TV Movie Review: ‘Dirty Dancing’ Rebooted on ABC

DIRTY DANCING - Abigail Breslin, Debra
ABC

An ill-conceived remake of the 1987 film retains none of the passion, skill, or fun of the original

Here’s a thought experiment. Take any film you love, in any genre — “Star Wars: A New Hope,” “Eraserhead,” “9 to 5,” whatever — and imagine it reshot, nearly scene-for-scene, with a cast of new actors inhabiting the exact same story. Same location, same era, same characters, and frequently, even the same dialogue. Is it wide-eyed homage or larceny? Let’s add a confounding element: The only thing that’s changed is that the new version is bloated with seven or eight slick musical numbers, where the characters suddenly start singing the lyrics to the well-known songs that make up the soundtrack. Oh, and one of the characters solves racism. Now how do you feel about it?

There is not enough space here to fully engage with what is so lovely about the 1987 film “Dirty Dancing,” an unconventional, gritty, sexy dance-romance that has become one of the most beloved films of the ‘80s. The film, starring Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, more or less stages a meet-cute around a botched abortion, and it doesn’t stop there; set at an idyllic Jewish resort in the Catskills, the film grapples with class, coming-of-age and feminism as much as it grapples with sweaty thighs and tight spandex. It’s a hot, sexy, synth-heavy movie, and Swayze and Grey have white-hot chemistry that contrasts nicely with the measured dignity of her character Baby’s relationship with her beloved father (Jerry Orbach). And you could watch it and enjoy it for none of those reasons, because the dancing — a hornier take on ballroom — is fantastic fun.

And yet Hollywood’s headlong passion for plucking beloved pieces of pop culture out of the past and polishing them with a slick sheen of mediocre nostalgia has claimed even this raw, unpolished gem: “Dirty Dancing” on ABC is a sappy, passionless, schlocky remake of the original, without even the iota of imagination necessary to expand upon the 1987 film. Nearly every element of the film that caught worldwide audiences’ imaginations has been sanded down into an advertisement-ready imagining of the swinging ‘60s.

What stands out most, surprisingly, is the smallest of details — the cast doesn’t sweat, even while they are dancing in the hot summer, or while they are making love in the middle of the humid night. There’s nothing dirty about this. And there’s barely even dancing: The production attached “Hamilton” choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, but it’s unclear what they did with his talents, because dance sequences do not take up much of the film’s runtime, and what is seen is sadly below par. The average ABC viewer can see better on an off-week of “Dancing With the Stars.”

This is not to specifically ding lead Abigail Breslin, who is quite winning during the scenes where Baby is called upon to express emotions. But “Dirty Dancing” is a dance movie, and Breslin, while competent, is not a dazzling performer. Opposite her, Colt Prattes, who plays Johnny, is a better dancer but a far worse actor. The two have all the chemistry of mannequins, which makes their already improbable love story completely incomprehensible. And then to make matters worse, they start singing — a bizarre departure from the mise-en-scene in a story that puts realism at the forefront. In the original film, when Swayze and Grey lipsync to “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” or “Love Is Strange,” there’s an impromptu enthusiasm to the scenes — just two kids singing along to their favorite songs. In the remake, those rareified moments of intimacy become another opportunity to showboat for the camera.

This sloppy approach to the original’s finest details crops up again and again. In the original, Kelly Bishop’s performance as Marjorie Housman, Baby’s mother, tells an almost completely silent story of thwarted passions that is given voice only at the very end. In the remake, Debra Messing plays an expanded Marjorie that lays bare any possible subtext to the character. Messing isn’t bad, but it feels like an unnecessary symphony when the grace note sufficed. Similarly, Lisa (Sarah Hyland) is a brighter, kinder older sister, who reaches out to one of the African-American musicians to strike up an unlikely friendship. It’s sweet — well, it’s saccharine. Wasn’t it a little more fun, and rather more realistic, when instead of conquering race relations in her spare time, she just kinda sucked?

Indeed, it’s a little troubling that while the “Dirty Dancing” remake goes out of its way to solve racism, it also eliminates the Kellerman resort’s quintessential Jewishness from the narrative. Marjorie and Vivian (Katey Sagal) have a conversation about giving up things for Lent that doesn’t sound very secular Jewish at all. To its credit, the film does not gloss over some spiky details of the original — the abortion plot that is central to “Dirty Dancing,” or Johnny and Baby’s sexual relationship. And there were casting decisions that worked well: Penny is played with surprising grace by the multitalented Nicole Scherzinger; Sagal is the best Vivian Pressman we could have hoped for; and Messing and Bruce Greenwood make for a realistic couple.

