Patrick Swayze's Dirty Dancing is in the top ten most-watched movies on Paramount+.
When Patrick Swayze died at the tragically young age of 57 in 2009, cinema lost one of its great modern icons. Perhaps more than any actor of the 1980s, Swayze radiated sincerity, gentleness, masculinity, danger, comedy, and sex appeal all at once; he could face off against Keanu Reeves, pester Whoopi Goldberg even after death, and seduce an entire generation of women with his dance moves. The movie responsible for the latter, Dirty Dancing, is currently experiencing a revival of interest and is in the top ten most-watched movies on Paramount+.
Dirty Dancing stars Patrick Swayze as Johnny Castle, a dance instructor at a Catskills summer resort in the summer of 1963, where he is the (understandable) object of lust for every woman in a five-thousand-yard radius. But the POV character of the movie is Frances “Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey), a 17-year-old vacationing with her family and learning about the world over the course of the summer. Plus, as you might expect, she and Patrick Swayze fall in love and perform some iconic dance scenes.
While Dirty Dancing is primarily remembered in pop culture for lines like “nobody puts Baby in a corner” and that scene where Patrick Swayze has the time of his life by lifting Jennifer Grey above his head, it is a far darker and more complex film than one might expect. It was released in 1987, deep in the Baby Boomer nostalgia kick that produced the ensemble drama The Big Chill and Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams, but it does not have the rosy view of the latter.
Dirty Dancing is a coming-of-age story for Jennifer Grey and a romance for the ages with Patrick Swayze, but the actual plot revolves around the fierce class divide at the resort, an unwanted pregnancy, and a horrific back-alley abortion subplot that the filmmakers chose over the corporate sponsorship of Clearasil. Screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein based the movie on her own childhood experiences and later explained she deliberately built the story so the abortion could not be removed without the movie breaking down entirely. If there is no unwanted pregnancy and plans for abortion, there is no reason for Jennifer Grey to sub in as Patrick Swayze’s dance partner, and thus no reason for them to spend time together and fall in love.
Dirty Dancing is a candy-coated movie with a bitter center. The soft romance of Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, along with a soundtrack of 1980s hits and retro-classics, lull audiences into thinking the movie is a fun, sexy romp, only to realize this is a movie about abuse, poverty, classism, and the barbarism women are presented to when abortion is illegal. In that, Dirty Dancing is a true marvel.
However, it should also not be dismissed that Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey (who was 26 playing 17, making the romance with her 34-year-old co-star a bit less creepy) are at the absolute peak of their beauty. Dirty Dancing somehow manages to have it both ways, giving us both a look at the past that is utterly dreamy and a harsh reminder of things that should not be forgotten.