Unashamed ‘80s Hollywood nostalgia is everywhere at the moment. Ghostbusters has recently had a second, fan-fawning reboot, Top Gun is back, and even Ke Huy Quan – aka Data from The Goonies – is helping bring a few joyous memories to moviegoers of a certain age via his turn in Everything Everywhere All At Once.
Dirty Dancing could just be the ultimate revival, with the story of buttoned-up teenager Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman and kind-hearted bad boy Johnny Castle’s dance-fuelled love affair one of the decade’s true holy grails.
So is the just-announced sequel – also called Dirty Dancing – a step too far? Does it risk shattering precious memories of Johnny and frozen forever in our minds, destroying our childhoods and sending us all into therapy?
Well, there’s a few reasons to hope that this will be more than just a case of cultural grave-robbery when it arrives in 2024, starting with the involvement of the 1987 classic’s star herself…
1. Baby is back
In her new memoir, ‘Out of the Corner’, Dirty Dancing’s breakout star Jennifer Grey writes candidly about the painful turn her career took after playing Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman – including the regrets she feels over the nose job designed that was designed to open up new roles to her, but did the opposite. It’s a cautionary tale about the capriciousness of Hollywood to which a Dirty Dancing sequel represents an uplifting coda. Grey is producing as well as starring in the movie, giving her a big say in where we’ll find Baby thirty or so years on from when we first met her in 1963 (our guess: being the disapproving but secretly nostalgic mum to a teenage dance protégé.)
The makers are promising ‘a beautiful story of summer and romance and dancing’, aimed at new fans as well as devotees. Let's hope for a balance of old and new in the storyline and callbacks that’s more in line with the excellent Top Gun: Maverick than the so-so Ghostbusters: Afterlife.
2. It has to be better than the prequel
Despite a Patrick Swayze cameo and game leads in Romola Garai and Diego Luna, the 2004 prequel Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights went past ‘dirty’ and hit ‘stinky’. And the less said about the 2017 telly remake the better. Lionsgate, the rights-holding studio, has been trying to make the most of this precious IP for two decades and will be hoping for third time lucky. And it may just have an ace up its sleeve…
3. It has a canny pick of director
That ace might be long-time Dirty Dancing fanboy Levine. The Long Shot director is behind the camera on the sequel, and is also co-writing with playwright and screenwriter Elizabeth Chomko. Why is this good news? Well, Long Shot is one of the best studio comedies of recent years, with Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen sparking surprisingly great chemistry as an ambitious politician and a schlebby journo who hit it off over speechwriting assignments and MDMA binges – and Dirty Dancing is all about chemistry. And if Dirty Dancing fans are worried about their childhood memories being ransacked well, he’s way ahead of them there. ‘I promise we will not ruin your childhood,’ he says. ‘We will tackle the assignment with sophistication, ambition, and, above all, love.’
4. The setting and music will be oh-so-familiar... only 30 years on
Unlike the Cuba-set prequel and the North Carolina locations in the TV remake, this one will return to the Catskills in upstate New York: the spot where Baby and her family went for that fateful summer vacation. The sequel takes place in the ’90s. ‘I fell in love with the characters (new and old),’ says Levine of the writing process, ‘and the world of 1990s Catskills.’ He’s promising a crate full of tunes, from ’90s hip-hop to old faves from the original. Someone call Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes.
5. There’ll be a (sensitively handled) Johnny Castle cameo
Ghostbusters: Afterlife found a way to bring the now-deceased Harold Ramis back from a final cameo that was either emotional or slightly ghoulish, depending on your perspective. Variety reports that Dirty Dancing’s filmmakers are in talks with the Patrick Swayze estate to ‘to incorporate the actor’s presence in some way’. After Swayze’s untimely death in 2009, a respectful tribute might involve, say, flashbacks to Johnny Castle in the first film, and steer away from any CGI a la Carrie Fisher in Star Wars. Hologrammatic lifts should be an absolute no-no.
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