You'll have to take my word for how much I was smiling during last night's Bagdad screening, and for how much I seat-danced. People in the audience may be able to vouch for my triumphant arm and hand gestures at times, or that we clapped along, or that we cheered for Jerry Freaking Orbach realizing that Jerk Guy Is A Jerk Who Doesn't Deserve That Money To Help With Medical School.+
Dirty Dancing is its own kind of Feel-Good Movie, with more going on story-wise and thematically than its reputation in some ironic circles allows++. Suck it, haters. In Friday's episode of The Cort and Fatboy Show, and in the commentary recorded by Cort, Bobby "Fatboy" Roberts, Mike Russell, David Walker and Erik Henriksen, and before the film last night, people were digging into why this film works.
Maybe it's partly because of work. You feel the work that Baby (Jennifer Grey) is going through, becoming a dancer. It's a film about learning, with usually just a taste of Baby and Johnny's falling for each other; we go into the movie knowing they'll fall in love, and the film can concentrate on their training instead of foregrounding what that will lead to. And the dancing is just fun. That's a big part of why Grey's performance works: I get the sense that she was already a good dancer (and still is, as we know thanks to Dancing With the Stars) who could portray what it was like to be a bad, learning dancer. All this leads, for me, to an extra-satisfying series of training scenes and montages in the movie. (Something I learned only yesterday: some of the dance practice shots that we see are blown takes, especially when Grey gets attacks of the giggles and Swayze looks annoyed.)
It also helps that there are no obvious villains, no stupid misunderstandings or bits of shoehorned-in Plot For The Sake Of Plot. You can imagine getting to know and liking almost every character. (Though Wayne Knight -- I'd forgotten he was in the movie -- still gives off a weaselly vibe to me. But that's because he's good at playing weasels.) And considering the pressure Jennifer Grey was probably under, playing her first lead, she gives such a strong, sometimes almost smartassed performance. Like when she unloads her frustration at Johnny: "Oh, yes, as a matter of fact it is. We're supposed to do the show in two days, you won't show me the lifts, I'm not sure of the turns, I'm doing all this to save your ass, what I really want to do is drop you on it!"
Good film, good crowd, good food beforehand (yay Thai egg drop soup!), good conversation, a good walk home afterward: a good night. I'm glad I like Dirty Dancing, which helped me have a night like that.
+ This is the first time I've laughed at what Robbie's reading. I didn't catch that the other times I saw the film, even the last time back in college.
++ If The Shawshank Redemption can be a classic feel-good movie with severe beatings, suicide and prison rape, there can be darkness in this feel-good movie, too.