By Marc S. Sanders

Dirty Dancing was a major surprise at the box office. For me, it is such an eye opener because of how good it actually is, and how well it still holds up. It’s energetic and fun and a different kind of escape from the endless supply of action films and gross out comedies.

Here’s a film with a no name director, Emile Ardolino (I’m sorry, who????) and produced by…excuse me…Vestron Video???? It did not carry a cast with box office clout either, the tallest guy from The Outsiders and the older, bratty sister from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Yet, the film wins out in the end.

“Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey) arrives with her family to a Catskills like vacation resort during the summer of 1963. Usually costumed in whites, Baby is as virginal as her moniker suggests. Eventually, she gets taken with the entertainment staff who spend their off hours dancing in, shall we say, a non-conservative manner. Particularly, she falls for the gorgeous head dance instructor, Johnny Castle (macho name, dressed in macho cool blacks with macho cool shades) played by Patrick Swayze.

Every development of their relationship is telescopic. Yes! We know they’re gonna fall in love despite coming from two different worlds. They’re gonna sleep with each other. Then they’re gonna argue. Then they’re gonna make up and then they’re gonna have the big dance to close out the film with one huge extravaganza. However, it’s the material within that grabs me, and much of that is thanks to the chemistry of Swayze and Grey.

The leads dance beautifully together, and when a music montage comes up, it is adoring to see the frustration of the dance instructor with his giggling student. It’s also charming to see them work it out as well. Reader, I’ve seen this stereotypical “chick flick” many times and I still get caught up in it. The movie comes alive in their puppy love with music and dance. Hey, I got a sensitive side to me. What can I say?

The subplots of the film are lacking though. An abortion storyline really is not necessary to assemble all these characters together. Jewish high income guests meet rebellious, but mostly kind hearted, staff members. There are a couple of distracting jerks too. Something more substantial could have been here. Perhaps, a more meaningful acknowledgment where the two parties favor or do not favor each other, and why. Abortion is a heavy subject matter that does not blend well with the rest of this film, though. The fact that the script never even utters the word “abortion” tells me that the film isn’t even sure of itself with this side story.

As well, when one dancer friend (Cynthia Rhodes) needs emergency medical help, couldn’t Baby’s doctor father (Jerry Orbach) just stop to listen for the explanation? Guess not. He just chooses to stop speaking to his daughter. Thus, making it hard for Baby to hang with Johnny. This could all be resolved with a quick sentence of dialogue. As my colleague Miguel suggests however, then there’d be no movie!!! It’s called the idiot plot, I guess.

A third sub plot involves a pick pocket thief and the reveal comes ridiculously out of nowhere. It’s here to give reason for Johnny’s reputation to be threatened one more time, while Baby defends him. Now this storyline has next to no purpose of existing. Johnny’s reputation in the boss’ eyes was tarnished enough already. This is cutting room floor material.

Dirty Dancing is a film that is merited in its special talents, but not necessarily its whole story. The consistently good soundtrack of oldies mixed with some anachronistic 80s tunes work so well. The setting is completely absorbing with its mountainous camp getaway cabins and intermittent calls for entertainment activities like with its social director (played deliberately corny by comedian Wayne Knight). It feels authentic and escapist. Therefore, I look past those silly plot developments that scotch tape one enthralling moment of dance, sex appeal and music for another.

This most recent time of watching the film was especially fun as I got to witness my twelve-year-old daughter seeing it for the first time. Nothing shows how special a movie, any movie, can be than to see your daughter slap her face when Baby chickens out from doing “the lift” with Johnny during a dance performance. Later, when she finally accomplishes that feat, my daughter sat up with a huge smile on her face. If you ever ask me why movies are so special, I might just have to reiterate this experience when I watched Dirty Dancing with my Julia.


By Marc S. Sanders

I’ve said before how John Hughes had an instinct for making interesting stories out of the mundane. Sure he might broadly exaggerate, but the storylines stem from relatable anecdotes like cross country traveling, forgotten birthdays or school detention. Thankfully he also explored a day in the life of faking illness and skipping school with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Matthew Broderick memorably plays the title character with an answer for everything and the means to outsmart his naive parents, his pesky sister Jeannie (Jennifer Grey), as well as the dim witted victim of staged slapstick, school principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones). Hughes teams Ferris up with his beautiful girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) and his troubled best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) for a romp through downtown Chicago.

Ferris Bueller… is simply a party to watch. The tempo of its comedy thankfully gets very familiar, very quickly. There’s gag after gag to celebrate the inventiveness of Ferris. With Cameron, he manages to get Sloane out of school, alter his absent days in the school system, arrange for a high-end fancy lunch thanks to the “Sausage King of Chicago” and actually pilot Cameron’s father’s prized, rare Ferrari convertible. There’s nothing Ferris can’t do, nor won’t do. There’s nothing Ferris can’t get away with. The guy can even hop on a downtown parade float to get the entire city engaged in a rousing rendition of “Twist & Shout,” arguably one of the most fun scenes to ever be filmed. Hundreds of extras crowd the streets to remind any one of us how fun life can be. What a joyous pleasure life is.

As expected with most of Hughes’ films though, this picture has a heart. Life should always be celebrated, but that does not mean we don’t have episodes where we suffer. Alan Ruck as Cameron is not well with his home life. Parental discourse and the lack of a loving home weighs upon him. The storyline is embraced very sensitively. A touching moment occurs as Cameron tours the Art Institute of Chicago and maintains an engrossed stare with the painting called A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Cameron is a product of loneliness lacking the ability to cry for help unlike the child in the painting. It’s another one of those treasured moments in film where dialogue is not needed to describe a character’s pain.

Jeffrey Jones makes for a good foil in a Three Stooges style storyline as he attempts over and over again to catch Ferris in the act. It never works well for him and leads to hilarious moments with the house dog and every other unfortunate circumstance imaginable such as getting his car towed and his foot stuck in the mud. Hughes pieces these cheap gags together to make them really feel much more valuable than they should be.

Lastly, John Hughes creates good inside gags within his setting. The city of Chicago works as a character concerned with Ferris’ supposed illness, including well wishes from his classmates, to the faculty, and even the police department much to the chagrin of his sister.

Let’s just say it’s imperative we all do our part to Save Ferris!