ABC Television’s remake of “Dirty Dancing” is a god awful and ill conceived version of the eighties classic. I don’t say that as a fan of the original, or an eighties kid, but as someone who just can’t abide a truly awful reworking for a film that didn’t need it. Did we forget “Havana Nights” already? ABC goes for an over two and a half hour remake that is just about as listless and ridiculous as you can imagine. For some reason the writers thought it’d be a good idea to add a story frame for the actual story that ensues between Baby and Johnny.
Then there’s a verbatim remake of the original, a goofy melodrama about Baby coming of age, and a musical that stages a bunch of forgettable tunes. Not to mention a relationship drama about Baby’s parents experiencing a crossroads in their marriage. Lest we forget an interracial romance with Baby’s sister falling in love with an African American singer for the country resort, and the steamy torrid love affair between Johnny and a local middle aged resort guest (as played by Katey Segal).
These various plot threads are all fodder for individual okay movies (maybe even a min-series?), but they all struggle to come out ahead in a grueling and monotonous production. “Dirty Dancing” just dumbs down the material wholesale by inexplicably featuring covers of the original soundtrack and then injecting the original songs of other classics. Johnny’s world isn’t just a secret place where the lower class let loose (as we saw in the original film). This version features a ton of writhing, sexual, and sweating dancers, all heaving to music as lightning depicts it as an orgy sans the sex. Meanwhile the alleged family resort features an oddly placed performance by Segal’s character, who gives a very sexually charged performance of “Fever” for the families in the resort. It’s just so baffling to watch, and I sat with mouth agape the entire time. What was Billy Dee Williams doing in this?
Why did the parents get such a huge emphasis? What happened to Baby and Johnny in the end that caused them to split up in the finale and go without contact for so many years? As a show of how rushed this production was, when we first see Baby Houseman in this version, it’s 1975 and she is in New York. She then approaches a sign for the Broadway musical “Dirty Dancing” and behind is some of the worst green screen insertion of New York City I’ve ever seen. I guess they were hell bent on showing Baby in 1975 New York, but I’ve literally seen better green screen in local news broadcasts. To add to the all the pointless filler and rambling sub-plots, the cast look bored from beginning to end, with Abigail Breslin painfully miscast in the role of Baby.
Not only is she awkward most of the time, but completely unbelievable as a conservative princess who blossoms in to her own person over the course of a summer. Colt Prattes is also by no means a new Patrick Swayze, as he has nothing on the role the late Swayze perfected. He still looks way too old while seducing Baby Houseman, and he has zero chemistry with Breslin. The two are supposed to light up the screen as woefully mismatched individuals, but here Breslin and Prattes seem to go through the motions and mumble through most of their dialogue. To make things worse, the producers completely botch the entire nostalgia aesthetic of the narrative while also destroying the inherent spirit and heart of Baby’s character. The whole movie is about Baby Houseman, a feminist in the sixties who has her principles boinked out of her by sexy Johnny Castle one summer at an upscale resort.
When we meet Baby in this version, she’s reading the “Feminine Mystique” and is lecturing her sister Lisa who wants to strap down with kids and a husband. Over the course of the summer, Lisa finds love with an African American performer, while Baby falls for Johnny. In the finale, Baby doesn’t just become an object for Johnny, but in the epilogue, when Johnny and Baby re-unite, we see Baby is now the very cliché she mocked. She has a husband and a small daughter, and loyally walks off with her family after some loving glances with her old lover. It not only completely contradicts the entire narrative, but feels like ABC tacked it on just to please families after all the events involving teen sex, abortion, and interracial love.
I can imagine all the middle aged parents at home: “Oh good, Baby is a mommy and a wife now, good she finally settled down, she’s not a hussy. I liked this version.” To top it all off, not only do the writers destroy the original narrative in their wake, but only stage the goofy prologue and epilogue for the sake of ripping off “La La Land.” I’m still not entirely sure why we needed an epic TV remake of “Dirty Dancing.” In an age where networks are staging live productions of classic films and musicals (all with hit or miss results), “Dirty Dancing” is one giant botched production. It loses everything fun and silly about the original film in favor of a quick cash in on a trend.
Just spare yourself the time, and check out the original “Dirty Dancing” once again.