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, Brown picked “Dirty Dancing.”
The Movie: “Dirty Dancing”
Starring: Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey, Jerry Orbach
Director: Emile Ardolino
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) Spending the summer at a Catskills resort with her family, Frances “Baby” Houseman falls in love with the camp’s dance instructor, Johnny Castle
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 72 percent
Brown: It’s very weird to be talking about a movie on the JOE-DOWN that doesn’t have Nic Cage’s toothy, eye-bulging grin.
Froemming and myself have survived Nic Cage month after last week’s podcast of “Con-Air” and we are going back to our bread and butter: Ragging on ‘80s movies that everyone loves.
So, let’s have… the time of our lives.
Now, anyone you talk to knows the moments of this movie but I’ll be damned if I remember any plot to this movie. The biggest thing I remember is, thanks to my sister watching this movie a ton as a child, is Swayze breaking a car window with a wooden post.
And, as an uncle to seven nieces, I’ve done “the lift” a bunch of times when they were little.
Now, looking at this movie… there is a lot to unpack here.
So while I enjoy my monthly diet of Jujubes, what’s your memory of this movie like, Froemming?
Froemming: I have a hate/hate relationship with this movie. On the one hand, I hate it because it is a terrible film that is confusing because it takes place in 1963, but features the synth-fueled power ballads that would come two-decades later. On the other hand, every woman I’ve been in a relationship with loves this movie, and you know, (REDACTED) them.
Why don’t you kick off this dreamy vacation tale that features dancing, love and abortion.
Brown: Well, after the movie confuses me with music that sounds like the kitchen scene from “Goodfellas” (my favorite movie), we are introduced to the Houseman family, who are headed towards the
Overlook Hotel the Catskills for a vacation with the hoity-toity Kellerman’s. So you know, rich people hanging out with rich people. It’s like the modern-day White House.
And it’s here where we meet our main character, Baby, a fresh-faced 17-year-old on the verge of attending college and joining the Peace Corps. And because it’s Jennifer Grey, she seems relieved because Ferris is nowhere to be found.
Seeing this takes place over 50 years ago, did people actually vacation like this? This resort looks like adult summer camp and I don’t mean that as a compliment.
Froemming: I wrote in my notes that the original title of this was “White People: The Movie.” I also saw it as a probable prequel to Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.” What I am getting at is this is somehow more white than the entire run of “Friends.”
Brown: I wrote in my notes that the men in this movie seem like they have to remind their significant others that “Wives are for kissing, not for talking.”
Froemming: We also have a man in his 30s hitting on a 17-year-old girl. Folks, you can come up with your own Roy Moore jokes. We here at the JOE-DOWN are above that.
So we see that this resort also functions as a brothel for young men to “entertain” the women guests, a fact I absolutely did not remember from the zillions of times I watched this with a significant other while dangerously rolling my eyes into the back of my head.
Brown: First, it seems innocent with dance lessons everywhere (I think at the start that these awkward white folks invented the Electric Slide in the resort’s gazebo). And during a night of live music, we see these really good dancers come on the scene in Johnny (Swayze) and Penny. Like, in a dance floor of people moving all stiff like a middle-school dance, here are these two rockin’ the mambo.
And what’s the reaction? Some doof that’s hanging out with Baby says “Ugg, those are the mambo people.” Like, it’s not racist because it’s all white people here, but it sounds racist.
Also, this guy that is smitten with Baby, Neil, wants to go to Cornell’s school for hotel administration. I Googled this and see that it’s a real thing. I hate the Ivy League even more now.
But, away from the stuffy resort, there is some sultry stuff going on in the crew’s quarters.
Froemming: There sure is. Baby is wandering around and finds herself in the crew’s housing carrying a watermelon and we see the exact scenes that are the beginning credits, except this time not black and white and all grainy. And here Baby sees Johnny and Penny do a pretty wild dance, and we see she is starting to crush on Johnny.
Brown: Quick thing I want to bring up. So Baby leaves the resort because it’s lame. She just helped out with a magic show and was given a LIVE CHICKEN for her troubles.
My question is this: What happened to this chicken? It’s never addressed again. I’m not comfortable with a chicken being left to its own devices in the upstate New York wilderness.
Froemming: The MC of that show is played by Wayne Knight, better known as Newman from “Seinfeld.” And if that show taught me anything, it is that Newman is obsessed with the chicken from Kenny Roger’s Roasters. My guess: Newman ate the chicken.
*clenches fist* Newman!
So after helping Johnny’s cousin carry some big-ass watermelons, we do come across dancing that is, in fact, dirty. Like, late-night Cinemax stuff for the ‘60s.
Everyone gives Baby the awkward treatment because she’s one of the rich folks from the resort. But Johnny’s willing to dance with her and teaches her what has to be a primitive form of grinding that has frightened parents since my high-school days in the early 2000s.
While I’m at it, there is this weird classism thing in this movie that just does. Not. Work.
Froemming: I never picked up on that. Not even during Johnny’s numerous, baffling speeches about how hard he has it compared to Baby’s rich life. Nope. Not ham-fisted at all here, folks.
Brown: Maybe Johnny had the foresight to know the Vietnam War would force him to get drafted four years later.
Froemming: They actually bring up the Vietnam War at times in this movie. Baby’s sister even mocks her by saying something about only helping people that are on a certain side of Ho Chi Minh trail.
Now Baby is hanging out with this ragtag group of poor people with dance fever. And because they are horny 30-year-olds, Penny gets knocked up by Robbie, a man I knew was a jerk the moment he offers to borrow Baby a copy of “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand, literature’s most miserable prick.
Brown: Like Paul Ryan, I imagine Robbie hung around the keg during college, talking about ways to take away Medicare. In a movie full of unlikable people (I did write that I think the Trump kids vacationed at this resort), Robbie was the worst. Glad he got his comeuppance later.
Now, on the second night, we have DRAMA!!! We see Penny crying by herself and Baby tells Johnny and his cousin Billy. Turns out, she’s pregnant and it’s Robbie’s.
I hope Robbie has an Ayn Rand baby book.
Froemming: We get a heated moment where Penny tells Baby she is just a kid and should go back to her little world, because she’ll never understand what it is like to be a 35-year-old right out of high school with an unplanned pregnancy.
Brown: OK, in a movie with some disturbing things, namely a grown man having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old, Billy giving Penny, a PREGNANT WOMAN, a highball of brown liquor, was the thing that disturbed me the most. Yes, Penny’s looking to get an abortion (which is illegal at this time with Roe v. Wade being eight years away), but dude, Billy, poor form.
Froemming: It was the ‘80s man. Pregnant women drank all the time. Right? RIGHT???!!!
Brown: I mean, it’s supposed to be the ‘60s, but this movie really doesn’t know that.
Froemming: The director obviously had no clue about that.
Now, Baby wants to help Penny. She goes to her father,
Lennie Briscoe Dr. Jake Houseman for the $250 for the procedure. He has so much trust in his child, that he gives her the cash, barely no questions asked.
According to the savings.org website, that would be $1,985.46 in today’s money.
Brown: You know what? I get this. What we know about Baby’s character is she wants to join the Peace Corp and she wants to study economics in underdeveloped countries. She has a spot in her heart for helping the little guy. I find that admirable.
She’s also 17 and has a soft spot for a grown-ass man. I find that illegal.
Money for an abortion isn’t the only problem. As Johnny’s dance partner, Penny’s health puts him in a bad spot. He works at two resorts as a dancer and if he misses the next show at the nearby Sheldrake, he’ll lose his pay for the season.
But no way Baby understands that, right Johnny?
Froemming: Johnny makes a big deal about this. Guess what Johnny? You won’t be making money with Penny when she is three months into her pregnancy either. So, shut up.
But Baby has a plan. Despite never dancing a day in her life (she is a lot like Chris Penn in “Footloose” in this regard), she will do the job for Penny with Johnny, two people who have been dancing for more than a decade at least. She will do the complicated mambo routine, all she needs is a montage to cover her days of training.
Wait, there was no montage in this film. Baby is (REDACTED).
Brown: Dude, the middle of this movie is NOTHING but montages.
Froemming: My eyes had rolled into the back of my head by then.
Brown: There’s training scenes of Baby working on her steps, arms, not laughing as Johnny is running his fingers down her arm (Baby was ticklish and I found that adorable). Even the lift gets montage treatment in the lift. Now, it’s not like a Rocky montage, but all this stuff put together, I’ll call it a training montage. Hell, they have a “Karate Kid” relationship.
Froemming: If it doesn’t have “Hearts on Fire,” it isn’t a damn montage.
Brown: So the long-known urban myth of this movie of Swayze and Grey hating each other, I really liked seeing that play out during these training sessions. Like, Johnny is aggressive in trying to teach Baby, and seeing Grey get flustered felt real.
I think I would have liked this movie more had they always had that frustrated relationship instead of the classist, textbook relationship we eventually got.
The routine comes to a head at the Sheldrake and the performance is passable. Baby misses some cues, but the crowd was entertained. That’s all that matters. So, Johnny’s well-toned butt is saved.
However, I don’t think he thanks Baby once for her help. Screw you, Johnny.
Froemming: His having bad manners is the least of the issues we see now. Once back to the resort, we find that Penny went to a very seedy abortionist, who locked Billy out of the room as she screamed and now she is bleeding out. (REDACTED) got real very quick here. It was more jarring than Stephanie’s admission she can’t have children in “Fuller House,” which oh (REDACTED) we have that to do this month.
