Dirty Dancing (1987)

(On TV, May 2017) Surprisingly enough for a forty-something man, I ended up liking Dirty Dancing quite a bit better than I expected … but I don’t expect my idiosyncratic reaction to be widely shared, or even comprehensible. The roots of my appreciation, paradoxically enough, go back to the history of American stand-up comedy: Ever since learning that generations of American comedians developed their craft in the so-called “Borsch Belt” of Jewish-dominated resorts nestled in the Catskill mountains, I’ve been fascinated by that kind of vacationing. Leaving New York, driving upstate to spend a week or two in a big isolated resort? Intriguing. So imagine my astonished reaction when I sat down to watch Dirty Dancing and realized that it was a trip back in time to this kind of vacationing. Never mind that I went thirty years without realizing that Dirty Dancing wasn’t an eighties movie set during the eighties—here, we’re back to summer 1963, with a rich Jewish family going to a Catskill resort for summer holidays. Never mind the romance between our innocent protagonist as the dancer played by Patrick Swayze—I’m here for the depicting of Borsch Belt resorts, fun at the lake, hiking in the mountain and Wayne Knight delivering a bad joke as the movie portrayal of stand-up comedians hitting the Catskill resorts at the beginning of their careers. Of course, there’s a whole other movie going on about a girl losing her innocence (and wow does this film get dark on the margins of its main plot) and Patrick Swayze being offended when someone puts Baby in the corner. My interest in that aspect of the movie was never better than lukewarm, but that’s the idiosyncratic part of my reaction to the film. Jennifer Gray is instantly sympathetic as the heroine, at least, and Swayze does manage to keep his character likable even considering their mismatched levels of maturity. As I’ve said—I don’t expect anyone else in the world to like Dirty Dancing for the same reasons I did, but that’s not the point … unless you want it to be that different people can like the same thing for wildly different reasons.

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