I was introduced to Dirty Dancing at a young age – probably too young, truth be told. I was under the age of 10. But it was a movie that quickly climbed to the top of my list of favorite movies, and it’s remained there more than 2 decades later.
So when ABC announced that they were going to reboot the story, I was intrigued.
I didn’t have high hopes (none of the network reboots or musicals have yet hit it out of the park), but I was cautiously optimistic. As casting news came out, I wasn’t immediately turned off by the young Abigail Breslin or Nicole Scherzinger. Add Debra Messing and Katey Sagal? I definitely started looking forward to this adaptation. With those ladies in the lineup, it couldn’t possibly be too awful, right?
I wasn’t alive in 1963, but for me – that summer will always be the summer of love. The summer of Patrick Swayze.
The original Dirty Dancing has staying power. It keeps me watching it over and over even though I’m now in my 30’s. Watching Baby’s transformation from naive young lady to confident woman will never get old to me. And make no mistake – Dirty Dancing is Baby’s story. It’s not simply a dance movie or a romance. It’s a celebration of Baby’s innocence and coming of age. It’s about her becoming a woman.
And that’s why this new adaptation falls flat. This movie doesn’t know what story it’s trying to tell. Is it a musical? Is it a dance movie? Is it about Baby? Is it about her parents?
It doesn’t know. And this identity crisis is not a good look.
Watching it, I felt as if ABC were trying to cash in on the popularity of the musicals that NBC and FOX have had success with over the past several years. While the soundtrack was largely kept in tact, the songs were covered by the actors. And with the exception of She’s Like the Wind – because oh my god what did they do to that song? – the songs were performed well and weren’t completely out of place. The part that felt out of place?
In a movie called Dirty Dancing, you expect the dancing to be the star of the show – but this adaptation ignored the dancing in favor of the singing. As a result, the highlights of the story – the dance lessons, the mambo show at the Shelldrake, and the summer finale – were shot with enough cuts and angles that you couldn’t actually see the dancing. The dancing we could see was stiff and awkward rather than sultry and seductive.
There were several narrative changes that had a lot of potential – but like the rest of the show, fell flat. Lisa discovered that Robbie was a creep up front, so she never ended up dating him that summer. Yet Dr. Houseman still gave him that recommendation (only to tear it away when he discovered the truth about Penny). Why was Robbie so well regarded if he hadn’t spent the summer dating Dr. Houseman’s daughter? Instead, Lisa found a new friend from among the staff – but Marco was constantly warned off Lisa by Tito. In the end, nothing came of this plot point.
In this version, Penny was friendly towards Baby and Johnny was the snarky one. There was no, “Baby? Is that your name? Why don’t you go back to your playpen? Baby.” Instead, Penny jumped at the chance for Baby to help them. In nearly every scene the three had together, Penny and Johnny’s roles were reversed. Yet Baby still fell in love with Johnny. It wasn’t believable – both from a story perspective and from a complete lack of chemistry between the cast members.
And perhaps the most egregious change? In the original, when Baby needed assurance from Johnny she simply called his name, and he turned and smiled at her. In this version? She pounded on his bedroom door screaming and crying and begging him to let her in.
And despite all of that, in this version we learn that Baby and Johnny didn’t even end up together.
Adaptations aren’t meant to be identical to the source material. I understand that. But adaptations should still be true to the spirit of the source material. This adaptation fundamentally changed the nature of the characters and of the story it was trying to tell. This wasn’t Dirty Dancing.
And for that, I can’t recommend anyone watch this movie.