Anyway, Baby gets her father, who is a doctor, to help Penny. He does, he even checks in on her throughout his miserable vacation because he is a good guy. But he now knows where his (in today’s money) $1,985.46 went, and he is not happy about this.
Brown: Well, it’s because Baby’s around Johnny and Johnny says he’s responsible for Penny. So, confusion because Robbie is too busy trying to get into Baby’s sister’s pants to care about his child.
So, Baby gets the “I don’t want you near that boy” speech, so of course she’s going to go to Johnny’s quarters and dances/has sex with him.
Also, weird tonal shift of a movie where after watching a woman bleeding out after a back-alley abortion not 20 minutes ago, Baby and Johnny decide to bump uglies themselves.
On a sidenote, between Johnny living in what looks like a horse stable and Charlie St. Cloud living in a boathouse, what’s with these movies we watch where guys who are essentially homeless finding true love?
Froemming: It is the weirdest Hollywood trope.
So, Johnny beds a 17-year-old, which makes him a viable candidate for the Senate in Alabama (I know I said we are above that, but I lied), and starts a relationship with Baby.
Brown: Really, Johnny’s actions are in line with every powerful man in modern-day America.
Froemming: No argument here. Moore. Weinstein. Spacey. All creeps in my book. What makes Johnny different from them is he can dance! And probably consent. And this is not real, it is a movie.
Now, we see this budding romance is getting in the way of Johnny’s side business of sleeping with the lonely women at this resort for cash. One, Vivian, is so open with her sleeping with Johnny that she has her husband pay him extra for more “dance lessons” so he ignore her to satiate his crippling gambling addiction. But Johnny now likes Baby, and cuts this off.
Brown: Well, right before this, Baby and Johnny have a beef because Johnny believes Baby won’t stand up for him after keeping him from running into Daddy.
So, Baby tries to make amends. Robbie sees this, cracks an inappropriate joke and gets his ass kicked by Johnny as a result. I was legit scared for Robbie here. I saw “Roadhouse.” Johnny might rip your throat out, bro. Be happy you got off easy.
Now, Johnny won’t be a gigolo. And, Robbie gets his final comeuppance when Baby’s sister walks in on him having sex with another girl. There was a sock on the door, but perhaps that code wasn’t wide-spread back in the ‘60s.
Froemming: He was sleeping with Vivian. This becomes a plot device because she (for some reason) spends the night in Robbie’s dorm/bunk thing and sees Baby leaving Johnny’s shanty in the morning. She then sets up a scenario where she claims Johnny stole her husband’s wallet or something, to punish Johnny for not sleeping with her. I think.
Brown: Of course the rich folk hold the poor folks down. Classism! Movie, you are about dancing. Quit trying to be an Olympic-sized pool when everything else in your movie is as deep as an inflatable kiddie pool.
Because of the magic of love and illegal sex, Baby admits to being an alibi for Johnny because they spent the night together. It doesn’t matter because Johnny still gets fired for, you know, sleeping with a 17-year-old!
Now, for the most awkward part of the movie: As Johnny leaves and bids farewell to Baby, an actual Patrick Swayze song plays over the scene! Celebrities, stop trying to be musicians!
Froemming: I know this is supposed to be 1963, but the perms, the neon colors, the (REDACTED) ‘80s music really throws off what era this is.
And we are now back to the boring resort stuff, where people learn the foxtrot and other such nonsense. I am with Rev. Shaw Moore from “Footloose” here: Make dancing a crime.
Brown: There’s a big musical number from the staff to end the resort’s talent show. Then, Johnny barges in, looking like a greaser and FINALLY fitting the early ‘60s aesthetic. We find out that no one puts Baby in a corner, and he stops the song so they can do the final dance of the season.
Now, we have the time of our lives. You know, that song that came out in 1987.
Froemming: And I had thought that, like the other ‘80s songs here, it was more for us in the audience. Not here. Johnny mouths along to the lyrics. I really wanted this to happen:
Guy runs to a phone and dials a number.
“Richard! It’s your cousin, Marv. Marv Marx! I think this is the new sound you were looking for!” Holds up phone to the song “Time Of My Life” playing.
Brown: I just came across this: Originally, the final song was supposed to be from Lionel Richie.
Holy (REDACTED), I wish this movie ended with “Dancing On The Ceiling” instead of “Time of My Life.”
I kind of hope that after the big dance number, there was a line of cops ready to arrest Johnny for myriad of crimes.
I’m gonna go hop in a freezing lake to practice the lift with a woman who hates me. Let’s go to recommendations before I do that.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: You know what? I had fun with this. My friend Sarah is a die-hard fan of this movie and I had fun annoying her with my observations and questions on Facebook. It’s a dumb, likable ‘80s movie. Give it a watch.
Froemming: Nope. This movie is hot garbage.