Dirty Dancing is one of the silliest romantic movies ever made, but it’s also one of the greats. I’ve seen it at least a dozen times, not to mention the anniversary specials and documentaries about the making of. I’ve seen it enough times that I didn’t even have to watch it again in order to write this blog, other than to double-check a couple of my quotes. I actually wrote most of this blog in my head while I was on a jog, and then I had to hustle back to my computer before I forgot it all.
So all that said, Dirty Dancing fans, rest assured that as I delve into all the reasons why this movie is ridiculous, I am poking fun at it from the perspective of a true fan. With love.
First, let’s start with what is GREAT about this movie. So much! That dancing, for one. That pink flowing dress that Baby wears in the final scene. That famous and often recreated “lift” dance move. And that amazing soundtrack – the bluesy “Cry to Me,” Patrick Swayze’s own song “She’s Like the Wind,” the sultry “Hunger Eyes,” the catchy “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and of course the unforgettable “Time of My Life.” I still love all of the songs on this soundtrack, and if you attend any wedding (or even just pay attention to what’s playing on a loop at the dentist office), you’ll realize that everyone else still does too.
And how about the location and atmosphere? Set in 1963 at Kellerman’s resort in upstate New York , the imagery and mood of the film whisks you away to another time and place. Even though Baby is going out of her mind with boredom being stuck at Kellerman’s with her parents and her insipid sister, I kind of still wanted to spend a summer at Kellerman’s and sneak into the staff bungalow with all the other dirty dancers, didn’t you?
Jennifer Grey as the lead character of “Baby” truly shines in this role. She is strong but vulnerable, and she comes into her own sexuality in this story without ever losing that bit of awkwardness that makes her so charming. And her chemistry with Patrick Swayze as “Johnny” is hot. Their desire for each other sizzles.
By the way, I was seven years old when I first saw Dirty Dancing. Perhaps not the most appropriate movie for a seven year old to view, but I was sleeping over at a friend’s house who had quite lenient parents. I was completely mesmerized by the romance and the dancing even though some of the story points went over my head. I had to ask my older sister, “What’s an abortion?”
So there’s clearly plenty to love, ages seven and up.
But there’s also plenty to laugh about…
I present my Top Five reasons why Dirty Dancing is completely ridiculous:
Reason #1 – The main character’s name is Baby
Legally, her name is Francis, but everyone and anyone calls her Baby as if this were as normal of a variation of her name as say, Fran. Not only is this completely silly to refer to a 17-year-old young woman as “Baby,” it’s also a bit demeaning.
And yet, somehow in this movie it just works, doesn’t it? You certainly never forget her character’s name like you do in other movies. If you’re recounting a scene from Mission Impossible, you probably say, “And then Tom Cruise did this.” But when you talk about Dirty Dancing, you say “Baby” and “Johnny.” So the silliness of the main characters’ names strangely works. (No offense to anyone named John. That’s a perfectly respectable name, but when you add a “y” to the end of it and pair it with Baby, it does start to sound like a Harlequin novel).
And let’s not forget that the delicious fact that her name is Baby gives us one of the most memorable, silly lines of ’80s movie dialogue ever: “Go back to your playpen, Baby.”
I’d also like to give Johnny some props in the end for introducing Baby to the audience with her given name.
Reason #2 – Baby, a total non-dancer, fills in for a gifted dancer
This is the entire premise of the movie and it’s completely ridiculous. When Johnny’s dance partner Penny is unable to dance at an important and already scheduled performance (because her abortion is scheduled for that night), Johnny decides that Baby can fill in for Penny. This makes no sense! In the staff bungalow scene, Baby can barely even rotate her pelvis in a circular motion.
The filmmakers try to explain this with a bit of throwaway dialogue where Johnny claims that all of the other dancers are booked with other gigs. So I guess we’re supposed to feel that Baby is his last and only option. But come on, I’m not buying it. When Baby carried that watermelon to the clandestine bungalow, there were dozens of dancers in there. The place was packed. You’re telling me that not a single one of them can fill in for Penny?
