Review: 'Dirty Dancing' Remake Is Less About Dancing, More About Singing -- Let's Break It Down!
By Desiree Murphy
Nobody should make a Dirty Dancing reboot…
But if you're going to, do it right.
Before you read any further, know that I really did try to give ABC's musical adaptation a chance, I did. There have been plenty of remakes of classical hits over the past few years -- some which were not so great, but others, like Grease: Live, that were wonderfully done and satisfied almost all of the viewers who tuned in. Of course, whenever you hear the news that one of your favorite movies of ALL TIME is going to be remade, there's that moment of excitement -- "Yes! I am pumped for this!" -- followed by fear -- "Wait, what if this goes terribly wrong?"
So after hearing who would take on the beloved roles of Patrick Swayze's Johnny Castle (newcomer Colt Prattes) and Jennifer Grey's Baby Houseman (Little Miss Sunshine herself, Abigail Breslin), I told myself I wasn't going to judge the casting until I actually watched the film. But I'll admit it, that didn't stop me from immediately doing a deep dive of Prattes' Instagram (fun fact - he once danced for Pink and yes, he does have a six-pack) and researching Breslin's prior dance experience (in case you were wondering, she doesn't have any. Uh, what?).
According to a press release, the remake is described as a "special three-hour filmed musical event" that features the story from the 1987 romantic drama "told from a fresh perspective, diving deeper into the iconic characters, showcasing their progression and tackling social themes like race, women's rights and the socio-economic division in the country at that time."
Knowing that information, I also told myself I was going to watch the reboot with an open mind. I decided that the only way to properly review and write a scene-by-scene comparison of the original to the remake, however, was to grab a bottle of rosé and watch both films back-to-back. The verdict? I can't tell you how many times I said out loud, to myself in my apartment, "What. The. F**k?" or "No, just no." But then there were other times where I thought, "Alright. I see what they are trying to do here," or "Cool, that part maybe kinda sorta worked."
So here you have it, the best and worst moment from the remake, ranked from "OK, this wasn't that bad" to "WTF."
Hands down, the actress who stayed most true to character in this reboot is Nicole Scherzinger, who portrays Penny Rivera (the original Penny Johnson was played by Cynthia Rhodes).
The Pussycat Dolls singer is no stranger to the dance floor, and it was evident whenever she appeared onscreen. She was able to not only match Rhodes' seriously entertaining, fascinating talent (the tricks, the lifts, they were all there!), but she also tapped into who Penny was perfectly.
The complete re-writing of Baby's sister and her new love interest.
In the original film, set in the summer of 1963, Lisa Houseman (Jane Brucker) comes to Kellerman's basically just looking for a husband and she thinks she finds him in one of the servers at the resort, Robbie Gould (Max Cantor). As fans of the classic know, all goes sour when she catches him cheating on her with "Bungalow bunny" Vivian Pressman (Miranda Garrison). But that's not how their story is played out in this one…
Portrayed by Sarah Hyland, Lisa gets a complete makeover in the reboot. After one argument with Robbie (Shane Harper) -- in which he tries to go all the way with her after she denies his advances -- Lisa realizes she doesn't need him or any man to make her happy. Bye, Robbie!
Later, she strikes up a romance with an African-American male at the resort, Marco (J. Quinton Johnson), which brings that aforementioned topic of race into the picture. At first, Marco's father (Billy Dee Williams) tells him not to mess around with "young white girls," but when he sees them perform a duet in the end of the summer talent show together, he gives their love a chance, saying, "Everything is changing. Maybe that's a good thing."
And speaking of the talent show… who didn't love Lisa's off-key, hula performance? It brought a level of humor to contrast the more serious, romantic scenes in the original. In the remake, both Baby and Lisa are supposed to shine as performers, and we see none of that Lisa the writers originally envisioned. We're all for writing strong, independent female characters for TV and film, but her character description is so far from the original Lisa fans knew, it's hard to believe that this is supposed to be remotely close to the same character.
Johnny and Vivian's storyline being brought to light.
Katey Sagal is a singer, so it was only natural we'd hear her perform a song when she was cast as Vivian. In the original, Vivian is an older, married woman always trying to flirt with Johnny throughout the film, but we never really hear much of their story. In fact, she's not even close to a main character, but in the remake, she plays a major role.
The remake takes Johnny and Vivian's relationship to a whole new level, showing the two of them in bed together and performing a sultry song and dance number for the resort guests. When Baby comes into the picture and Johnny has to explain to her who the hell Vivian is, he basically says she doesn't mean anything to him and Baby's just like, "OK."
