It’s all Amanda’s fault, really. We’re innocent parties in the whole shenanigans.
Because neither of us would have willingly gone to see Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights by choice. A long time ago, Amanda had managed to brainwash Shana into thinking that she was supposed to like this kind of thing. (“This kind of thing” being any teen movie – no matter how poorly written, plotted or acted it might be.) When Shana moved to New York, she informed Amy that Amanda had insisted, “Don’t worry, Amy will totally go with you!” Amanda did this, of course, without checking with Amy, who (quite animatedly) informed Shana that she was horribly opposed to the prequel/sequel of one of her favorite films.
Amy: It’s a sacrilege! A sacrilege, I tell you!
Shana: I know it’s a rip-off! But that’s the point. We can go and make fun of it.
Amy gave in, still cursing Amanda’s name. Now, both Amy and Shana have a great, great love for the original Dirty Dancing. And as fates smiled down on Amy (or as USA managed to program well), she was able to revel in the world of Baby Houseman, her dancin’ man Johnny Castle, and the backdrop of a fading Catskill resort before she had to leave for the theater that night.
Shana: You had a last-minute refresher course. On the other hand, I and every other 12-year-old girl who watched it at every slumber party for five years can already recite each line of the movie without a USA repeat. We should call it DD (vs. DD:HN). Which sounds like an attention deficit disorder.
Amy: Which makes it sound far more interesting than it actually is.
Shana: So we were as prepared as any two girls who have carried watermelons and waited to have somebody say nobody puts us in a corner can be.
As we made our way into the sold out showing, we quickly realized that our simple plan to mock quietly as we went along was not quite what the night had in store.
Shana: Our first warning was the surly ticket takers wearing DD:HN t-shirts and pins.
Amy: Oh, they were surly! That’s probably why he didn’t tell you to go to the correct theatre.
Shana: I wonder if they were your typically overqualified popcorn-sellers looking for a break or if they were hired special from the school. [ed note: You know, I was talking about the dancers here, but I like even the popcorn-sellers looking for a break. What school exactly would they have been recruited from?]
Shana: It would be sad if they thought this was their big break.
Amy: I didn’t feel that they were taking their ticket-taking responsibilities with much concern. They were in it for the hot chicks.
Then, as we made our way over to the actual screening room, we came across an unexpected sight.
Shana: Our next sign of complete and utter hilarity should have been the hired dancers doing the merengue in the Loews Cineplex hallway. The woman’s skirt was about 4 inches long.
Amy: With the cheap CD player on the floor, and hardly anyone watching them. I would have thought they’d have more of a setup – some potted palm trees or something. At first – I thought it was that guy who dances with a stuffed woman doll bound to his feet.
Shana: They offered us the chance to win free dance lessons.
Amy: And there was a woman with DD:HN booklets, who wasn’t all that interested in actually handing them out.
Shana: I think it’s the kind of stunt that had we seen this in, like, Cleveland. No offense to Cleveland. But it’s not like street musicians and dancers are a shocking sight in NYC… though to be fair, not usually INSIDE the multiplex.
Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights grasps at credibility from the get go. First, with the unearned “Dirty Dancing” title and then with its opening credits. “Wish You Were Here/Welcome to Havana” 1950s -style postcards do not set the dancing theme nearly as well as the blurred still photos that opened the original. Lastly, it informs the viewers that the movie is based on “Actual Events.” After checking the official site, we’ve learned that the “Actual Events” are the experiences co-producer and choreographer JoAnn Jansen had while living the life of a pampered American family whisked away to Cuba when her father’s company transferred them there. However, without this information, we’ve determined the “Actual Events” to be as follows:
- There was a revolution in Cuba.
- There were American companies in Cuba, one of which was Ford.
- Batista fled Cuba on New Year’s Eve.
But more on those later. In the first five minutes, anvils of exposition fall so hard one would think the audience is going to pass out from being smacked over the head so much. Like Dirty Dancing, it opens with a car driving and a girl delivering a voiceover introduction. Instead of arriving at a summer resort, they are being chauffeured to a posh hotel where they’ll be living.
Shana: The opening of this in comparison to DD was really, really weak. For one, Katey can’t emote in a VO at all. She can barely do it on screen, but at least when we can see her face she has a shot.
Amy: Hell, Liz Parker’s VOs in Roswell had far more emotion than Katey Miller.
