The Ultimate Dance-Off: 'Flashdance,' 'Footloose,' or 'Dirty Dancing'
Ah, 80s dance movies. They range from good like Fame to crap like Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo to "Huh?" like The Apple.
But three icons reign supreme, three dance contestants so powerful it is about time for them to clash in the harshest arena there is: my foggy childhood memories. Our three legends are Flashdance, Footloose, and Dirty Dancing, so let's settle this once and for all: Which one is better?
(It's Dirty Dancing. Obviously, it's Dirty Dancing.)
Now listen, the only 'dance' I do is bopping my head up and down to Alice in Chains, and my type of movie has terminators in days of judgment, hopefully with parks that are Jurassic. Yet, I can acknowledge damn good movies when I watch them, and Dirty Dancing is a damn good movie. But what about the others?
Flashdance came out in 1983, has a killer soundtrack, and features a great performance by Jennifer Beals as Alex, a young welder by day and flashdancer by night with a big heart and big dreams. Among the movie's merits is its showcasing of several styles of dance, including breakdancing, before it came into the mainstream. Plus, it is very sharply directed by Adrian Lyne, a man who gets little love despite his other films being just as iconic: see 9½ Weeks, Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal – and in case you're thinking he only makes movies with people boinking, even his major thriller is a classic that would make David Fincher or Terry Gilliam jealous: Jacob's friggin' Ladder. Flashdance, in other words, has a lot going for it.
Oh, man, what an awesome sequenc – hey, why are you cutting it short? We wanna watch Alex dance and achieve her dreams, not get back with the douche old guy.
Yeah, written by Basic Instinct horndog Joe Eszterhas, Flashdance's major failings are script-related. The plot and conflicts could be a bit meatier, some racist jokes here and there have not aged well (the only race we should laugh at is “wiener dog race”), and the entire resolution of Alex's love story is way too rushed. Adding to this its mesmerizing dance sequences, it gets a solid 2.5 out of 5 Dirty Dancings. What about Footloose, then?
Strongest. Car Radio. Ever.
1984's Footloose's plot is a tale as old as time: a small-town minister loses his son in a car crash and thus decides to ban dancing. Classic. But then comes big city Kevin Bacon, who falls in love with the minister's spunky daughter, and saves the day through the power of dancing. Not the dirty kind, just dancing. Bacon provides a solid performance. And there's a highlight of John Lithgow playing a strict narrowminded minister who ends up seeing the error in his blind fanaticis-- Which, uh, may possibly be too unrealistic.
On the 'character + actor' front, a special mention must be given to Lori Singer, whose main character Ariel does not take any crap from a slimy, violent boyfriend, and even makes clear to her minister father that yes, she possesses a sex life. She's done the dirty dancing, if you will. Those are interesting, empowering things for a dumb musical rom-com from the '80s. Finally, these elements make a great, dynamic combo under the direction of Herbert Ross, a fine filmmaker (see Funny Girl, Steel Magnolias, a bunch of Neil Simon plays) who was also an experienced Broadway guy. The dance scenes are maybe few and scattered, but the overall package gets a fine 3 out of 5 Dirty Dancings.
This brings us to Dirty D – hold on, let me watch that scene again for the millionth time.
Great, so let's get this out of the way: this 1987 movie is perfect. Seriously, tell me any defects. Is it lovey-dovey romantic? You say that like it's a bad thing. Does it lack the immortal charm of Patrick Swayze? Nope, he's even in this one! Does it feature terminators or dinosaurs? Alright, it's not perfect perfect. But still, even basic stuff like the Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB scores agree it's superior to Flashdance and Footloose, and that's just science.
So you know how it goes: Dirty Dancing tells the story of Frances' Baby' Houseman, who unenthusiastically goes on vacation with her family to a mountain resort. There, she finds out about the resort staff's secret 'dirty dancing' parties and falls in love with Johnny, a bad boy with a heart of gold played by Patrick 'Your mom absolutely dirty dreamed about me' Swayze. The script is smart and lovely, the performances are spot-on, and the pacing and directing are wonderful. Overall, it is a much more solid movie than Flashdance or Footloose, thus earning it a whopping 4 out of 5 Dirty Dancings – or -5 out of 5 The Apples.
… Y'know, maybe John Lithgow was right.