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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Movie Depicting a Break-Up Between a Daughter and her Father

Movie reviewer Jason Bellamy wrote a brilliant essay about Dirty Dancing. The following passage describes how Baby and her father change their relationship during the story.

Baby and her father Jake Houseman
at the beginning of the movie Dirty Dancing
... Baby “becomes a woman,” as they say, in the way she grows as a dancer, in the way she starts to exude confidence with her body, in the way she starts to understand the complexities of Penny's predicament, in the way she relates to her sister and, maybe more than anything, in the way she relates to her father.

Dirty Dancing is, no doubt, a romance between Baby and Johnny, but it's also something of a breakup movie for Baby and her doctor father, played by Jerry Orbach. It's not just that Baby professes her love for her dad in her opening voice-over and then falls for Johnny. It's that over time Baby allows herself to become a woman in her father's eyes.

This, as I've been told numerous times by female friends, can be one of the most difficult transitions a daughter makes. It's one thing to have sex. It's another thing to allow your father to know you're having sex, and that you see yourself as a woman, and that you're not his perfect little girl anymore, as much as you'll always love him.

In one of the movie's best scenes, Baby confronts her father and accuses him of insincerity and classism, as he stares out into the distance, only occasionally glancing his daughter's way, saying nothing. That's a big deal: to call the hero of your youth a liar. But the part that really stings is when Baby admits, “There are a lot of things about me that aren't what you thought.” That's the heart of the matter, and it breaks both of their hearts to confront it.

Later, Johnny will thank Baby for sticking up for him, praising her for her heroism, but even he won't understand what it costs Baby to let her father see the truth. It's an incredibly brave act — Baby standing before her father much more so than standing up for Johnny — and it's evidence of the movie's greatness that her face-to-face admission seems so genuine, that Baby's evolution feels so complete.

As Baby storms off, {Director Emile] Ardolino's camera studies her father's pained face as he bites his lip and briefly turns in his daughter's direction, devastated at his own hurt, and Baby's too, clearly wanting to call out to her but not knowing what to say. It's a gracious shot that you won't find in a lot of movies, and it's a testament to the film's understanding heart: watching your daughter become a woman before your eyes isn't easy either.

It's scenes like that one, as much as Johnny's climactic line (“Nobody puts Baby in a corner”) and the triumphant final dance, that made a generation identify with and fall in love with this film. I can't tell you the number of women roughly my age who remember seeing Dirty Dancing for the first time the way guys my age remember their first R-rated movie. For many, Dirty Dancing was, much like Baby's experience at Kellerman's, a stepping stone toward an enticing yet intimidating new phase of life.
Baby and her father Jake Houseman
near the end of the movie Dirty Dancing
 I have read many essays about Dirty Dancing, and Bellamy's is the very best. Read it all.

In another essay, Bellamy wrote:
I continue to get a giggle out of the film's penultimate scene. Johnny and Baby have just danced their hearts out, and now everyone is on their feet, infected by the moment, shaking their thang. Johnny and Baby are smiling at one another and Johnny says, "Let's go." They're heading toward the door, heading outside to who knows where, when Baby's father stops them and delivers his apology.

It's a terrific apology, by the way, so in character for the principled yet protective father.

* First to Johnny, in regard to Penny's pregnancy and abortion, "When I'm wrong I say I'm wrong."

* Then to Baby, "You looked wonderful out there."

Short. Straightforward. Sweet. Everybody wins in that scene. Johnny gets the next best thing to an arm wrapped around him. Baby gets to be her father's prized possession once again and a young woman at the same time. And Dad gets to set things straight. ...

One of the strongest scenes in that movie is the one at the breakfast table the night after Baby's father treats Penny. The mother is perfectly oblivious. And the unspoken tension between father and daughter is just right. Lots of wonderful little moments like that.

To jump a few scenes back, I also love that when Baby wakes up her dad she doesn't tell him what's wrong, [he] just just picks up his medical bag. Perfect.

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