The family is quickly introduced: Katey Miller (Romola Garai) – a senior in high school whose next big step is to head off to Radcliffe. She’s got a little sister Susie (Mika Boorem, who is the spitting image of a young Beverly Mitchell but is actually the younger sister from Blue Crush) who wants to fit in with the already-established cliques of transplanted American kids. Their parents were once competitive ballroom dancers, but now dad (K Street’s John Slattery) works for Ford and mom (Sela Ward) is a lady who lunches – and one who is more than slightly bitter that she gave up her dance career dreams to have a family. (We get to see a lot of black and white footage of their performances – wherein they only show Sela Ward’s face and it comes off like the Strictly Ballroom flashbacks.)
Katey’s conventionally more pretty than Baby Houseman, but became less and less attractive as the movie went on. And her hair kept changing from generic blonde to bright yellow blonde and back – even within scenes. Early on, Katey distinguishes herself as a person apart from the kids who have been living the pampered life in the Hotel Havana Nights. She leaves in a huff when one of the girls calls a waiter a “spic” and isn’t all that afraid to be seen as a smart girl in school, except when a cute boy named James (General Hospital’s Jonathan Jackson, yet again missing his opportunity to make a big break) catches her, and then she apologizes for knowing anything at all. And sadly, the smidgens of personality she has dissipate within the first half hour. Things heat up when she accepts an invitation to a dance at the club the foreigners frequent, The Palace, with James, who turns out to be the son of her father’s boss. But she’s really just playing him in order to get to a Cuban club where Javier will be later on.
Ah yes, Javier. Let’s back up a bit, shall we? Diego Luna (Y tu mama también) is by far the best thing about this movie. He plays Javier, the aforementioned waiter and a boy struggling to enjoy life while the revolution spins around him. Diego simply oozes charisma and each second he’s on the screen leaves you hoping that you’ll get lost only to find him on a corner, smiling and ready to walk you home. He makes even the cheesiest lines bearable, and when Katey stumbles across him dancing among a crowd of people in a square, you understand why she can’t take her eyes off him.
Shana: Let me say that however else this movie sucked, I loved Diego Luna. He had half a character, some of the most potentially awful dialogue ever (for example, his history lesson about slaves in Cuba and the origination of this music), which should have been just awful and pedantic but instead was utterly seductive.
For a film that tries to make the Cuban revolution such a centerpiece, there is seemingly little impact on the lives of Javier and his friends. Aside from his brother Carlos (René Lavan), who is constantly urging him to join the fight against Batista, no one questions why Javier is spending time with a white American girl, or mentions what kind of trouble it could get him in.
Anyway, Katey gets down with Javier at the Cuban club – La Rosa Negra – while James looks on. Afterwards, he tries to get down with Miss Radcliffe, as he just saw her getting her groove on down and dirty moments ago with the local boy. Katey resists, he tears her dress and she runs back to Javier. A jealous Susie sees Javier walking Katey home and promptly reports it to hotel management. It gets him fired. Now Javier, the sole breadwinner of his family, is forced to do something at a garage with stolen cars. Yeah, we didn’t get it either. [We think he repaints them?] Katey suggests they enter The Palace’s dance contest – semifinalists win $300, and the finalists score a cool five grand and a trip to the United States. Javier, who had once laughed at Katey’s moves, acquiesces.
The Beginning of the End
We knew Patrick Swayze was going to be in this. He was to have a cameo, perhaps a quick passing flash, maybe one or two lines. So, we were expecting a cameo – maybe a judge, a guest, perhaps another dancer. In fact, he’s the resident dance instructor at Hotel Havana Nights. When he arrived on screen, the audience erupted.
Ah yes, the audience. You have to understand – we had the DD:HN best audience on the face of the planet. We’d be willing to throw down good money if someone thinks they could challenge our audience.
Shana: They were all like us: sort of curious, devoted to the original, and a little ashamed. People clapped on the title screen.
Amy: And then Patrick arrived. Not only were we a big giggling mass, but well, how to say this nicely?
Shana: I mean this with the utmost respect for my aging drag queen friends, but he looked like he had shown up to audition for the sequel of “To Wong Foo” and forgotten to put his face on. And nobody told him.
Amy: The man has not aged well. And for all of us who had our hearts opened by a certain Johnny Castle, it was like finding out our idols have feet of clay. Which would have been bad enough – except, he comes back. And has this huge new-agey speech about learning to be afraid which Brought. The. House. Down.
Shana: The audience, in a single moment, went from scattered and excited applause to outright revolt.
Amy: It’s nice to have nuances, but each second he was on, the audience was trying to anticipate the DD reference.
