The latest movie to be put through Hollywood’s remake/reboot/reimagining machine is the classic DIRTY DANCING, which has since become essential viewing when it comes to ’80s cinema. From the music to the memorable quotes (“I carried a watermelon”) to the naughty dancing and the climactic “lift”, the original Dirty Dancing was made to give audiences the “time of their life”. If a remake had to be made, then it was crucial that every detail was in order. If anything was out of place, wrong or tonally off, then rabid fans of the original would make it known. That said, ABC sure as better brace themselves for the wrath of Johnny Castle diehards.
If you haven’t seen Dirty Dancing (and I don’t know why you haven’t), the movie follows the young, progressive, and socially awkward Francis “Baby” Houseman as she and her family head to the waspy haven of the Catskills for the summer. While there, she swoons over Johnny Castle, the resident dance instructor at the resort who, along with the rest of “the help”, is from the wrong side of the tracks. Baby starts to spend more time with them rather than mingle and play charades with the resort’s elite. When Johnny’s dance partner Penny is unable to perform at a major event due to an — gasp! — abortion appointment, Baby ends up subbing for her even though she has two left feet. As Johnny teaches her the ways of dance, they begin to fall for each other despite his initial aggressive apprehension. At the same time, Baby finds a new version of herself that she never thought existed. I guess you could say she not only found the rhythm in her feet but also the rhythm of her heart. It’s sweet, very ’80s, and is cheesy — but the good kind of cheese. Well, get ready to have all of that ruined for you via this soulless remake. ABC’s clinical and cloying treatment sucks all of the soul and fun of the beloved feature.
Considering Hollywoods affection for taking classics and giving them a modern spin or a “reimagining”, you have to be open to what is churned out. I am not against remakes. In fact, I enjoy a remake — if it’s done well. There are a fair amount of good ones, but Hollywood seems to love trashifying classics. There was last year’s disastrous remake of Ben-Hur and the horrible iteration of Total Recall starring Colin Farrell. There was also Clash of the Titans, Conan the Barbarian, Psycho, The Stepford Wives, Footloose, Arthur, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — the list goes on. But ABC’s Dirty Dancing is a special kind of remake. It’s a feature film turned into TV movie. It seems to be following the lead of Lifetime which have made TV-versions of films like Steel Magnolias and more recently Beaches. Granted, they weren’t the best adaptations, but they had a slightly shifted point of view, while still maintaining a loyalty to the source material. Steel Magnolias used a black cast while Beaches focused on a lifelong friendship between two girls of different races as opposed to the original which had two white girls. In ABC’s Dirty Dancing, they attempt to do a remake with additional musical flair where the actors sing and tertiary storylines — and it fails hard. Really hard.
The problem begins from the very beginning of the movie where we are taken to the ’70s after the events of the Catskills. Baby (Abigail Breslin), now a grown woman, is about to see a show on Broadway called — you guessed it — Dirty Dancing. Immediately, you are taken out of this story because this is a disruption. There is something inherently wrong and pathetic about this addition. It’s like wearing a T-shirt with your band’s name on it while performing in said band during a concert (I credit Can’t Hardly Wait for this philosophy). This immediately puts a bad taste in your mouth of what’s about to come from this remake.
Breslin is a fine actress, but this clearly was not a role for her. I understand what they were trying to do with casting her in the role of Baby. She’s a gal that average girls can relate to — she’s not a Hollywood starlet cut from the pages of US Weekly. Jennifer Grey, who originated the role in 1987, was pretty much the same way. The character of Baby is book smart, wide-eyed but tends to be socially awkward. In the dancing department, she lacks rhythm, but there’s a certain charm to her that makes you root for her. Grey did a fantastic job at balancing the character and making her endearing. There was a clear “dancer’s journey” that showcased her as a performer. Breslin, on the other hand, acted as well as she needed to and performed robotically and poorly like the first contestant booted off of Dancing With the Stars. With Grey’s Baby , you saw her progressively get better as a dancer, but Breslin’s Baby saw little to no improvement. She normally does great things on screen but seeing her dance was painful. What’s even more painful is during the big finale when her parents (Debbie Messing and Bruce Greenwood) tell her how great of a dancer she is — which is a flat-out lie.
Newcomer Colt Prattes steps into the role as Johnny Castle, a role that was made perfect by Patrick Swayze. As hard as he tried, Prattes made it clear that he was a dancer who learned to act. He struggled to give soul and life to Johnny and tried way too hard to give him edge. His furrowed “I’m an angsty dancer looking for love” brow remained intact through the entirety of the film which proved to be distracting and hilarious at the same time. Needless to say, Prattes had his work cut out for him and it showed.
His It was a very flat performance didn’t add any fuel to the already lacking chemistry between him and Breslin — which is the core of the entire story. The void of sexual heat, desire, and playfulness between the couple disappointments of the movie. The two don’t come anywhere near the necessary passion and joy that Swayze and Grey gave the characters. It’s the sexual tension and heat that drives the story forward and makes the audience want to get out of their seat and bump and grind with the person sitting closest to them — it is called Dirty Dancing, after all. At best, this movie will make you want to awkwardly slow dance with your partner as if you were at a junior high homecoming dance.
To fill the three-hour run-time of the movie director Wayne Blair and writer Jessica Sharzer added new soapy storylines that included a rocky relationship between the Houseman parents, the relationship between Baby’s sister Lisa (Sarah Hyland), and piano player Marco (J. Quinton Johnson), as well as the journey of divorcee Vivian Pressman (Katey Sagal). We also spend more time with Penny (Nicole Scherzinger) who is portrayed, disappointingly, less edgy and more welcoming in this version than in the original. Even though these secondary stories are surprisingly more interesting and executed better than the main narrative, they are shoehorned in and take the focus off of Baby and Johnny. Sure, the execution of the relationship is clunky and soulless, but going to these other stories isn’t going to distract us from this already doomed remake.
This remake is frustating. Not because they remade a pop culture institution, but because they did a bad remake of a pop culture institution. The fact that it was on ABC might have been an immediate red flag that it would be sanitized for family enjoyment, but still, for something to be this off-base and stripped of any soul and authenticity is wildly disappointing. The acting was wooden, the singing added no dimension and the dancing lacked the energy, humor, and sexiness to make this remake an exciting and “dirty” musical event.
Through all of my cynicism (and as you can see, there is a lot of it) of this remake, there are tiny moments that hooked me in. The duet performed by Hyland and Johnson was unbelievably sweet and endearing while hearing Bruce Greenwood’s singing abilities was a pleasant surprise. And of course, seeing Billy Dee Williams on screen is always a treat. Above all, the cast seemed to be fans of the original movie and wanted to do their best to honor it — which is a good thing. Their heart was definitely in the right place but unfortunately watching this was basically watching a big-budget high school production of the original movie. That said, I can’t wait to read all the live-tweeting during the telecast.
Dirty Dancing airs on ABC at 8 PM on Wednesday, May 24.
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Dino watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
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Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer