdown like Dennis Reynolds in “Always Sunny.” Make it work, Tony.
So, after a peek into his survival-of-the-fittest house, Tony hops into the car with his incredibly co-dependent friends.
Froemming: I just want to add here Tony has three posters in his room: The iconic Farrah Fawcett one, a poster for “Rocky” and a poster of Al Pacino in “Serpico,” making this movie the most 70s film ever made. Which is funny because a few decades later, Travolta would star in “Pulp Fiction,” the most 90s film ever made. Where was he in the 80s? Oh yeah, falling in love with a mechanical bull.
Also, the person who wrote this film also wrote “Serpico.” And Stallone would direct the sequel to this, “Staying Alive.”
Anyway, Tony and his idiot friends head to 2001 Odyssey, a discotheque where they rule like kings because Tony can dance circles around anyone and his friends just booze it up and shovel coke up their noses, because they are useless.
And we meet Annette, the poor woman who gets crapped on by Tony all the (REDACTED) time.
Oh, and they use their buddy Bobby’s car as a temporary hotel room when they want to make sweet love to random women they meet at the club (and for some reason, they watch each other do this, which is pretty disgusting). Shockingly, this is the least of poor Bobby’s problems in life.
Brown: Seriously. I think I’m a pretty nice, giving guy who would give someone the shirt off my back if they needed it. But would I let my friends have sex in the backseat? (REDACTED) no. It was so mind-blowing watching this happen.
Back to Bobby briefly, a recurring plot point involves Bobby having a mental breakdown after he gets a girl pregnant. He wants this girl (that we never meet) to get an abortion, but she’s set on keeping it. We’ll discuss this more at various points.
Now, we’re getting some of the dance scenes that caused this movie to be put in the Library of Congress. And man, disco just screams white people with no coordination. Any time people were line-dancing before they called it line-dancing, I kept thinking of “Futurama,” where Fry does “His people’s native dance.”
Froemming: It is amazing how everyone in the club had that choreographed dance down. They must have packed things up when disco died and moved to Bomont, where they would never dance again until Kevin Bacon showed up.
At the club, Annette convinces Tony that they should pair up for an upcoming dance competition. Tony is not so sure because he is an arrogant jerk, but agrees to it. And right after that, he is transfixed when he sees a woman dancing — dancing to music he hates because it is not his typical disco music. People in the 70s really feared change apparently.
Brown: That’s because Tony is a garbage person. He demeans every woman he ever comes in contact with because he was pulling that Mystery Method crap before that became a thing. Like, you say one thing he disagrees with or you tell him no, he will call you pretty much every word we’d have to redact in the JOE-DOWN.
Also, Tony’s one of those 19-year-old schmucks who thinks he has the world figured out and somehow doesn’t know who Eric Clapton, Cat Stevens or Laurence Olivier are when he goes on his coffee date with his love interest and dance partner, Stephanie.
But hey, at least Tony isn’t the black sheep of his family anymore, because big brother came home and destroyed the lording parents.
Froemming: Frank has left the church. And because we need more Italian stereotypes, the whole family in weeping in the living room, clutching rosaries as Frank broods in Tony’s room. Why did he leave the church? Well, it seems when you push your child into a career they never wanted, chances are it will not work out.
But hey, enough of Frank because he is not much of a plot point in this movie. Tony heads to a dance studio, where he gets free studio time for hooking up the owner with women. Yes, it is as disgusting as it sounds. Travolta really made a career out of playing sleazy (REDACTED) scumbags.
My rage was briefly subdued here when I saw a bunch of old people dancing to “Disco Duck.”
Brown: Something I enjoyed and would subside my rage was Stephanie. Why? Because Tony is pure garbage and she would call him out on his (REDACTED). That was refreshing because as far as JOE-DOWN movies go, I don’t know if one character deserved it more than Tony.
So, we get another night of dancing at 2001 Odyssey and get what is the most iconic scene in the movie: Tony’s solo. And, it’s awesome. Disco sucks and Tony sucks. But together in this moment, it’s this perfect elixir.
Froemming: Travolta is an amazing dancer. There is no question. I was transfixed during this scene, then angry because I know I will never be able to dance like that. I’m a petty person.
Right before this, the gang’s buddy Gus was beat up, which gives the guys an excuse, I guess, to yell racial slurs loudly. Because they are Italian. Whatever.
At the club, Tony decides to break off the dance partnership with Annette, because he is a garbage human being.
And he decides to partner with Stephanie, and all the while his brother is at the club trying to enjoy his new life and is being pestered by Bobby about his abortion situation. Frank leaves the club shortly after this. Thanks Bobby, your inability to read body language forced Frank to leave New York forever.
Brown: I legit thought that we would see Frank go home and hang himself with a belt after going to the club. That didn’t happen. And the dark stuff would happen later in the movie.
Now that Tony talked Stephanie into being his dance partner for the competition (as long as they stayed professional), he and his dumbass buddies take her to the most romantic spot a woman could ask for: White Castle. During all this, Bobby is still muttering on about the abortion. I don’t know… I feel like this was added because between the flashy dancing and the wholly offensive misogyny and racism, there needed to be a societal dilemma that these coked-up disco kids had to discuss. It does not work whatsoever.
Froemming: Bobby needs to talk to someone. The problem is he is so grating that not even an (ex) priest wants to put up with his ramblings.
Well, Stephanie asks Tony the most dreaded words any friends will ever hear: “Will you help me move?” I got chills just typing that.
And because he wants to woo her, he asks his boss at the paint store if he can get an afternoon off so he can help Stephanie. His boss tells him no and what does he do? He just quits! (REDACTED) you, Tony. You were the only one at home WITH A JOB!