Shana: He went on and on and I honestly have almost no idea what he said, because I was laughing so hard that I was literally crying, and clutching you, and trying to make sure I didn’t choke from being unable to do those things and breathe at the same time. I haven’t laughed that hard since Pirates of the Caribbean.
Amy: It wasn’t just you! The place went up in hysterics. It truly was the turning of the tide – because no one would be patient with a bad line or over/underemoting after that.
Shana: I wonder, do you think they got through the test audiences without people being in hysterics?
Amy: I have no idea – I wondered how the premiere went. How could people not laugh at the premiere?
Shana: From then on out, yes, the audience was brutal… whereas before people were giving Romola and her limited acting abilities a chance, after that all she had to do was show up on screen and people started to titter. And I just, it was so embarrassing. Does Patrick Swayze just not realize how bad he looks? How preposterous the whole idea was?
Amy: I’m willing to bet he’s laughing all the way to the bank
Shana: Well, I almost hope so. Public humiliation should totally come with compensation in the high six figures.
It really didn’t matter what happened in the movie after Patrick came back. The couple sitting next to us, who initially wondered aloud why people were laughing after his first appearance, gave some of the loudest snickers as the second half wrapped up. At what was we’d guess intended to be a particularly emotional scene between Katey and her mother, the audience was roaring – roaring – at the very sight of her.
The Essential Sex Scene
It’s hard not to love the deflowering scene in Dirty Dancing. Even if you think the rest of the movie isn’t up to par, there is something so sensual and beautiful, without ever being blatant. Baby takes the lead, declaring what she wants, whereas in DD:HN, Katey yet again isn’t ready to go after what she wants.
Amy: Instead of being a sexual awakening, it was uncomfortable and unbelievable. It struck me as genuine as suburban white chicks decked out in Rocawear macking on the single black boy in their Westchester school.
Shana: But, and I do like Christina Aguilera, but her song is awful.
Amy: Okay, the Christina song underlines everything that is wrong with that scene. They couldn’t find an authentic Spanish love song for the scene? Also, your comment about the earlier garage scene being the most erotic is dead on. Nothing else comes close, and it’s a loss, really, that they ended it so quickly.
Shana: Yeah, that was very hot, and sort of captured the spirit of it being both an homage and a knock-off, because with the film background of her parents dancing, it was both naughty and incredibly reverent.
Viva La Revlonolución
Revlon, in case you didn’t know, was big in Cuba circa 1958. I’m sure all the fashionable revolutionaries wouldn’t be caught dead without their Communist Crimson lipstick. With a good ten or so seconds of product placement, I don’t know if it really drove us to rush out to get something from their new Dirty Dancing Havana Nights line. But who could resist, really, with the tag “Inspired by desire, created by Revlon”? You, too, can wear “Pink Cha-Cha-Cha” nail polish, which symbolizes Katey’s innocence, or “Berry Rhumba” lipstick and express the inner fire in your heart like the one Javier brought out in Katey’s. (Really, check the website. It’s brilliant.)
What Actually Went Right
The Actual Dancing
The dancing was fantastic – even if the “dirty” part seemed a little unlikely for 1958. Diego and Romola fit well together, and their routines were fun and flawless. (Although for a movie where ostensibly the dirty dancing should stand in for, and then be a prelude to, some actual sex, Javier and Katey spent way too much time dancing with other people.)
Shana: My favorite thing about Katey was the sort of open-mouthed look she got at the club watching the dancers. I thought it was just the right combination of “wow, I didn’t know you could do it like that” and wanting so much to be in the middle of it. Oh, and the part where Javier drops his shirt down around his shoulders and pretends to dance the girl’s part was adorable and about half the reasons I love Diego Luna. He’s so… flexible.
The costuming was gorgeous, and much more authentic than Dirty Dancing‘s attempt at 1963 fashion. Katey keeps borrowing clothes from her far more fashionable Cuban maid, and she rocks some covetous numbers – including a striking red halter dress.
The Relationship between Katey and Her Father
Shana: Oh, you know. I thought that Katey and her dad, when not having incestuous dancing moments, had a nice dynamic that brought out her best subtle emotions. They were honest and more accepting of each other.
Amy: I think that had to do with the fact that her dad was actually working in Cuba, and wasn’t a lady who lunches like her mother. He left the confines of the luxury hotel, and while I’m sure he wasn’t elbow-deep in grease, he had to experience a bit of what life was actually like in Cuba.
The Main Problems
The Missing Pedestal
Amy: There were no pedestals in this film. And for a coming of age film, you need people to be pushed off pedestals!