But for a film that is refreshing in how little artifice it presents to the audience, the “Dirty Dancing” remake is far too glossy. Where the original traded in discomfort, attraction, and heat, the remake is markedly safer and more sterile — like a frosty mirror held up to the original. And without giving anything away, it’s difficult to imagine how fans of the original will not be incensed by the ending of the remake, which tacks on an ill-conceived epilogue that negates most of the power of the preceding narrative. It is hard to find an argument for watching this production over the original. And given how much trouble it was to produce this remake — a six-year process, all told — maybe it’s worth asking if every story needs to be rebooted, remade, or retold for the TV audience.

TV Movie Review: 'Dirty Dancing' Rebooted on ABC

TV Movie: ABC, Weds. May 24, 8 p.m. 180 min.

Crew

Executive producers, Allison Shearmur, Adam Anders

Cast

Abigail Breslin, Debra Messing, Bruce Greenwood, Nicole Scherzinger, Sarah Hyland, Tony Roberts, Katey Sagal, Colt Prattes, J. Quinton Johnson. With Billy Dee Williams.

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  1. Skywalker says:

    I’ve seen a lot of comments on body positivity movements/PC, and just thought I’d weigh in. I’ve spent part of my life overweight, and I grew up watching this movie at the height of it’s popularity (late 80’s). While I don’t think fat people should be insulted, I think the body positivity movement is crap. If you’re obese, you’re not cut out to do certain things–pure and simple–unless you were to get the issue under control, such as by transforming yourself into a dancer/athlete.

    It was easy to relate on an emotional level to Jennifer Grey as baby; she was shy and awkward, which made it all the more exciting when she emerged from her shell as a graceful dancer. Watching this movie in the 80’s actually gave me the incentive to start eating healthier and walking.

    I just don’t see that this remake has beneficial value of any sort. As someone mentioned, there was no chemistry. The dancing was very subpar, which was one of the most interesting/exciting aspects of the original. And as for PC and gender politics-who needs it? We’re trying to suspend our reality in the 1960’s Catskills here, not have all the stuff shoved in our face to fit a modern age.

    The epilogue they added to the end was insane, and complete garbage. I watched this remake out of curiosity, but if there is an official Dirty Dancing “canon”, I don’t consider this part of it in any way.

  2. Gina says:

    This was a horrible remake. It was hard to stay interested. Abigail Breslin was sweet but is not a dancer and zero chemistry. Debra Messing was an ultimate fail.

  3. Chris says:

    I had to change channels after watching this garbage for the first 10 minutes!

  4. Janice says:

    A year or so ago When I read that Breslin would play Baby in Dirty Dancing, and she said she was going to learn dancing, I just knew it would be a disaster. Breslin is a good actor. But she is not a good dancer. Her body build is not thin or athletic. So it does not fit the role in the first place. However, I have seen fat people who can dance – the way they move their body is so artistic and graceful that I can imagine how great they would be if there were 50 pounds lighter. But a person who cannot dance will never be able to make that kind of movement, regardless of their weight.

    ABC’s choosing AB to play Baby is pure a matter of PC. In an era where tall and thin girls got all the attention, those who are not tall and thin deserve a chance too. I agree. However. Dirty Dancing is about dance. Baby should be played by a talented dancer. And there are good dancers who are not tall and thin. PC is bad because it is totally against meritocracy. Equal opportunity is not the same as equal outcome.

    I am disappointed that Breslin would have accepted this role. A good artist should be well-rounded. Even she does not have talent in dancing, she should watched dance performances. Then would have known she was not cut out for this role, no matter how hard she tries.

  5. allakimbo says:

    There were so many things wrong with this remake.

    Initially, when I saw Abigail Breslin was cast as Baby I thought it might be a great choice. I watched the original Dirty Dancing as a somewhat chubby 12 year-old and wanted so badly to be just like Baby–the awkward girl who, through her own bravery and hard work, finally finds her moment to shine. When I saw AB I thought hey, as a young woman I could have used some body positivity so maybe this is a good thing!

    Then I watched…and it became clear that there was nothing positive going on here. Okay, so AB is not the petite, tiny Jennifer Grey. So what? She could still have rocked those dance numbers and been as eager and energetic as the original Baby–but she just wasn’t. ABC never fully commits to any kind of real message of acceptance or body positivity even in the most subtle form. The costumes, for example–AB’s outfits were horrible and ill-fitting throughout the production. Everything seemed to be over-designed as a way of hiding her shape rather than embracing it. Breslin herself looked uncomfortable with herself in the dancing scenes–not uncomfortable with the dancing, uncomfortable with herself. In a scene where she’s in bed with Johnny, the sheet is pulled up all the way under her chin, clearly meant to hide as much of her body as possible. In other words, in a movie about moving bodies and blossoming sexuality, the main character seemed like she was not okay with her own body. Because of that, the audience isn’t either, and watching a romance develop between she and Johnny becomes awkward and unrealistic. It’s not about the body type, it’s about the attitude. What a missed opportunity.