And in the very final sequence of the movie, all the dancers are there, backing up Johnny as he dramatically dances down the aisle. The other dancers don’t really seem that busy to me. And trust me, these people love to dance and would have been thrilled to have been asked to fill in for Penny. These people love to dance so much that after every single song finishes playing at the secret staff bungalow, they clap and cheer as if there’s a live band and they do celebratory things like rub their knuckles on each other’s heads. I feel pretty certain Baby was not the only option.
Reason #3 – Johnny alternates between borderline creepy and totally cheesy
I love Patrick Swayze. He was great in so many movies and may he rest in peace. But some of his lines of dialogue and some of the delivery of those lines – just wow. Granted, most of the characters (and the actors) in this movie are over the top. Jennifer Grey seems to be the exception. Somehow she reigns in her lines and delivers most of them from a place of raw emotion that’s genuine.
If you have hazy memories of this movie and feel like, “No, no, Johnny Castle is a pure hunk of burning love,” let me remind you that this is a man that walks around talking about himself in third person. When a woman is in distress, he whispers, “Johnny’s here. Johnny’s here.”
Let’s also remember that while Baby is a 17-year-old girl-almost-woman, Johnny is a grown man. His character’s age is never stated, but Patrick Swayze was 34 years old when this was filmed. Fortunately, Jennifer Grey was 26 years old when the movie was filmed, so they make sense as an on-screen couple. And so you just have to forget that the character of Baby is literally a baby.
When Johnny isn’t too busy talking about himself in third person or being rude to Baby for being so nice as to borrow money for Penny’s abortion, he is busy being the biggest cornball of ’80s romance.
One of my favorite cornball moments takes place during rehearsal. Johnny explains to Baby that dancing is actually feeling. She needs to dance not on the beat of the music but on the heartbeat. He then rests Baby’s hand on his chest and proceeds to say, “Gagoon. Gagoon. Gagoon.” Because apparently, the sound a beating heart makes is…. Gagoon? Hmmm.
But my other question is this: what if one’s heartbeat speeds up throughout the dance. If the Gagoon gets really fast, do you dance faster?
My other favorite over-the-top moment takes place during a different rehearsal. In the final move of the routine, both Baby and Johnny drop to their knees, keeping their inner arms around each other’s waists and flinging their outer arms wide as they dip their heads back. But apparently, something goes wrong, because Johnny screams, “Are you trying to kill me?!?!?!” as he grips his back in pain.
Um, okay, calm down, little boy. 100-pound Jennifer Grey did not wrench your 200-pound frame backwards too far, and even if she were to, you’re a dancer. You aren’t flexible enough to arch your back ever so slightly?
Reason #4 – The movie is populated with idiotic characters
Oh, but do I love them! The supporting characters in this movie are fabulous. There are the vile staff members: most notably, Robbie (the cocky implied-attempted-rapist) and Neil (the geeky, haughty grandson of Max Kellerman). And there’s Baby’s totally oblivious, vane sister who’s not playing with a full deck. Poor girl even thinks she can sing.
Most of the supporting characters are ridiculous in a wonderful way. But there is one big moment that stands out to me as ridiculous in a bad way. Johnny’s cousin Billy is a great character overall until midway through the movie….
When Baby and Johnny return from their big dance performance, they find out that Penny’s abortion hasn’t gone so well. Here are Billy’s words about the supposed doctor: “The guy had a dirty knife and a folding table.” Okay, um, stop right there, Billy. Why did you let him in the room with Penny then? I don’t know a lot about abortions, but I know they should not be performed with dirty knives. Billy goes on to tell Johnny, “I could hear her screaming from the hallway and I swear to God I tried to get in.” Where was she having her abortion, Billy? Inside a bank vault? Try harder. You can’t bust down a door or break a window when your friend is in the process of possibly being murdered? Step up, my friend.
Reason #5 – The movie is called Dirty Dancing
Which is very silly and very brilliant. You’ll never forget that title, will you? Bravo!
In closing, I’d like to say that I’ve had the time of my life watching this movie. Because a movie this silly deserves a silly pun to wrap up the blog.
Hallie Shepherd is a writer, actress, and film producer. Follow her on Instagram where she celebrates the stories we tell.