The latest post in Celebritology’s ongoing series dubbed “Thanks for Making Me Feel Old” is obligated to inform you that on this date, 25 years ago, “Dirty Dancing” was released. At the time no one expected it to be a big hit, and certainly no one expected that, two decades later, people would still regularly use the phrase “No one puts Baby in a corner” in daily conversation.
Yet here we are, in 2012, living in a world where a disproportionate number of grown women believe that the best way to meet a hot dancer is to show up at a party with a watermelon.
I could commemorate this anniversary by writing fondly about how watching Baby (Jennifer Grey) blossom onscreen in 1987 helped a generation of girls feel confident, sexy and really turned on by the music of Mickey & Sylvia.
But I’m not going to do that. Because on this, “Dirty Dancing’s” 25th birthday, I don’t want to talk about Baby. I want to talk about Lisa .
Lisa Houseman, is, of course, the older, more traditionally attractive sibling of Frances “Baby” Houseman who was portrayed by actress and Falls Church native Jane Brucker.
“Dirty Dancing” tells us, from minute one, not to like Lisa much, because she’s vapid and not particularly smart and dismissive of Baby, who is intelligent and plucky and not interested in stupid rich boys, which is the mark of all things admirable in a young woman. And Baby is admirable. Don’t get me wrong.
But Lisa ... well, I worry about Lisa.
What do we know about her? We know that her father essentially looks right through her, not caring to weigh in on such important matters as whether she should perform “I Feel Pretty” during the Kellerman’s season-closing talent show.
We know that the poor girl can’t sing at all.
We know that Lisa’s mother, Mrs. Dr. Houseman, is ready to marry off her oldest daughter to the first seemingly affluent donkey who steps into her sightline.
And we also know that Lisa gets involved with just such an affluent donkey, in the form of Robbie Gould, who is, officially, The Worst. Seriously, look up the worst in a dictionary. You’ll see photos of Johnny Lawrence from “Karate Kid,” Rep. Todd Akin explaining what “legitimate rape” is and Robbie Gould, sleaziest waiter in the history of the Catskills.
Lisa Houseman, whose only form of currency in the eyes of others is her “Snow White”-esque beauty, seems to have just one destiny: snag a guy, get married, start a family and prepare for a lifetime of domesticated bliss. Essentially, in 1963, she’s got a one-way ticket to becoming Betty Draper.
Baby should not be put in a corner. Johnny Castle made that perfectly clear and I think we all agree, including, ultimately, Jerry Orbach.
But hypothetically, let’s imagine what would have happened if Baby had stayed in her corner and never gotten to do the lift that Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling would later replicate in “Crazy Stupid Love.”
She still would have left Kellerman’s that summer and gone on to become a success. She might have channeled her lingering rage at her overprotective father into a career as a feminist activist, or an award-winning women’s magazine editor, or as the head of a non-profit called “You Can Win No Matter What You Do.”
But if Lisa gets forgotten, unencouraged, unmotivated to reach for something more, what happens to her?
Toward the end of the movie, events suggests that Lisa and Baby reach a new understanding of each other, that maybe Baby’s insistence on forging her own path has inspired Lisa.
I like to think that it did. Because no woman should be put in a corner, whether she knows a lot about current events but also can secretly merengue, or she’s the sort that everyone assumes isn’t capable of much more than batting her eyes and attracting a man.
It’s entirely possible that after the events that transpire in “Dirty Dancing,” Baby Houseman did indeed go on to save the world. But I believe that Lisa Houseman, contrary to all those preconceived notions, also might have gone on to do something more significant than just decorate it.