    CP as Johnny–well, no one is Patrick Swayze. Swayze’s charm in the role was his ability to be both the directionless bad boy and the vulnerable young man ready to grow into a better person. And his dancing was AMAZING. He was a joy to watch in the original, while CP is a pale shadow of his rawness and talent.

    The relationship between Baby and her parents–there’s a reason this isn’t explored in the original film. Well there are two. One, because it’s not the main plot and no one wants to watch three hours of tedious sideplot. Two, because the whole point is that Baby and her parents don’t talk about their emotions or explore their feelings. This is what Baby learns during her summer at Kellerman’s, why the dancing and the sex and the expressions of her own desires is so important to the plot, because she comes from a class structure where she is not expected to explore these things. Watching this remake, you can’t help but think–what trend is Baby bucking, exactly? Why does she look for expressions of self elsewhere when she seems to have a family that has no real problem, when you come down to it, talking about how they feel?

    As for the singing…I can’t even. I just can’t. There are no words. Aside from NO.

    SIgh. Watch the original–if nothing else, just enjoy the dancing.

  6. vatka says:

    Instead Dirty Dancing dirty movie…

  7. Susan K says:

    At first I really did not care for the show. Then I stopped and thought stop comparing this show with the original movie it’s not the same. This is based on the play not movie. When I did that I totally enjoyed it. Loved the beginning and the end. They kind of left you thinking hum maybe they will continue it with a sequel or maybe not. People stop with the negativity the actors and actress and cast put a lot into this. They deserve our best. Well done I will watch it again and again along with the movie version. I think Patrick Swayze(if still was with us ) and Jennifér Gray would agree. Lighten up and enjoy the show.

  8. Wasted 3 hours and for what?! To be angry and disapointed! My favorite movie that made me dream when I was a little girl was destroyed. Poor casting, horrible dancing and crashed the ending….. Nothing positive came out of it…

  9. Trisha says:

    An embarrassment! Patrick Swayze must be turning in his grave! Shame on you ABC!

  10. Winston Smith says:

    Spot on review, Sonia! I started watching this garbage with a bias. My bias was validated within minutes. In addition to this insult to the original, people are going to see links to this garbage when they Google Dirty Dancing and think this is the real thing. Sad… :-(

  11. Roberta F. Handel says:

    The original “Dirty Dancing” was an is one of my all time favorite movies. Watching the remake I kept wanting to turn it off but kept hoping that it would improve. Sadly, it just got worse with a terrible ending that was contrived and pathetic. Can’t wait to watch Patrick and Jennifer once again!!!!

  12. michaelene gon says:

    I tried…I really did. But could tolerate the BAD dancing, the lack of energy and general “just blah” of it. No sharpness or good form in main characters dancing. Acting??? Back to school kids.
    Just watch the REAL thing.

  13. Meggie Ulrich says:

    It was screamingly obvious that Abigail Breslin was a sub-par dancer. In every dance routine the camera’s main focus were shoulders and above – when they did focus on her full body her footwork was embarrassing at best. They could not even show the famous, iconic lift in the finale number from the sideview, as it was done in the original movie, by Jennifer Grey, lifted down from the stage by two (2) male dancers and then she ran and leapt into Patrick Swayze’s arms, ALL of which was shown to us perfectly from a side view. The lift done with Abigail Breslin, as was obvious from the front, was so poorly done, crooked and wobbly, it’s miraculous she didn’t end up on her face. Terrible choreography, absolutely NO need to take license with what was a great story and make an assortment of ridiculous and unnecessary changes. Patrick Swayze, Jerry Orbach and Jack Weston must be either cringing or laughing big time in heaven. Kenny Ortega is certainly cringing here…what a huge disapointment. The old colloquialism fits perfectly here – “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.!

  14. Rebecca says:

    The casting director must have been high…and then somehow managed to blindfold everyone else working on the film so they couldn’t see how MISCAST this production was! Jennifer Grey has albeit petite…dancer’s body. She was thin, trim, toned and danced her ass off. Casting Abigail was as far removed from Baby as possible. Not only did she not look the part…she couldn’t dance and thus barely did. She outstretched her arms and stiffly craned her neck back.