Shana: Oh, excellent point.
Amy: The only one, and it’s a tiny one, is between Javier and Carlos. When Javier says their father would be embarrassed of both of them.
Shana: That Javier line about their dad was great. That scene made no sense, but the conversation was good.
Amy: It was a different dynamic than the hero/youngest daughter on a pedestal – but it worked here. However, there needed to be something like that with one of her parents to truly force Katey to make her break as an individual.
Shana: Yes, in fact, the way that Mom and Dad get up and dance at the end, they’re so supportive. There’s no point to them or their anger. Johnny has to bust Baby out, and all Jav has to do is bring Sela flowers and she goes from calling him “that boy” to being all charmed. Katey’s break with her parents is more like her mom saying, “Go for it.” Baby had to go tell her dad that he let her down, too.
Amy: There was none of that here. None.
Shana: Katey was so weirdly rebellious. She’d run off and go be in a dance contest, but if it was supposed to be about Love and the Dance Revolution, it didn’t feel like that. It felt bratty.
Amy: I think it lost an opportunity to go with a secondary culture clash a la the Walshes in 90210, with the established Americans and their views vs. the newly arrived Millers and their openness to the culture. Plus, there was no reason to ever keep her dancing with Javier from her family, especially her father. With abortion, it was scandalous and illegal in 1963. Revolution was illegal, but I’d think her father would have understood her need to help her friend – especially since she’d gotten him fired.
Shana: And I think it was and seemed less radical of her because she was fulfilling Mommy’s dream deferred.
Amy: It would have been far more touching if she and her mother had a more combative relationship from the get-go. Then Katey, who seemed to have the slightest clue about the divisions in Cuban society, turns into idealist Baby Houseman by the end of the movie – except with actual thoughts and desires of her own. Well, aside from being a housewife in an oppressed Cuba.
Shana: But also she thinks Javier should still leave Cuba. Eventually, anyway. In between she seems to flirt with abandoning her dream of going to Radcliffe for her new dream of, I think, being a Cuban housewife.
Amy: She really becomes a head in the clouds idealist by the end of the movie, which is when Javier starts getting a little grounded in the world he’s living in.
Javier and the Revolución
Shana: I didn’t think any of Javier’s family or friends were critical or questioning enough of a) why he liked this dumb white girl, or b) what kind of trouble that might get him in.
Amy: The lack of questioning is huge. Only his brother made any fuss – one would think his mother at the very least would be suspicious of a white girl showing up, as her husband had been killed.
Shana: The father is very stoic. I actually, if someone was handing out subplots, wouldn’t have minded one about the Ford factory or something. He’s trying to not let the Cuban workers get fucked over. And James’ dad is a totalitarian ass – it’s the metaphor for communism-as-dictatorship versus progressive socialism. And it pains me to say this, but Sela wasn’t awful, but she was also kind of pointless.
Amy: They tried to flesh her out more than Ma Houseman, but in the end, I wish they’d have just given one parent all the motivation/charisma/characterization, since they didn’t seem to have enough for two.
The Lesson in the End
Shana: If you think about what it is that Katey has to teach Javier, it’s nothing in comparison to what Johnny says he learns from Baby, about having dreams and fighting for them. Katey teaches Javier to be more formal, though she doesn’t manage to convince him that America is a real dream.
Things We Learned from Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights
Shana: When based on actual events, the Revolution will be achieved by one or more of the following means:
- a) Being a free spirit, even if it gets you killed.
- b) Stealing cars.
- c) Singing on the street corner.
- d) Dancing dirty.
In 2004, having a revolution is akin to having an abortion. And I think you can reverse engineer that and it would be true for the studio making this, too.
Amy: And the reign of Batista is akin to the fall of the Catskill resort world.
And that if a girl tries to throw down for the last copy of the Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights glossy booklet, it makes curling up on the couch with your special edition Dirty Dancing: The Original that much sweeter.
But we’re still blaming Amanda.
[Amanda’s note: In my defense, Shana told me that she was sadshe wasn’t going to be around to go see it with me and our friend Jamie and, feeling sorry for her, I wanted to give her a nice option. Hence, the suggestion of Amy. I never would have said anything, had she not seemed so genuinely disappointed that she was going to miss out on the occasion, and I resent the implication that I forced anyone into going to see any teen movies. Everyone is an adult here! I believe the words you are looking for are, “No, thank you. I do not wish to see any poorly acted or scripted teen movies.”]