In its own way director John Badham’s 1977 masterpiece “Saturday Night Fever” is dated in every imaginable way, but it’s because of that, that it’s a classic, and is very appreciated. And it’s also the swan song of a music fad that couldn’t have lasted. John Travolta really was a dynamo back in the days of his early career, with a trifecta of frenetic films like “Grease” which would come only a year later, and “Urban Cowboy” which made a real impact as a one of a kind film. What “Saturday Night Fever” is about, in its truest sense, is growing up. Get past the dated styles, and hair, and lingo and look deep down in to its narrative and you’ll find a truly excellent story about growing up and moving on leaving your childish things behind and starting a new life.
The once ubiquitous John Travolta is Tony Manero, an Italian Brooklynite who is a legend in his own rite for his dancing. Every night, he and his friends go clubbing and he dominates the floor, but soon as he’s pressured by family life, and the changing life of his priest brother, he becomes weary of the same old routine and knows he can’t go about it forever. Travolta manages to give one hell of a performance as the complex and insightful Manero who is often fetishized by the women he lingers around at the clubs. When he builds that image of himself, he finds that its trappings are ultimately what’s keeping him from garnering respect as an man who wants to contribute something meaningful to the world. Inside the walls of the clubs, he’s mostly a shallow, egomaniacal man who women fall for instantly.
But as we meet him, he conveys shades of sadness, misery, and conflict among his view of the future. The movie further increases those sentiments he exhibits by having its characters change as Manero stays exactly the same. Manero is basically clueless to his surroundings as his friends suddenly have to mature, his parents are losing hope, his brother is changing his own life. Tony eventually meets a girl named Stephanie who challenges his egotism. Excluding the insanely obnoxious character of Stephanie who was just shrill, the movie coasts along in a very subtle pattern as Manero suddenly comes to the realization and wonders if it may be too late to change his own life.
Badham’s directing style is beautiful, many times depicting the life of Manero as very simple and dreary, but when he’s in the club, everything glitters and glows with their own aura. It’s Manero’s world as he prefers to see it, and in his world, he’s the god, and he’s very relevant to the people of his community within that scene. The soundtrack is utterly foot stomping, hand clapping exciting with tracks from the Bee Gees, Tavares, and K.C. and the Sunshine Band, while Travolta engages in some incredible dance sequences. “Saturday Night Fever” is one of the many instances in the seventies where the soundtrack was crucial to the film and the narrative, and the disco and soul compilation really help emphasize Manero’s world where he struggles to reconcile his love for dance with his future as an adult. It’s a remarkable drama, and one I catch every chance I get.