    Colt Prattes had huge shoes to fill and for us devoted fans of the original and Patrick Swayze, it was a difficult act to follow. But in all objectivity Colt is a gorgeous guy with a goregeous dancer’s body…and he can dance! Just check him out in Pink’s Try Try Try video (youtube). He’s fantastic! And he and Nicole danced well together…they had heat. But Abigail…she looked 12! It was beyond ridiculous.

    The ending? Why? In the original they left them at the dance and we could assume that they wound up together…or drew apart and then back. This ending? What was the point of spoiling what was supposed to be a great love of two opposites? “Summer love?” It’s not Grease.

    I agree with the writer. This was a Jewish resort at a time in the “Jewish Catskills.” Why throw in “lent?” Why throw in talk of racism. This was a period piece of a particular culture and the goings-on during the summer holidays at these hotels that hosted families every summer. It was a very special time…changing the history of the movie or the time is an insult.

    • michaelene gon says:

      Apparently….there are robots doing business in Hollywood. No original thinking…really, no thinking at all. So….they just take something that was great and re-do it. Are these producers and directors so stupid???? Cannot take an iconic movie or show back. Colt is not a good dancer either….always hunched forward and both leads had bad footwork. Anybody not familiar with the original….please get a cd and WATCH IT!!! You will then, not be left saying to yourself: “What was so good aboutDirty Dancing that people swoon over it. You will KNOW.What will they do next? Try a GWTW for TV??? Some things MUst remain to stand alone forever!!!!!

  15. Ross says:

    Worst remake in the history of remakes!!!! What a disgrace to the original cast. Casting is horrible, no chemistry. Dancing is worse than terrible…robots could dance better. What is with the music? Bet Patrick Swayze is rolling in his grave over the remake of his song, She’s Like The Wind.
    Didn’t like how they changed the script from the original, no need for the added story line. The remake totally ruined the classic for me, What a waste of 3 hours!

  16. Mary says:

    I was there with the original and honestly, it was not Oscar worthy but it was so, so memorable! This version, supporting cast was okay. Baby was way all wrong, too heavy and a guy who played Patrick would never look at someone who was totally heavy and unattractive where he was sexy!

  17. Cathie says:

    Abigail looks like she has Cushings Disease,she was so puffy and swollen in her legs.Not a good match for the original actress. Patrick, God rest his soul, is doing more dancing and miraculously better in heaven,then this remake did.There was no enthusiasm nor real emotions.It’s obvious that the first movie had real people that weren’t phony, and put their souls into their character and dancing.

  18. Sandra Donolley says:

    This was a disaster. From the casting to, I’m sorry to the Hamilton choreographer, the dancing. The entire movie sucked.

  19. Sophia says:

    The guy Colt Prattes who plays Johnny is a pretty great dancer. Just watch him in the Pink music video “Try”. Talk about sexual energy. I dont think he could muster up sexual energy for this movie because he was paired up with a 21 year old who looks 13. I genuinely felt sorry for him. He deserved a better chance to showcase his talent. His dance performances are pretty impressive.

    You cant genuinely replicate the original. However, it is funny that Baby didnt do much dancing. Plus notice how the camera focused more on her top half?

  20. Amelia Marek says:

    I liked it. You know what critics think they know more than us. They really don’t. How a movie hits you is determied by the individual. Your own history. How you feel about it. I think it reveals struggles that were very real to a lot of people. Not critics.

    • Micki says:

      I thought their spin on it was good!! I thought casting was good and their acting!! So many people are rude about talking about the young lady being a little fuller built that still was a reality!

    • Jan says:

      The new dirty dancing movie on abc was a complete waste of time and money! I’m sorry but women in the 60 were a lot skinnier, just look in the year books. The two leading people had absolutely no chemistry. And the ending was absurd.

  21. Dianne says:

    It’s so so bad. Terrible. No other words needed. Your article nailed it.

  22. Nan Vroman says:

    Really, really bad. Whoever casted this actress as Baby should have gone back to the drawing board.

  23. Lu says:

    Don’t know why they mess with classics like this and………..to make it worse, they HAD to bring in racism, WHEN did anything in the original Dirty Dancing movie bring racism into play??????? If you watched this, right about 1:45 into the movie, he just had to go and make it about racism, it’s really unbelievable and totally unnecessary AND stupid. He says “Leave the Little White Girls Alone”. REALLY??? Why MUST they turn a great summer classic movie into a movie whining about racism? Can’t certain classics be left alone without cramming racism down our throats every time, really people, it is supposed to be FUN SUMMER MOVIE RIGHT???? This movie was about the rich and the working class falling in love, but hey, let’s not stick to the original concept, let’s piss people off and once more turn people against each other. Can’t wait to see the next original that gets broken down and completely changed over to make a statement.