Vivian also strikes up a friendship with Baby and Lisa's mom, Marjorie (Debra Messing), which is another story in itself…
Baby and Lisa's parents consider getting a divorce.
Less stories, more dancing, please! The focus on all of these character deep dives really changed the plot of the movie, and it’s slightly overwhelming. This is supposed to be a dancing movie, right? So where is all the dancing????
All of this is fueled by a conversation Marjorie has with Vivian about being single. But it's so much to explain and feels pointless to the original story, so you can just watch that unfold onscreen yourself.
Baby gives money to Penny for an abortion in exchange for dance lessons from Johnny.
Speaking of plot changes… WHAT?
When Baby discovers Penny is "in trouble" in the reboot (Robbie is responsible for knocking her up in both versions), she still asks dad for money and help, but there's a twist. When Penny tells Baby she and Johnny can't accept the money, she says they have to because she wants to learn how to dance so she can perform in the end-of-summer talent show.
You may recall that in the original, Baby started dancing with Johnny because he needed a dance partner for a ballroom showcase Penny could no longer attend. Not really sure why this change was made, but it affects the entire storyline.
Penny and Baby's dance rehearsal.
Finally, a little bit of dancing! This moment never happened in the original, but it was silly and fun and not meant to be taken seriously. Penny's moves were on point as she tried to get Baby to loosen up.
It was working at first, until you realize Baby didn't really make any improvements during the lesson - just an excuse. "All you gotta do, honey, is kind of stand in one spot, wiggle around just a little bit," she sang. "Now that's what you gotta do."
Noooooo, that's not what you do. You have to move those feet and sway those hips and win our hearts and make us come alive!
Baby's dance lessons with Johnny / rehearsing the lift.
I think it's important to note here that I spent 23 years in dance training, so maybe my cringing was a little stronger than that of a normal viewer who's never put on a pair of dance shoes before. But I know I'm not alone - just search "Dirty Dancing remake" on Twitter and you'll see -- parts of this felt insulting to those who have dedicated years of their lives perfecting the art form.
At this point in the film, Baby is supposed to be considered a dancer. By no means a professional, but someone who has the frame, footwork and basics down in order to perform in a show. While watching these scenes, I just wanted to yell at the screen, "Point your toes!" "Arch your back" or "Stop leaning forward so much!"
On top of that, there was about zero chemistry between Baby and Johnny. Even in the scenes where they kissed, it just didn't feel believable.
Wait… where's Baby's solo dance scene?
One of the all-time best scenes in the original is the moment we see Baby privately practicing her newfound dance skills on the steps outside of the resort. She's frustrated at first, but eventually finds her groove, really getting into the moves and letting herself go.
There are a few moments in the remake where it seems like they were trying to get Breslin to channel Grey's iconic performance, but leaving the entire number out felt like a part of Dirty Dancing was lost.
The "Where Are They Now?" scene.
Seemingly pulling a La La Land, the opening scene shows Baby heading into a theater to see Dirty Dancing on Broadway. The final scene ends with Baby and Johnny reconnecting for the first time since their summer at Kellerman's. Johnny is now a choreographer for the show, and Baby is married with a child.
Did anyone WANT to know what happened when these two left the resort? I was perfectly happy not knowing the fate of their relationship…Baby + Johnny forever, right? RIGHT?
The "Time of My Life" performance.
Baby was never a dancer, but Johnny transformed her into one, and at the end of the original film, you never would have guessed that the sweet-turned-sexy, curly-headed girl had never taken a dance class. In the new movie, that's not that case and it's disappointing - it's the moment all fans were looking forward to.
This iconic song kicks off with Johnny telling Baby he loves her as Prattes and Breslin lip sync to a recorded track of their own vocals. The singing appears to be an attempt to mask Breslin's lack of dancing skills. When they first start "dancing," Breslin simply stands there, not really trying to move her hips to the beat of the music, again begging the question, "Why wasn't a trained dancer cast for this part?"
As in earlier scenes, their feet are not shown onscreen for the majority of the dance and they seem to be marking the basic steps as the routine continues. Technically, they did make the lift happen, but it was far from exciting and it needed a lot more work to make it look like the one Swayze and Grey executed. It definitely didn't appear as if they were having the time of their lives, and this scene angered me more than any of the others.
Nobody puts Baby in a corner…
…and nobody can say it better than Swayze. It's as simple as that.
This moment was a bit cringeworthy to watch only because it is the most iconic line in the film, and Prattes didn't completely sell me on his delivery. I'm sure this line was rehearsed over and over, but again, this should have been nailed on set.