Film: Dirty Dancing

The ultimate chick flick.

"Nobody puts Baby in a corner."

Dirty Dancing is a 1987 romance film starring Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze. A sleeper hit, it became a sensation upon release, with reports of people supposedly viewing the film, then immediately returning to the theater to watch it a second time. Amusingly, the studio that produced and distributed Dirty Dancing, Vestron Pictures, only planned to release the film in theaters for only a weekend, and then send it straight to home video, since they had originally been in the video distribution business long before entering film production.

Frances "Baby" Houseman and her wealthy family decide to spend the summer of 1963 at Kellerman's, a Jewish resort in the Catskills. Baby quickly developes a crush on Johnny Castle, the resort's working-class dance instructor, eventually leading her to one of the staff's secret after-hours dance parties, where they engage in "dirty dancing" and Johnny teaches her some basic steps.

Soon after, she learns Johnny's dance partner Penny needs an illegal abortion and can't take part in an important dance contest, and offers to replace her. As Johnny teaches her how to dance, the two grow close. But Baby's family would never approve of the relationship, and she needs to decide if it's worth fighting for...

In 2004, a prequel entitled Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights was released by Lionsgate, which by then had owned the rights to the original. Set during the Cuban Revolution, the film's only connection to the first is a cameo by Patrick Swayze, who got $5 million dollars for this scene (compared to the $200,000 for his starring role in the original film), and in fact, it's a repeat of the original. The film bombed with audiences and critics and was quickly forgotten.

In addition to the prequel, there was a very short lived TV series based on the film, which ran on CBS from 1988 to 1989. In addition to not having any of the original cast and very limited involvement from the crew, the show had one glaring plot change: Baby was now Max Kellerman's daughter and in charge of Johnny as the resort's talent director.

This film provides examples of:

