They're Remaking "Dirty Dancing," and That Sound You Hear is My Inner Preadolescent Girl Weeping Inconsolably

Don't do this to me, Hollywood.

Aug 11, 2011 at 4:02pm | Leave a comment

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Yeah, they’re remaking everything these days. They’ve remade "Conan The Barbarian"! I just saw the trailer for it this weekend. Conan! What is best in life? To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women .... and the internet criticisms of OG movie fans, am I right?

Speaking of the lamentations of women, Zack Snyder, easily my most-despised living director (seriously, I have a wonderful fantasy of assembling a band of angry ladies to beat him to unconsciousness with vagina pillows) (technically those are vulva pillows, I guess), is remaking Superman. This is especially hilarious because THEY JUST REMADE SUPERMAN in 2006.

It’s like Hollywood can’t even wait for the corpse to get cold anymore. What’s next? Is it too soon to reboot Harry Potter? What about "Battleship Potemkin"? That's ripe for a redux. Or "Weekend at Bernie’s"? 

Most of the current crop of remakes don’t really bother me. Remakes will always happen, as reviving a recognizable franchise seems to be the only fully reliable way to turn a profit in that industry. I get it.

But then ... then they came for "Dirty Dancing." The impending remake was announced by Lionsgate just this past Monday, with Kenny Ortega -- the original film's choreographer, and also the man responsible for "High School Musical" (not to mention "Newsies"!) -- set to direct.

Now, I don’t think of myself as a romance-enjoying kind of lady. I am kidding myself, because we all know that is a total lie. Nevertheless, I recently re-watched "Dirty Dancing" for the first time in years,  and I was shocked by two things.

For one, I can basically recite this whole movie, y’all. Word for word. I can ACT it OUT. If there were a Rocky-Horror-Picture-Show-style shadowcast of "Dirty Dancing," I COULD PLAY ALL THE ROLES. In the scene where Baby is all “I did it for nothing!” I KNOW HOW MANY STEPS SHE TAKES WHEN SHE PACES ACROSS THE ROOM. I have been living my life with all this information taking up space in my brain, and I didn’t even know it, until I saw it again.

But what also impressed me about watching "Dirty Dancing" 20 years later was the story’s surprising depth. As a kid, I didn’t think too deeply about thematic elements -- I was in it for Johnny Castle’s shiny black pants -- but this film actually has a whole lot to say about socioeconomic class, gender roles, sexual liberation and the social upheaval of the period. It also deals frankly with illegal abortion -- the only kind that existed in 1963. Frances Baby Houseman is a vividly drawn, nuanced character, a heroine who is Jewish, smart, not traditionally beautiful, politically savvy and possessed of a self-confidence and willingness to take risks that is frankly inspiring.

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PLUS: there are Johnny Castle’s shiny black pants. And him in them. There is that part during the final dance where he beckons her onstage, and..... this is where I just give a long, lingering sigh. Yeah.

I never saw "Dirty Dancing" in a theater. It was rather one of the first movies I owned on VHS tape. I watched it with friends, and I watched it alone. I couldn’t even tell you how many times I saw it between the ages of 12 and 18. Enough, apparently, that it created a sort of muscle memory attached to every scene.

I’d argue that a successful remake of this film is basically impossible. For one, no one will ever be able to say “Nobody puts Baby in a corner” ever again in seriousness. That ship has sailed.

For another, any film made today that depicted a similarly unflinching perspective on what happens when abortion is illegal would get boycotted like whoa. I actually wonder how a remake will deal with the abortion issue -- will it gloss over it? Will it turn Penny into a tragic victim with no agency of her own? Worse, will it turn Penny into a slut whose abortion-based injury is her well-deserved punishment?

Even without the controversial subject matter, there isn’t an actor alive who could replace Patrick Swayze (and his damn fine ass) in the role of Johnny Castle. Sorry boys, you will never reproduce that Swayze magic.

Am I being unfair? Perhaps. It may be possible for such a remake to affect a new generation as deeply as the original did me, even if I don’t understand it. But I do wish the kids who would go see a remake would also take time to watch the original. That final lift? Come ON. The whole cast of Glee could sing “Rainbow Connection” -- my worst tearjerker song EVER -- and it ain’t never gonna make me cry like that final dance scene does. I guess I’m just old school.