I love Dirty Dancing. Like, truly love. I’ve gone off on drunken rants about how if the world of pop culture celebrated the things that teenage girls love the way that they celebrate the things that teenage boys love, people would talk about the perfection of Dirty Dancing as a romance movie the way they talk about Die Hard’s perfection as an action movie. I once ran across a party to shout down someone who dared to say that Bodie from Point Break was Swayze’s iconic role. (HOW DARE YOU DISREGARD JOHNNY CASTLE??? NOBODY PUTS BABY IN A CORNER!) (Point Break is also really great.)
So, last night, I obviously settled in to watch the ABC remake of Dirty Dancing. I was ready to hate it. And I didn’t. So that’s a thing. To quote my sister, “I am opposed to this thing on principal, but it’s better than Havana Nights.” (I saw Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights two times in theaters. I really love Dirty Dancing. Is that clear?)
So, here are the things that the remake did right.
- Supporting cast! Nicole Scherzinger is an underrated treasure. She did a really good job with Penny, and seemed to be one of the only actors who understood that this movie was about a specific time and place. Debra Messing was always an excellent choice for Marje Houseman, having that same it factor that Kelly Bishop does. Well, not exactly the same, but it’s there. Katey Sagal was also there, as Mrs. Pressman, the lonely lady who’s sleeping with Johnny at the beginning, and that’s just the perfect part for her.
- A few decent covers of the 60’s songs. Really, they were fun. Particularly I loved Scherzinger and Abigail Breslin’s “Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On.” And Sagal singing “Fever,” which didn’t make a lot of sense, but that’s the perfect song for her, so I’ll allow it.
- Costuming Sarah Hyland. She looked uber cute in all her 60’s clothes.
- Billy Dee Williams is in it! Always happy to see Lando!
- The lift. I mean, it was there, it didn’t quite pack the punch, but it was there which is important.
Here are the things that were not so good.
- There’s an overall lack of specificity that makes the original movie great. This isn’t as vague a critique as it sounds. Mary and I both noted that Debra Messing is the only cast member who seems even vaguely Jewish, and that’s sort of an important cultural context for the story. It felt weird, like if someone had made The Godfather again, and they willfully didn’t reference Italy. OK, not that bad, because the original isn’t that explicit, but it’s still WEIRD.
- The new versions of the originals songs are not great. I don’t have “Hungry Eyes” stuck in my head today, which is bizarre, as usually anytime I watch Dirty Dancing I have “Hungry Eyes” stuck in my head for at least a week. “She’s Like The Wind,” featured exactly no saxophone, which should really be a war crime. “Time of My Life,” was OK, but the dance was underwhelming. Which we’ll get to.
- Abigail Breslin like, really, cannot dance. And it’s a huge bummer. Especially for the finale. You should not have to cut around Baby during the finale of Dirty Dancing.
- This Colt Prattes person is a very good dancer. He is however, not Swayze. This is not really his fault. It is his fault that he defaulted to “obnoxious jerk” rather than “protective and brooding sensitive dude.” It was a bad choice that kind of ruins Johnny Castle. Which, I mean, how dare you?
- They felt the need to make all of the subtext text. Seriously, every character had to spell out their motivation. You don’t need to do that, whoever wrote this script. When Dr. Houseman pulls the check he wrote Robby out of his hand after learning that he was the one who got Penny pregnant, the moment speaks for itself. He does not need to make a speech about integrity and demand he pay Penny back. It’s all there. That kind of thing happened a lot.
- Neil is actually a good guy? Or he’s not? Whatever, Neil should be a weaselly little nothing of a person, and I almost felt bad for him, and kind of wanted Baby to give him another shot?
- The weird framing device that Baby was watching the Broadway musical version of the book she wrote about that summer, that Johnny was the choreographer, and that awkward epilogue where they see each other and were all weird? What was that? I mean, like obviously, they didn’t make it work. They came from different worlds, they had different goals, YOU DON’T NEED TO MAKE IT EXPLICIT! This is about a golden perfect moment in life. Focus on that moment.
Here are some things that were just weird.
- They made Lisa, like a person. It was good, it was just strange. Also, I would much rather watch a movie that focused on Lisa spending her summer falling for a black dude and learning to play Bob Dylan songs on her ukelele than whatever this movie was. Like, “Yes, Baby was boinking a dance instructor and funding back alley abortions, but I was doing this other also cool thing! Let’s focus on this.” Instead it was just a strange side plot that didn’t really go anywhere.
- The musical numbers performed by the cast. I never saw Dirty Dancing: The Musical, and I understand this choice was motivated by that, but it was confusing.
- The final dance, and not having that great moment where Johnny leads the staff in that cool solo dance up the aisle while Baby awkwardly bops on stage. I think this might be because you can’t pull that off without Swayze.
- Cutting Baby’s monologues. Like, why?? The scenes that replaced them were fine, but those are good speeches. Use them. At then end, when Johnny said that she was fearless, Mary and I actually started reciting, “Me? I’m scared of everything. I’m scared of who I am, of what I did! And most of all, I’m scared of walking out of this room and never feeling again, for the rest of my life the way I feel when I’m with you.”
Overall? The thing was watchable, and it made me want to watch the real Dirty Dancing again, not that it takes much, but it’s not good, and not even bad enough to be fun to watch and make fun of.