  24. Carl Stoll says:

    WE had to stop watching it at 9pm, as it was such a horrible remake of a classic. Did anyone form ABC review this before airing it? Doesn’t seem likely. Some of the worst tv ever.

    • A total waste of money, time and effort on the part of the producers. Boring and badly cast with absolutely no chemistry between any of the characters. The new Johnny was a cocky punk whereas Patrick Swayze never lost his sexual energy and humanity. Baby, as played by Abigail Breslin has no sex appeal whatsoever and looks matronly and chunky, and wooden on the dance floor.

  25. sj wood says:

    Soooooooooooooooo BAD

  26. Neil says:

    Horrible this little troll is not Baby atleast grey was atleast cute this thing ,come on now would never happen .

  27. Tanya says:

    I think the casting for this is horrible. I am watching them dance and their is no chemistry. The girl cast for baby is all wrong. The Patrick Swazey cast member does not have the same sex appeal nor does he have the chemistry with his partner. He is having to try to be sexy and tough and he is neither. The dancing of his co-star is horrible. She is not sexy, her movements are more technically than sexy

    • I am watching the movie now and it is boooooring! Dirty Dancing is one of my all time favorite movies because of the sexual energy, and the perfect capturing of the mood and atmosphere of the typical Catskill Mountains family resort. None of this is evident in this really bad remake where the characters are wooden and unemotional and no chemistry exists between any of them. Baby has absolutely no sex appeal and Johnny comes off as an unappealing punk while Patrick Swayze never lost his humanity. What a waste of money, time and energy went into producing this loser.

  28. Tanya says:

    I think the casting for this is horrible. I am watching them dance and their is no chemistry. The girl cast for baby is all wrong. The Patrick Swazey cast member does not have the same sex appeal nor does he have the chemistry with his partner. He is having to try to be sexy and tough and he is neither. The dancing of his co-star is horrible. She is not sexy, her movements are more technically than sexy and she isn’t even getting the sexy part right.

  29. Cheryl S says:

    Dirty Dancing 2017?? I’d call it “Bad Casting”! A travesty!

  30. Mark Cohen says:

    Regarding this thought experiment: Think Psycho (1960 & 1998)

  31. Dunstan says:

    Another waste of zeroes and ones. No wonder traditional network TV is a yawn inducing bore.

  32. Shawn Dillabough says:

    You could at least have spelled Katey Sagal’s name right in the review.

  33. Albert Johnson says:

    They did the same thing with Grease, and that turned out pretty good!
    Maybe this will be passable also, we should give it a chance.

  34. G Giroux says:

    When are the baboons running the film and TV studios going to understand that virtually no remake will ever match the quality or presence of the original? Of all the remakes I can think of only one that was as good as and actually surpassed the original (The Mechanic). NO ONE is Johnny Castle except Patrick Swayze. Period.

  35. racingphan says:

    But if they solved racism…..

  36. Juice says:

    Whoever is running AC is a complete idiot.

  37. W0NK042 says:

    “Take any film you love, in any genre (edit) and imagine it reshot, nearly scene-for-scene, with a cast of new actors inhabiting the exact same story. Same location, same era, same characters, and frequently, even the same dialogue.” – This already happened, with Footloose.

    • michaelene gon says:

      Here is a “gem” that is an example of no original thought: Roseanne and Dan….the whole family will be back for a season. Nothing new. Just bringing it back!!!!!!!

  38. Kimmie Sampson says:

    Great! ABC decided to reboot, and will probably ruin a classic movie, yet cancels Last Man Standing, one of their highest rated shows. Seriously, Channing Dungey needs to be fired. I

    • Jacques Strappe says:

      Oh give it up. Last Man Standing doesn’t make financial sense for ABC. They pay for the episodes including Tim Allen’s huge annual salary demands and yet ABC doesn’t own the syndication rights (FOX does and reaps the highly desirable syndication profits). The ratings were one of the lowest for the demographic advertisers seek out, 18-49 on ABC’s entire schedule. This was NOT a political decision because Tim Allen is a huge Trump supporter but conservatives live in a different reality where they think that everyone plots against them and their opinions are the only ones that matter.. Sad.

      • Jill Eldredge says:

        I think I love you for saying all of that. I’m so sick of hearing about that show and how liberals and Clinton and the illuminati and aliens conspired to cancel it because Allen likes Trump. EVERYTHING isn’t a conspiracy theory .

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