  • All for Nothing: Baby provides an alibi (ahem) for Johnny when he's accused of theft. He gets canned anyway.
  • Back-Alley Doctor: The abortion clinic. i.e. "A dirty knife and a folding table."
  • Borscht Belt: Kellerman's is a Borscht Belt resort, though Borscht Belt comedy is not heavily featured in the movie.
  • Brainless Beauty: Lisa.
  • Broken Pedestal: Baby is saddened to discover her father's elitism when he bans her from associating with Johnny and the other staff members (though in all fairness, it's because of his mistaken belief that Johnny knocked up Penny and wants to protect Baby). Similarly, her father is sorely disappointed in Baby's involvement in Penny's illegal abortion and her deceit.
  • The Cast Showoff: One of the songs on the soundtrack ("She's Like the Wind") was written and performed by Swayze. Subverted with the song Lisa sings in the talent show: Jane Brucker wrote and performed it, and it's a glorious example of Stylistic Suck.
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: How Lisa gets wise to Robbie. Lisa goes to Robbie's cabin in order to surprise him and finally go all the way with him, only to catch him in bed with Vivian (see Jerk Ass below).
  • Cannot Tell a Lie: Baby. To the point where in one deleted scene, she threatens to lie about Lisa when the latter threatens to tell their parents about her sneaking around, warning her that their parents will believe her because she never lies, and in another, her father instantly believes her when she confesses to a minor incident, simply by saying, "It has to be true. Baby never lies". This is after discovering her deception regarding Penny's abortion.
  • Chekhov's Gun: When Penny and Baby help Mrs. Schumaker when she drops her purse, multiple wallets can be seen.
  • Chekhov's Skill
    • The lift, or rather, Baby's inability to do one. Also, if you look in the background during the scenes in the staff quarters, you can see the staff practicing the step-kick "Cuban rhythms" that Johnny demonstrates for Neil, and which they perform in the end.
    • A doctor's work is never done. Baby's father swoops to the rescue following Penny's botched abortion.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: Baby starts blossoming through dance and her relationship with Johnny.
  • Coordinated Clothes: Inverted with Baby and Johnny who wear clothes of contrasting colours throughout the movie, even for their dance number where couples very often wear matching outfits.
  • The Cutie: Baby.
  • Daddy's Girl: Baby, so much so that Lisa visibly revels in having their father's attention after the incident with Penny puts Baby out of his good graces.
  • Dance of Romance: Pretty much the entire point of the movie.
  • Dance Party Ending
  • Delusions Of Local Grandeur: This movie was filmed on-location at Mountain Lake in Giles County, Virginia. A fact that WSLS, a Roanoke, VA-based NBC station, will make DAMN sure you don't forget if you watch it.
    • Also Lake Lure, North Carolina. Every Girl Scout at Camp Occoneechee knew it too.
  • Extraverted Nerd / Casanova Wannabe : Neil Kellerman. He's short and unattractive (compared to Johnny), but boasts that he's "the catch of the county" because he's heir to the Kellerman empire.
  • Fanservice: Mostly of shirtless Patrick Swayze
  • Female Gaze : As noted on the DVD commentary, Baby is in every scene, and the view is entirely hers. Two other minor examples: when Robbie is hitting on Lisa and Penny stares at him, and when Vivian watches Baby coming out of Johnny's cabin.
  • Gilligan Cut: "It's a stupid idea. She cannot do it." Cut to: Baby stepping on Johnny's feet.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: One-sided on Lisa's part.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: One of the strongest aversions in cinema. Penny goes through one without a second thought, even though she's scared. But although the operation turns out to be a back-alley abortion that nearly costs Penny her life, Dr. Houseman saves her, doesn't report her, and even assures her that she'll still be able to have children later, without once blaming her or condemning her for her choice; his criticism is reserved entirely for the guy who got her into the predicament to begin with. The movie even has a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming when Penny is shown wordlessly thanking him at the end of the movie.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard / Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: How Jake finds out the truth about Penny's abortion. Near the end of the film, while some of the staffers are singing the resort's anthem, Jake approaches Robbie, hands him an envelope containing either a check or a letter of recommendation, and wishes him good luck in medical school. Robbie replies by thanking Jake for helping Penny out and telling him, "I guess we've all gotten into messes", effectively confessing and insulting Penny at the same time. Jake, who is understandably miffed, and not just over Robbie's deed, but also at himself for allowing him to date Lisa at the same time, takes the envelope back.
  • Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Lisa.
  • Incredibly Lame Fun: Kellerman's! Come for the charades, stay for the foxtrot lessons.
  • Ivy League for Everyone : A few examples. Mr. Kellerman, when he's giving the "show the daughters a good time" speech to the wait staff, says he recruited them all from Harvard and Yale. Robbie the Jerkass waiter goes to Yale Medical School. Neil (Mr. Kellerman's grandson) goes to Cornell School of Restaurant Management. Baby will be attending Mount Holyoke (one of the "Sister Schools"). And when she gives Jake her speech at the end, she says that he thinks saving the world means marrying someone from Harvard. The trope is probably Justified, given the movie's time and setting (the Catskills).
