Summer Movie Showdown: "Dirty Dancing" Review

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Spending the summer in a holiday camp with her family, Frances "Baby" Houseman falls in love with the camp's dance instructor Johnny Castle.
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Summer Movie Showdown: "Dirty Dancing" Review

Rating: PG-13
Length: 100 minutes
Release Date: August 21, 1987
Directed by: Emile Ardolino
Genre: Drama, Romance

Set in the Catskill Mountains in the early 1960s, "Dirty Dancing" is part coming-of-age story and part summer romance. When it was released in 1987, this low-budget movie only had one major star, Jerry Orbach, but it surprised everyone and went on to become a huge hit at the box office. It has managed to gross more than $214 million, had a soundtrack that went platinum, and was the first movie to pass the $1 million mark in home video sales.

The story begins in 1963 when the Housemans-including parents Marjorie (Kelly Bishop) and Jake (Jerry Orbach) and daughters Baby (Jennifer Grey) and Lisa (Jane Brucker)-head off to Kellerman's Resort in the Catskills to spend their summer vacation.

Baby is the Houseman's self-assured daughter who has a kind and compassionate heart and a set of personal and professional goals already laid out. Her sister, Lisa, is often jealous of the attention Baby gets and spends most of her time trying to gain her parents' attention and approval. Despite this, the two sisters have a very close bond. 

Baby soon develops a secret crush on the resort's lead dance instructor, Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze), and she decides to take dancing lessons so she can spend some time with him. Castle teaches dance at the resort by day and dances onstage at night at area venues to make additional money. When his partner has to drop out, he asks Baby to step into the role. Their dancing is flawless except for one thing: Baby is too afraid to try the lift Castle has planned out.

When Dr. Houseman finds out about the relationship between his daughter and Castle, he forbids her to see him again. She defies her father and continues to spend time with Johnny, but only behind her father's back. That all comes crashing down when the resort owner's neurotic and jealous son accuses Johnny of stealing from the guests and gets him fired. Johnny leaves the resort, and Baby is heartbroken.

When the resort holds its end-of-summer party, Johnny comes back. He takes Baby by the hand and tells the Housemans, "Nobody puts Baby in a corner." He lets everyone know that until he met Baby, he let people push him around and make him feel insignificant, but she changed that for him.

He then leads her onstage, where, much to her parents' surprise, she and Johnny perform the dance they had been practicing all summer. With the encouragement of some of the staff and younger guests, Baby nails the lift. It turns out that Johnny also had a big impact on her as well.

Although he had played small roles on television and the big screen and had a recurring role in "The Renegades" before "Dirty Dancing" was shot, Patrick Swayze wasn't very well known at the time the movie was released. This film was what made him a household name. He followed his portrayal of Johnny Castle with the male lead in the 1990 smash hit "Ghost" with Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg, which won him critical acclaim. Swayze passed away in 2009 from pancreatic cancer at the age of 57.

Jennifer Grey began her acting career in 1984, just three years before the release of "Dirty Dancing." She had smaller roles in movies such as "The Cotton Club" and "Red Dawn," and she played Jeanne Bueller in the 1986 hit "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." Although she continues to perform on television and in film, she was not able to sustain the momentum her career gained from her portrayal of Baby Houseman. Although she has a successful career, it is mostly as a supporting actress.

Jerry Orbach was the actor who brought a bit of legitimacy to an otherwise-unknown cast. His acting career began in 1955 with roles in television series such as "Annie Get Your Gun" and "The Defenders" and films that included "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight" and "The Sentinel." He also had a very successful Broadway career in addition to his television and movie credits. Orbach eventually became somewhat typecast as a law enforcement official, and he exploited that with roles in the television series "The Law and Harry McGraw" and "Murder She Wrote," as well as movies such as "Crimes and Misdemeanors." Although Orbach already had a place in the hearts of Americans, he cemented that place when he took on the role of Lieutenant Lennie Briscoe in the long-running "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit."

"Dirty Dancing" is more than a fluffy romance movie; it is a feel-good film that will leave you wanting more. It gives audiences a peek into young summer love and how that clashed with the middle-class suburban families in the early 1960s.

Rating: 3 out of 5