Brown: It was at this point that I wrote in my notes: Holy (REDACTED) this movie is stupid.
Now, with Tony carrying a box in, we see another man, who turns out to be an ex of Stephanie’s is there. And like the upstanding citizen he is, Tony blows a gasket because a girl he’s not dating is talking to another man. His mood swings are more violent and frequent than Two-Face in the Batman comics.
And yet, we eventually have a scene where Stephanie and Tony are sitting at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and she kisses him because Tony dreams of moving to the suburbs one day?
No. That should not happen. Stephanie, you need to call a cab and get away from this sociopathic monster. This is not a healthy partnership of any kind.
Following this, our mentally stable group of gentlemen decide that the night of the contest is the night they should finally repay the Barracudas.
Froemming: Yes, because Gus told them this gang had attacked him. So what do they do? They drive poor Bobby’s (REDACTED) car into their club and start a brawl! And they push Bobby even further into the abyss of his downward spiral of despair when they mock him for not getting out and busting heads.
Turns out, Gus wasn’t sure it was the Barracudas that attacked him. Well, they just destroyed the front of a club and possibly damaged Bobby’s car for this little misunderstanding. No big deal. They have a dance competition to attend.
So, the first dance has some genie theme, and to be honest, I dug it. I’m all for high energy.
Then the moment we’ve waited for: Tony and Stephanie’s hard work is about to pay off with a killer routine. I’ve seen like three episodes of “Dancing With the Stars” in my life and my take: Very skilled dance. Their technique is spot on. But, it was kind of boring to me. At least compared to the other dances.
The final dance, from a Puerto Rican duo, knocks it out of the park. And apparently it was a stereotype in the ‘70s that they couldn’t dance (there was more colorful phrasing here, but I want to stay employed). It’s clear the Puerto Ricans should win but NOPE. Tony and Stephanie win on a count of alleged racism. Even Tony thinks it’s BS.
Froemming: And thus begins Tony’s disillusionment in his existence. Thus begins his existential crisis. Thus begins the dark third of the film.
Tony finally does something right when, after being pissed that the competition was rigged in his favor, he gives the trophy and money to the couple that clearly deserved to win. What does he do next? He tries to rape Stephanie. Holy (REDACTED) things started getting really, really dark in this film. (REDACTED) you, Tony.
Brown: Our hero, ladies and gentlemen!
Seriously, I watched this movie on Friday and I still cannot get over how much I hate everyone for the rest of this movie (save for Stephanie). Some of the flaws I talked about with Tony earlier could be excused as “Oh, he’s an immature kid.” That’s out the window because he tries to rape a woman.
He’s a demon now. And because his friends can’t help but follow the leader because they’re a bunch of hapless goons, they take advantage of a drunk and stoned Annette. Not sound of mind, she agrees she’ll have sex with the entire group. The bunch of creeps just drive around as she has sex with the first one. She comes to her senses when Double J goes to the back. But nope, he’s not going to stop. So now we’ve had TWO rapes in about five minutes time in a (REDACTED) movie that got put in the Library of (REDACTED) Congress!
My mom had a shirt in the ‘70s that said “Disco Sucks.” I now know why. Because ‘70s disco culture was a dumpster fire.
Froemming: Again, this film is often a glorified symbol of how awesome disco was, but the film itself takes a very nihilistic take on the culture and the characters in this film.
Also, your mom is a hero for owning such a shirt.
And as poor Annette is being abused, Bobby pulls over on the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge, and shimmies up on it, goofing off like they did earlier in this film. But he is at his wits end, nobody will listen or talk to him, they just use him as a taxi service. And Tony sees that Bobby is not on a safe area of the bridge as he is crying.
Brown: Following his tirade toward (rightfully) calling Tony a terrible person, Bobby slips and falls off the bridge and presumably dies. I say presumably because after this, we get a scene where Tony and co. have a brief chat with the cops before they’re like “Swell guys, you can go.” I’m pretty sure the cops were like, “So, your friend fell? Did it look cool?” Because you don’t see the cops do ANYTHING. At least show the Coast Guard looking in the water so I can at least know there’s another redeemable character beyond Stephanie and Annette. Nope. 1970s New York was the absolute worst.
Ruining everyone’s lives around him, Tony sulks in the subway before arriving on Stephanie’s doorstep looking to talk. Best part of the movie: Stephanie calls him out for being a rapist.
I’ve had a lot of JOE-DOWN crushes, and Stephanie is up there. I want to treat her right after she went through these traumatizing weeks with this savage creature.
Froemming: And just like the ending to “Magic Mike,” we see these two talking about how Tony is turning a new leaf and will move to Manhattan and it JUST ENDS!
Brown: It’s not quite that much of a halt. Tony (who I remind you again tried to rape this girl hours ago) gives a sob story about needing to get out of Brooklyn. Stephanie buys into this guy’s dilemma and decides they should be friends. Friends with her rapist.
(Deep breath)… HE. TRIED. TO. RAPE. YOU. Tony is NOT a redeemable person on any level. He has shown no growth during ANY of this movie. Did I mention that he tried to rape you, Stephanie?! You are, as far as I’m concerned, in the right to attack him with a rusty flathead screwdriver!
HAS THE WHOLE WORLD GONE CRAZY?!
Froemming: And with that, let’s do the Hustle on over to recommendations!
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: I know Brown hated this movie, but I actually enjoyed it. Sometimes stories do not have happy endings. Sometimes movies are bleak. And I like the fact that this movie took a chance and had the ending be a dark, bleak resolution to what we had watched. I say check it out.
Brown: (REDACTED) this movie.