  • Jerk Ass: In addition to Robbie, there's also Vivian Pressman, a highly oversexed resort guest who falsely accuses Johnny of stealing her husband Moe's wallet after he spurns her sexual advances in favor of Baby.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Jake. Neil, too. He's a condescending, elitist snob. . .who's planning to join the Freedom Riders the following summer. Anyone planning to do something like that can't be that bad. Max, as well. Despite all the flack he gives Johnny and his friends, he still treats the resort's black bandleader, Tito Suarez, as an equal, not an inferior.
  • Meaningful Name: Or nickname rather. "Baby", representing her naivete and innocence. Penny even taunts her about this at one point—"Go on back to your playpen, Baby", in response to the latter's clueless insistence that Robbie will do the right thing regarding her pregnancy.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Baby confesses to having spent the night with Johnny in order to keep him from being fired/arrested for stealing Moe Pressman's wallet. Only for him to get fired anyway for getting involved with a guest and for her parents to be furious with her.
  • One Head Taller: Johnny's hands are longer than Baby's waist.
  • Overprotective Dad: Baby's father tries to shelter her from the world, but unlike many examples of this trope, isn't overly smothering and deeply trusts her. The real conflict happens when he has a misunderstanding about Johnny and Penny's need for an abortion.
  • Parental Obliviousness: Marge remains blissfully unaware of what goes on throughout the film, though a deleted scene indicates that she isn't as clueless as initially presented—she sternly chastises Baby for her behavior and reveals that she had been in a similar situation before meeting Jake.
    • Jake also. He never realizes what Baby is involved in until he's dragged into it on one occasion—when she runs to get his help after Penny's botched abortion—and when Baby confesses at another time. This isn't due to stupidity, he simply has never had any reason to doubt or distrust her.
  • Parenthetical Swearing: "He wouldn't know a new idea if it hit him in his pachanga!"
  • Pet the Dog: Lisa offering to do Baby's hair.
  • Present Day Past: Baby's outfits look more '80s than '60s, and much of the soundtrack is contemporary music. Honestly, they weren't even trying. This is handwaved during the writer's commentary, when she notes that it's a nostalgia piece, so the details don't matter as much (something like that). Also the cost of obtaining the music rights was prohibitive on the film's budget.
    • While it's true that much of the soundtrack is contemporary music, the film features a good amount of songs from the era when the film takes place, thanks to the work of the film's period music consultant, Bruce Morrow, who also appears in the film as a magician who saws Baby in half as a trick. Morrow was actually given the job of period music consultant on the strength of his work as a disc jockey for New York City oldies radio station WCBS-FM 101.1, where he was known to fans as "Cousin Brucie," a stage name he still uses on Sirius XM after leaving WCBS in 2005 because of an ill-adviced experiment in jocklessness.
  • Pretty in Mink: A couple of the lady guests at the resort wear white fur wraps.
  • Rich Bitch/Woman Scorned: Johnny's previous "dance student". She ends up sleeping with Robbie.
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: Pretty much the only area of romantic conflict. This was repeated in the prequel.
  • Sesame Street Cred: Happened with both Lonny Price and Miranda Garrison of all people. Before he was cast as Neil, Price previously made his film debut as Ronnie Crawford in The Muppets Take Manhattan. Garrison also worked in the Muppet stable when she choreographed The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland. In addition, Wayne Knight made a guest appearance on Square One TV, which, like Sesame Street, was also a Sesame Workshop production. To top it all off, producer Linda Gottlieb had previously served as an executive assistant to Sesame Street creator and Sesame Workshop founder and president Joan Ganz Cooney, and, in fact, had helped Ms. Cooney write the grant proposal to convince various foundations and government agencies to help provide funding for Sesame Street.
  • Sexy Soaked Shirt: The lift. Practiced in water.
  • Shirtless Scene: Take a drink everytime you see one.
  • The Sixties: Though you would never know it from Jennifer Grey's '80s Hair.
  • Smash Cut: Baby's father learning of her sexual relationship with Johnny. Cut to Dr. Houseman sitting comatose at the lakefront.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs:
    • The wealthy patrons vs. the help.
    • Even within the help this clash is seen. The waiters were recruited from Ivy League schools, are encouraged to romance the girls—Max outright says "I brought you here to show the goddamn daughters a good time"—and clearly look down on the dance teachers, who are from the wrong side of the tracks and threatened with punishment should they become involved with a guest. Note that Dr. Houseman has no problem with Robbie and Lisa's relationship while sternly disapproving of Baby's with Johnny, while Penny fears that it's she who will be fired for sleeping with Robbie.
    • Indeed, the only members of the entertainment staff who aren't treated condescendingly are the resort's house band. If anything, Max doesn't see Tito as merely an employee, but also as a friend and confidant as well, and thus treats him as an equal.
  • Suspiciously Apropos Music: Everything. It helps that "Baby" is a common song lyric.
  • Taking the Heat: Johnny has little choice but to take the rap for Penny's pregnancy.
    • And, of course, Baby admitting that she was with Johnny when the wallets were stolen, despite the consequences.
  • The Unfavorite: In one of her few scenes with genuine emotional depth, Lisa implies that she has felt like this for some time, and gloats that Baby is in this position now.
    Lisa: "You're not Daddy's girl anymore. He listens when I talk now".