This month we both celebrate and mourn the end of summer by giving our brains a break. Apparently that means ripping our own hearts out and dragging them along the ground because that is approximately the ease with which I objectively approached the beautiful dream that is this classic. Objectivity is overrated anyway.
Where to Watch:
Please borrow my copy if you’ve never watched this because it hurts my heart to think about knowing anyone who hasn’t seen this movie
For the love of all that is holy, please stop and watch this damn movie. I’ll make you popcorn. Actually, I think I’m out of popcorn.
The Uncondensed Version:
It’s 1963 and Baby is off to the swanky summer resort where her family stays every year. (Or, you know, the ‘80s version of the ‘60s because so many of the hairstyles/songs are completely anachronistic but IDGAF.) Baby is such a goody two-shoes that she can’t imagine any man as great as her dad (vomit). That is, until…okay, not yet. NOT. YET.
We need a teensy bit more set up. Baby has her future mapped out: she’ll study the economics of developing countries at Mt. Holyoke, then join the Peace Corp and save the world. Her heart is in the right place, but she’s so idealistic it hurts. Also really bad at dancing, which is unfortunate because it seems like the only activity available besides wandering around at night wearing a knitted sweater.
Baby’s father keeps setting her up with dick-bag Ivy League types whose self-confidence is matched only by their sleaze. Is it any wonder, then, that Baby is immediately drawn to Patrick Swayze, who walks up late wearing sunglasses (inside) and knocks things off of set tables, thus establishing his role as bad boy who gives zero fucks? He also does a very nice mambo and has extremely controlled hip movements, which doesn’t hurt.
So Swayze’s character is named Johnny Castle, which I just hate. It sounds like the name of a White Castle knock-off, doesn’t it?
But I digress. After several evenings of wandering around, Baby finally gets into the cool kids club by famously carrying a melon. As it turns out, what the cool kids do all night is practice some rather risqué dance moves in the ‘60s version of a rave/hotbed of sin. The most valuable piece of intel Baby gathers is that Swayze is NOT dating his super gorgeous dance partner, Penny. And that his hips are magical.
Baby continues to dodge sleaze balls and participate in the resort’s tacky entertainment until one night she finds Penny crying alone in the kitchen. Baby has a good excuse to track down Swayze and learns that Penny is pregnant. Who’s the baby daddy? Not Swayze, contrary to literally every single person’s assumptions. It’s actually the creepy waiter who is attending Yale and sort of dating Baby’s sister. When Baby confronts him about the pregnancy, he acts like a total dick bag and recommends The Fountainhead. Honestly the complete embodiment of being a dick bag.
With no alternative, Baby asks her father for the money needed for Penny’s abortion, supplying an “It’s really important” line as her only explanation. Surprisingly, this works(??!). I think I’ve just never had a good enough reputation for people to take me at my word.
Of course the major complication is that Penny can’t miss this big performance at another resort and no one else could possibly fill in. Right, Baby? Esp. when Patrick Swayze emphatically insists there’s no way she could. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand cue “Hungry Eyes.” In every sense.
Everything leads up to the big performance, which goes okay, and Penny’s abortion, which does not. Guess how safe it is to get an abortion when men try to restrict women’s reproductive rights? Baby needs help from her father yet again, though he’s not so understanding this time and forbids her from seeing Swayze or any of his crowd again.
…Which, you know, means she goes directly to a shirtless Swayze’s room. And I got chills during this entire scene because not only is it such an emotionally raw scene, but it’s so sexy even though there’s not a ton of nudity.
I feel any further plot summary gets lost in translation, so let’s wrap it up. You either know the rest and worship at the altar of St. Patrick Swayze or you have a heart of stone. Amongst the many obstacles facing Baby and Swayze are sleazeballs, prejudice, assumptions, cougars, arbitrary rules, and theft. And this is all before we’re even close to cueing “She’s Like the Wind.”
Needless to say, I was dead emotionally well before the heart-stopping classic line “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.” Flat lining.
5/5 Pink Panther Heads
For a movie remembered as an ‘80s teen fantasy, this one explores some dark themes. Abortion I think is the obvious one, esp. the real dangers women faced in finding a safe, affordable operation during a time when it was illegal.
On a related note, privilege also receives a lot of attention. With enough money, even a total sleaze like Robbie the waiter can coast by relatively unscathed; he loses a recommendation letter, but is there any doubt he’ll land on his feet after the summer ends? Penny, on the other hand—what will become of her?
Baby naively believes everyone deserves the same opportunities in life and realizes for the first time how untrue this is and what an unfair place the world is. There is a stark contrast between the future she has ahead of her vs. Swayze, whose character will be lucky if he ends up with a steady job painting houses. Swayze also feels completely used by the wealthy older women who want, ahem, private dance lessons from him.
There’s a bittersweet yearning for the past since this film is a coming of age story, the end of an era, but also the transition to a better future. Baby isn’t so sure what she’ll do by the end of the movie, but she has definitely decided to reject the life her parents chose and the cocoon they built around her.
Okay, yes, Baby’s growth as a person is triggered in large part by her relationship with a man, but it’s her love of dance that gives her freedom, power, confidence, and self-expression over (even) Patrick Swayze. Ultimately, both Baby and Swayze learn from each other, and not in the way of weird old Hollywood movies where he’s her teacher/guardian/lover (looking at you, My Fair Lady). Baby’s empowerment actually improves all of her relationships, even with her dad as he learns to respect her autonomy.
Moral of the story: EVERY. SINGLE. LINE. In this film. Is classic and beautiful.
I said Patrick Swayze should be sainted as an offhand FB comment, but I stand by it. Patrick Swayze is my religion. Those hips have performed miracles. (But seriously, please don’t smoke.)