I knew the Dirty Dancing remake would be a failure just because the idea itself was so misguided, but I had no idea it would turn out like this. This is, in all seriousness, the worst musical movie I have seen since the film version of A Chorus Line. The people who made this should be locked in the stocks and pelted with rotten vegetables by fans of the original movie and anyone who had to sit through this torture. I imagine both categories will be happy to comply.
The events of the original story are mostly intact, including the botched abortion that sets the plot in motion, but that is literally the only correct decision made about this debacle. The dialogue, on the other hand, is on the level of intelligence and subtlety usually found in a Lifetime movie-of-the-week, and is below average even by that standard. It’s also painfully sappy and sentimental, without even a trace of the grit that made the original movie so powerful, and it feels the need to explain every single detail as if the audience were five-year-olds, whereas the original movie gained much of its impact by knowing what things to leave unspoken.
Even worse, while the original Dirty Dancing was not without intelligent thoughts and surprisingly deep themes, its real raison d’etre was its searing sex appeal. By contrast, this version, for all the explicit plot details it retains, feels as chaste and sexless as a Disney tween sitcom. Much has been made of the fact that the characters never seem to sweat, even when they are dancing their asses off or are supposed to have just finished making love. Whether it was a deliberate attempt to tone it down or just incompetent execution, all the incredible erotic heat of the original film is obliterated in this remake, leaving it with very little point to its existence.
The Jukebox score, mostly drawn from the film but adding a few earlier standards like “Fever” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” for the older characters, at least guarantees that the song themselves will be decently written. Unfortunately, the treatment of those songs is horrible, with “Hungry Eyes” and “She’s Like the Wind” performed here by third-rate Justin Bieber clones from the Reality TV and Youtube Viral circuits. Even worse is what they do to Bob Dylan’s biting breakup song “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”, which is used in a scene where Baby’s sister basically solves the entire problem of racism with a squeaky-clean Osmonds-esque duet and a ukulele. I’m amazed Dylan agreed to let them use his song for this moment, and I have to wonder if they even accurately described the scene while asking for the rights.
Virtually none of the cast can sing, but the saddest irony is that, while the great Jerry Orbach did not get to sing in the original film, they have Bruce Greenwood sing here, and the results are nothing short of horrifying. The dancing was supposedly the work of the choreographer of Hamilton, but his work here is uninspired and relentlessly mediocre, and neither of the leads show much skill for executing it.
Abigail Breslin gives one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen in anything as Baby. She can barely dance, she’s an absolutely wretched actress, and she looks like an unusually homely twelve-year-old. Her leading man, Colt Prattes, is an even worse actor (he spends the entire movie glaring at the world in an attempt to seem macho) and an only marginally better dancer.
Debra Messing, former star of the reprehensible Nineties sitcom Will & Grace, shouldn’t have been in this production in the first place, and the attempts to build up her role only lead to a bunch of time-wasting marital melodrama that doesn’t fit well next to what remains of the original plot. In general, there is a ridiculous amount of pointless subplots added to this version, which are either there as filler to help reach the bloated three-hour running time they were going for, or to make sure every single actor in the production had “something to do”. Granted, the original Dirty Dancing did contain a couple of thankless parts in seemingly important roles (the mother, the sister), but that’s how correctly executed show business works. There are no participation trophies in art, and sometimes you just have to take on an unrewarding role for a paycheck. That’s reality, and given that the alternative is adding this kind of irrelevant padding to every single character’s role in the story, I hope this disaster will at least help discredit the ‘participation trophy’ mindset.
The only person to turn in a decent performance was former Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger. I have to admit, I do view this as something of a comeuppance for the time she unprofessionally quit the Broadway revival of CATS at the last minute, but I still can’t deny that she sings, acts, and dances circles around everyone else in the movie.
Even Katy Segal, arguably the only talented person in the cast besides Scherzinger, comes off badly here, saddled with a the part of a desperate, sex-starved ‘cougar’ that fits neither her bombshell personality nor her still quite considerable sex appeal. Also, Segal is a woman of many talents, but singing is not one of them, and her rendition of “Fever”, while far from the worst singing in the film, still leaves much to be desired.
By the end of the movie, I thought it honestly couldn’t get any worse. They managed to prove me wrong with a moronic epilogue that was clearly an attempt to rip off La La Land. But that ending worked for La La Land‘s story because it was intended to end that way from the start. Dirty Dancing was meant to end on an unanswered question of whether these two really have a future. Granted, portraying Baby and Johnny meeting years later after having gone their separate ways, while unnecessary and stupid, isn’t a complete contradiction of the film’s message…it’s deliberately left in doubt whether these two will really live happily ever after. But portraying Baby as having married a doctor and become a middle-class wife and mother…in other words, the exact direction her life would have taken had she never met Johnny…is an insult to everything the original film stands for. Whether she ends up spending her life with him or not, meeting Johnny changed Baby’s life forever, and to imply otherwise destroys the entire point of the story.
Before this atrocity came out, the endless string of live TV musicals seemed to be gradually improving in quality, with the live Grease, The Wiz, and Rocky Horror adaptations having good things about them, and Hairspray Live being an almost complete success. And frankly, even the worst of them, such as the Christopher Walken version of Peter Pan, were more targets of scorn and mockery than real hatred. But people are truly angry about this one, not just because it desecrates a classic (so did the live versions of The Sound of Music and Peter Pan), but because it really is terrible enough in its own right to genuinely enrage people. This will definitely be remembered as one of the all-time benchmarks of bad musical movies, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if at least a couple of the live TV musicals currently being planned get cancelled in the wake of the backlash this one inspires. In fact, I have to wonder whether this catastrophe might have planted the seeds for the death of this entire genre…it’s certainly bad enough to do it.