"Nobody puts Baby in a corner," is a nonsensical statement even in the context of a movie in which a grown woman accepts "Baby" as her name. And yet, when I was 13 watching Dirty Dancing for the first time, I sighed as if Patrick Swayze had just uttered an eloquent profession of love. Even now, watching him deliver the line leaves me glaring angrily at Tinder, wondering where I can find the kind of man who will teach me to dance on a very rickety-looking log. In 1987, Jennifer Grey's tickle induced giggle, Kelly Bishop's brilliant delivery of "I think she gets it from me," and Jane Brucker's atonal talent show performance all came together to create a film that has been making teens and twentysomethings swoon for almost 30 years. It threw together class divides, dancing, illegal abortion, and made a beloved film. And it's kind of ridiculous for anyone to think they can make that happen again. And unfortunately, someone is trying anyway.
Abigail Breslin will be starring in a TV remake of the film on ABC. It's unclear if producers saw Breslin's Little Miss Sunshine dance number and thought "perfection!" but while Breslin hasn't gotten quite enough post-child star screen time to determine whether she'll make it as an adult star, what she has mastered is the kind of biting half-smile she rolls out on red carpets that seems to say, "Tell me you can't believe how grown-up I look, I dare you." The too-cool persona makes her an entertaining mean girl on Scream Queens, and it's an understandable reaction to being best known for a painfully adorable role. But it seems like it would be hard for her to shake off to play the incredibly naive Baby. Whether Breslin can pull of Baby's wide-eyed innocence and (eventually) flawless leap, however, is beside the point. As film critic Jason Bailey points out in his retro review of the film, "Dirty Dancing has its virtues — the chemistry of the leads, the sensuality of their two-scenes, the vintage tracks — and it’s penetrated popular culture to such a degree that it’s an enjoyable enough watch, even for a cynic like me." When fans gush about their love for the film, they talk about Johnny looking deeply into Baby's eyes as they dance. They do not talk about the nuance of the plot. Dirty Dancing has decades of favor built up to protect it from questions like, "Couldn't Johnny just have done a solo routine without Penny?" A remake will have to stand on its own in an age of instant Twitter feedback, and no Swayze swagger to shield it. It's easy to peek into the future and picture the night the remake will air. Jennifer Grey will probably be cast as Baby's mother, hoping to win the movie some nostalgic good will, but will only remind the audience, in rapid succession, that Jennifer Grey hasn't really been in anything lately, and for that matter Kelly Bishop hasn't been in anything lately, and I guess Swayze's cameo in Dirty Dancing: Havanna Nights was good, and it would have been cute if he and Grey played the parents together, but they can't, because Swayze died over five years ago, and everything is sad, including this cover of "Time of Your Life" sung by Justin Bieber. Some films should be left alone, resurfacing only for special anniversary editions and cast reunions. TV producers should definitely leave Dirty Dancing alone.