Dirty Dancing / Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights Blu-ray Review
DIRTY DANCING (1987) has always been, for me, a guilty pleasure. The movie that made Baby a household name, years later scored Jennifer Grey a turn on DANCING WITH THE STARS (did you recognize her?), and showed us that real men can dance. DIRTY DANCING inspired a generation. You need look no further than recent rom-com CRAZY STUPID LOVE to see it’s impact… it is dead sexy to have ‘Time of Your Life’ playing and do that lift. That final scene still makes me want to be Johnny Castle (RIP Patrick Swayze. Thanks for ROAD HOUSE) and to lead a suddenly improvised (but totally choreographed) dance break.
Set in the 1960’s, DIRTY DANCING is the story of Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman (Jennifer Grey from FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF) and her family during the summer following her senior year of high school. She’s a sweet and shy daddy’s girl who has never done anything that went against what was expected of her. During their family trip to New York’s upstate Catskill Mountains, baby grows infatuated with the camp’s dance instructor and the way that he (and the other staff) dance during their off hours. Choosing to interact with the staff more than the other children of privilege, Baby doesn’t realize how out of her element she is.
When Johnny’s dance partner and best friend, Penny, finds out that she is pregnant, Baby lies to her father to get money for an illegal abortion and offers to fill in as Johnny’s dance partner. As her dance lessons begin in earnest, Baby and Johnny fall in love as they both lose themselves in the dance routine. But everything falls apart when Penny becomes very ill following the abortion. Baby goes to her father (the incomparable Jerry Orbach most recently from LAW & ORDER) and is forced to admit what she has been doing.
The movie glosses over some fairly serious subjects with little discussion. While this keeps the pace moving fairly well, it also takes away the weight of many of the situations, leaving us caring little for anything outside of the central love story. This means that some of the main actors (including the aforementioned Orbach) with few scenes to command. With the strengths they had, I’m surprised they made some of these choices but they do serve to enhance the central theme of the story.
The fun of DIRTY DANCING is in watching our heroine willfully give up her innocence for love. It could be (and usually is) more painful than what is presented here, and while at times monotonous DIRTY DANCING hits that note with passion. It wouldn’t work at all without the commitment of the stars. Jennifer Grey is fantastic as the awkwardly sultry Baby. Patrick Swayze gives a fine, if somewhat wooden, performance when delivering his lines but comes to life when he’s dancing.
DIRTY DANCING: HAVANA NIGHTS (2004) suffers many of the same issues as its predecessor but generally doesn’t achieve the promise of the original. Set in Havana, Cuba in 1958 (prior to the US embargo and Castro’s rule), this film gives us little in the way of originality. Essentially the exact same premise as the first film but with a political instead of socio-economic conflict at the heart of this romantic drama, HAVANA NIGHTS is, nonetheless, considerably more fun than I expected.
The Miller family leaves for Cuba so the father can take a high up position and live in leisure. But shortly after they arrive, shy Daddy’s girl Katey (Romola Garai from ATONEMENT) succumbs to the charms of their beautiful adopted city. But instead of loving the transported American life (living in hotels, partying and playing with American boys), Katey finds much to love in the actual city and the people who have lived their entire lives there. Many other parallels tie this film to the original, including the falseness of the people Katey’s family trusts (including the Bosses’ son), the “I’m-not-bad-I’m-just-drawn-that-way” appeal (a la Jessica Rabbit) of the male lead, and the importance of dance to the story of lost innocence.
Katey starts to fall for the easy charm of hotel staff Javier Suarez (Diego Luna from CONTRABAND and the upcoming ELYSIUM) and his family, much to the consternation of her younger sister who just wants to fit in. So, when Katey’s sister sees Javier walking her home, she and a friend tell others and Javier loses his job. To make up for what happened, Katey enters a dancing contest with Javier as her partner to hopefully win enough money to keep his family going. This is where the movie, like the original, picks up steam and becomes a real joy to watch. Despite not being ‘real’ dancers prior to this film, Romola Garai and Diego Luna portray a stiffness and casual ease about them, respectively, that is believable and fun.
When compared to the original, which is impossible to ignore (especially when they are packaged together), DIRTY DANCING: HAVANA NIGHTS is simply inferior. This despite the fact that Garai and Luna are actually more authentic in their delivery than Grey and Swayze… but they simply do not measure up to the monster that the original has become. Even though there are some great moments and this is a decent supplement to the first film, I cannot in good faith recommend it. But, if you decide to invest in the DIRTY DANCING 2-DISC COLLECTION, I think the sequel might surprise you with its charm.
Video: (1080p, 1.78:1 Widescreen) The video on DIRTY DANCING: HAVANA NIGHTS was well presented and must more crisp on the DIRTY DANCING DISC. This results in an uneven presentation for the DIRTY DANCING 2-DISC COLLECTION. Adequate.
Audio: (English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio) The audio is vastly important on a disc like this and it is delivered competently (but that’s about as much as can be said for it) and really gives an audio flare to the Cuban world of DIRTY DANCING: HAVANA NIGHTS.
The blu-ray included in the DIRTY DANCING 2-DISC COLLECTION is thankfully the same extras-packed disc included in the super-edition released early this year, DIRTY DANCING (Blu-Ray Limited Keepsake Edition) which you can find reviewed at the above link. The only features not included in the on the DIRTY DANCING Blu-ray were the commemorative booklet and the digital copy.
Audio Commentary with Choreographer JoAnn Jansen and Producer Sarah Green (01:26:13) DIRTY DANCING: HAVANA NIGHTS is based on Ms. Jansen’s actual life. There is some interesting information here both about the film and about the political backdrop of the film and how it came together. Interestingly, both have great things to share and Jansen’s love of the story (and how well it is portrayed) shines through and makes this commentary more compelling than the actual film.
Multi-Angle Dance Sequences The viewer chooses the angle for two of the dance sequences featured in DIRTY DANCING: HAVANA NIGHTS (similar to the option on the first disc of the DIRTY DANCING 2-DISC COLLECTION). This is pretty cool but the slight hiccup/pause every time you select an angle really takes you out of it.
Deleted Scenes 10 scenes that were cut from DIRTY DANCING: HAVANA NIGHTS are presented here. Several of them serve to provide more scenes with Katey and her family, and are reasonably interesting. However, as is often the case, none of the scenes are truly compelling and they would have slowed down the pace considerably.
Baila! Building the Dance: A Dance Piece (11:00) The cast and crew talk about their process of learning all of the dance pieces and preparing the actors for their roles. This is a short but interesting look into the film process. It worked, because at least the dancing looked effortless in DIRTY DANCING: HAVANA NIGHTS.
Inside DIRTY DANCING: HAVANA NIGHTS (23:48) At age 15, choreographer JoAnn Jansen came to Cuba at the time of DIRTY DANCING: HAVANA NIGHTS. I’m thankful to hear that some of the crew feel like this WAS a kind of remake – I think that’s a more honest assessment of the film than the way that it is portrayed as an independent film in a series. Pretty decent, if you like the ‘making-of’ featurettes on so many discs you will enjoy this one.
Yerba Buena Music Video (03:18) A music video for one of the pieces from DIRTY DANCING: HAVANA NIGHTS… they chose to use music with a more modern flair but it feels right for the time and the backdrop of the film.