Remaking one of the most popular and beloved movies in the history of cinema feels almost disrespectful on many levels. Going into the TV movie remake of Dirty Dancing with a clear and open mind, I figured that if at least the dancing was good, then there was something to enjoy. However, the updated version doesn’t even meet the lowest of expectations and blows past mediocre to land at downright terrible. The film is slow and dull, the lead actors have absolutely no chemistry, and the musical aspect doesn’t add anything to the film beyond being time-consuming.
The Dirty Dancing remake follows the same general storyline of the original film. It’s still set in the 1960s, Baby Houseman (Abigail Breslin) still ends up falling for Johnny Castle (Colt Prattes), and she still fights the expectations set by her father (Bruce Greenwood). However, it modifies some of the narrative and, to put it simply, makes it much more palatable and suitable for a younger audience. This Disney-washing, if you will, takes away some of the more serious and important aspects of the original film and makes it feel like more of a saccharine version of it. The remake also expands on several characters’ backstory, like that of Baby’s mother (Debra Messing) and father. This version of the film gives them marital problems and allows Baby’s sister, Lisa (Sarah Hyland), to develop outside of the story of simply falling for a jerk.
It’s important for any remake to set itself apart from the original film it’s based on, but Dirty Dancing only allows for so many changes and mostly follows the original narrative verbatim. The additional aspects–the singing, the expansion of some character dynamics, its attempts at being really cute–don’t add anything to the film at all. The TV movie is long, clocking in at two hours and ten minutes, and there are several instances where it becomes boring to watch.
Movies like Dirty Dancing, where the entire movie is built around a male and female lead, require chemistry and an onscreen connection between its lead actors. It’s disappointing to say that Abigail Breslin and Colt Prattes have no spark. Alone, Prattes tries to be engaging and charming. But together, he and Breslin lack chemistry and their interactions are stiff and uninteresting. There’s nothing inspiring about watching them together, and by the time the finale rolls around, you will have stopped caring about them completely.
Breslin is completely miscast as Baby. Throughout the TV movie, she seems uncomfortable in her role and doesn’t really seem to be trying at all. The final dance scene (which is meant to be the highlight of the movie) is utterly painful to watch because the dancing isn’t performed well. Her character is supposed to carry the entire film, but Breslin’s portrayal doesn’t exude any of the personality traits that made Baby such a memorable character and it shows in every scene she’s in. It’s a sad thing to witness knowing her past roles in Little Miss Sunshine and August: Osage County, just to name a few. Breslin has proven her capability to do well, but, while the script for Dirty Dancing certainly doesn’t help, I’m still not sure what happened as her performance here falls very, very flat.
Nicole Scherzinger as Penny is the unexpected surprise in a movie that has absolutely none. Her character is thoughtful and kind and Scherzinger does her best in a limited capacity. And even though her storyline is brief, Scherzinger’s performance provides emotional resonance in an otherwise forgettable film. Her dancing partnership with Prattes’ Johnny is entertaining to watch and the pair glide smoothly and effortlessly across the dance floor. It makes me wonder why the story couldn’t have focused more on her.
Dirty Dancing never quite feels like a fully realized film. It’s too much of a copy cat and, honestly, it’s like getting a torn up hand-me-down in comparison to the original. It’s set in the 60s, but everything about it is so updated (songs included) that it’s only the costumes that really maintain the old school setting. The additions to the film are tacked on and inauthentic, the dialogue isn’t delivered all that well, and the character interactions are incredibly stiff. The musical aspect doesn’t add anything and the biggest question is, obviously, why make a remake at all? What about the original film needed to be brought into the twenty first century if everything largely remains the same? Why was this needed? These are questions that won’t ever be answered satisfactorily and ultimately, the Dirty Dancing TV movie fails because it’s cringe-worthy in a way that will make you wish you’d never set eyes on it in the first place.
Dirty Dancing premieres on ABC on May 24.