TV film reviews: Dirty Dancing (2017), directed by Wayne Blair
tl;dr: Is it as bad as people say it is? No. It’s WORSE THAN THAT.
In this remake that literally no one wanted or asked for, the Houseman family go to the Kellerman Hotel/Resort/whatever for their summer holidays, and there’s dancing, romance and OH GOD JUST WATCH THE 1987 FILM INSTEAD.
Except, because this is NEW and EXCITING, it doesn’t start with the Four Seasons and it being the summer of 1963 and people still called her Baby and she wanted to join the Peace Corps. It starts in the 1970s at a Broadway theatre where a production of Dirty Dancing, a musical based upon the book by Francis Houseman, is about to open. And ~flashback~ we’re in the early 1960s and we see the story we know and love, but with a different cast and with added complications – because the abortion sub plot apparently wasn’t woke enough for 2017.
I’m going to presume you’re familiar with the original Dirty Dancing (1987), starring Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, and hope that you, like me, happen to love that film very much. This review/rant will contain spoilers, but if you haven’t seen this, I’m just telling you why you should keep it that way.
Francis “Baby” Houseman (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine) is a bookish nerd. Her sister Lisa (Sarah Hyland) is apparently older but looks younger and is the pretty one. Their parents Jake (Bruce Greenwood) and Marjorie (Debra Messing) have MaRiTaL iSsUeS that they don’t talk about, because hey, no one puts Mr and Mrs Houseman in a corner! Of course they need their own plot!
Lisa is being pursued by sleazebag Robbie (Shane Harper), until she’s nearly date raped (having her simply walk in on him givin’ it to someone else is not edgy enough), and starts hanging out with Marco (J Quinton Johnson) instead. He works at Kellerman’s and can teach her how to play a ukulele – and hey, let’s throw in some bi-racial controversy for the heck of it, just to show how far we’ve come and how woke we are now!
Neil Kellerman (Trevor Einhorn) is there, but I can’t remember him very well at all, because the rest of this is so bad he apparently wasn’t even memorable enough to stand out among all the other stuff, but I think he was actually made into a semi-decent guy or something?
And then, of course, the dance teachers – glamorous Penny Rivera (Nicole Scherzinger) and Johnny Castle (Colt Prattes) who … I dunno, he danced or something?
I recorded this when it was first on, out of a sort of morbid curiosity, because I didn’t think it could be better than the original. I just didn’t expect how incredibly BAD it actually was. With a run time of over two hours (not counting commercial breaks, which makes it run on forever), of course they’ve had to pad out the story a bit, and instead of doing a straight re-make, they’ve decided that previously minor characters should play a bigger part – namely the rest of the Houseman family, despite this is supposed to be a coming-of-age story for youngest sister “Baby”. I didn’t mind that they made Lisa into a bit more of a relatable character, and her connecting with Marco is cute, but it really feels as if it’s just there to score points for “look at us, commenting on racism” rather than something more organic. On the other hand, I guess they had to have at least ONE couple who could believably fall in love with each other, because the main characters … I’ll get back to that.
Mr and Mrs Houseman, not content with being Father and Mother who don’t really do much except tell people to stand up straight and provide money for illegal abortions, are estranged. The spark is gone, and Marjorie is so unhappy that she’s contemplating filing for divorce. Perhaps a trip to Kellerman’s, like the old days, can make them find the spark again. (Hint: they do. The kids are next door and hear it and everything. Yay?) This is a subplot that really wasn’t needed, and is only there to provide padding, and some kind of raised emotional stakes. It’s just … I don’t really care? This is supposed to be about Baby and Johnny?
Although when we finally get to the point of Baby and Johnny, gods, I rather wish they hadn’t. They have as much spark as a wet log. (Speaking of logs, this version of Kellerman’s with all their wooden cabins doesn’t look like an exclusive resort for pretty wealthy people. More like they’ve shacked up in one of the cheaper cabins at Center Parcs.) They’re supposed to fall in love, but I just don’t buy it. Perhaps because Johnny looks about 20, which is basically what you can say about Baby as well, but she doesn’t seem like a natural born dancer, but instead looks more like she’s learning on the job. Learning poorly, at that. She’s not even very good at the end of the film.
On the other hand, this cast weren’t perhaps hired for their dancing capabilities (unlike Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze), but rather their singing. Because this isn’t a film with great music any more – it’s a musical. They apparently couldn’t get the rights to the original soundtrack, so they went for singing all the songs themselves, and adding a few along the way. What’s one of the best things about the original film? The soundtrack. No Solomon Burke or Otis Redding in sight, and it’s PAINFUL. I’m not a fan of musical films normally – I fast-forwarded through a lot of Glee – so having taken one of my favourite films, with an epic soundtrack, and having those beautiful songs butchered by a bunch of actors is unforgivable. I could’ve forgiven some of the worst bits about this film if they had kept the original soundtrack, but alas, it was not to be.
A few months after I had managed to watch this atrocity, I still hadn’t deleted it off the DVR, so bravely thought I’d watch it again. It took me no more than 30 seconds to realise I had made a huge mistake and started questioning my life choices, and I think I only got through it because I fast-forwarded through the songs. It didn’t improve on a second viewing, and I then deleted it, because it was no longer allowed to soil the rest of the stuff on there. Maybe I’m stubbornly keeping Citizen Kane on there now to balance it out.
The film ends like it always does, except Lisa can actually sing in this version, and it’s cut back to the Broadway theatre. Johnny’s there! He’s choreographed the show! And no, they’re not together, because Baby has got a mustachioed husband and a child! A hubby who is apparently totally cool with his wife having written a bestseller about losing her virginity on holiday, which has been made into a stage show choreographed by the guy in question. That doesn’t seem weird at all, does it?
So they’ve taken a beloved, if far from perfect, film from the 1980s and re-made it … but with added bits. Bits that aren’t good, and the whole stage show thing is cringeworthy (of course the stage show is called Dirty Dancing, because of course it is). The script is poor, the cast is poor, the dancing is dull, the acting is unconvincing, the chemistry isn’t there, they’ve butchered the songs, they’ve booked into a summer camp to film it, and I can’t believe I sat through this thing twice. There isn’t much of a romance thing here, and all the charm and fire of the characters in the original is missing.
Grey’s Baby is a strong character who has agency and passion, and while her family think she’s a bit over-the-top with the whole idealist business, they don’t seem to look down on it, whereas this version of Baby is basically berated for preferring books to more girly pursuits, and she is sorely lacking. They all are. This isn’t a film where you come out the other end cheering, because this is a Baby who seems infinitely more comfortable in the corner. While some of us might find sticking to the corner preferable to being the centre of attention, that’s not the point of Dirty Dancing. This isn’t cheeky flirting and a sexual awakening, but … I don’t know. It’s just really, really bad.
On the plus side, it’s a made-for-TV film, so at least it didn’t come out at the cinema, but that’s about the only thing that’s good about it. It’s so atrocious I need to re-watch the original just to forget this remake ever happened.
Can I give things a 0 rating? Hmm.
0.5 out of 5, and that’s just to sympathise with the people that had to work on it.