NEW YORK (JTA) — When I first heard that Lionsgate was remaking the classic ’80s movie “Dirty Dancing,” I had two questions: One, why won’t Hollywood leave my childhood alone? And two, will this update be as culturally Jewish as the original?
While the first question is obviously rhetorical — no, they won’t leave me alone with my nostalgia — the answer to the second is unclear. What is certain is that if Kenny Ortega, who choreographed the dances in the original and was just named as the director of the remake, attempts to re-create the story in the original cultural milieu, he’s going to have to make it very Jewish because “Dirty Dancing” is one of the Jewiest movies of all time.
First, you’ve got the setting — a Catskills (aka the Jewish Alps, or the Borscht Belt) resort in the ’60s, which is where our grandparents (and some of our parents) summered.
Second, you’ve got Jennifer Grey’s “Baby” Housman, with her original Semitic nose and frizzy hair, desperately seeking the approval of her honorable-yet-strict Jewish doctor father, played by the sorely missed Jerry Orbach. You’ve also got uppity, proto-yuppie guys headed off to Yale and other top-notch universities in order to assimilate into the American upper-middle class. Baby also displays her Jewish liberal stripes by helping one of the hotel staff pay for her back-alley abortion since the film was set in the pre-Roe v. Wade days.
And finally you’ve got Patrick Swayze’s bad boy Johnny Castle, who proves irresistible to our Jewish heroine from the right side of the tracks as a good shaygetz is wont to do sometimes. (For more on just how Jewish this movie is, check out the awesome essay from Julie Klausner at http://thisrecording.com/today/2009/9/24/in-which-julie-klausner-goes-dirty-dancing.html.)
The Jewishness of the new film will largely depend on who is selected as the new Baby. Perhaps if Lea Michele, who has been mentioned online as a possibilty for the role, or some other obviously Semitic actress wins the part, the remake will retain some of the original ethnic themes.
Or perhaps the producers will aim for a younger demographic — the tweens perhaps — by selecting Selena Gomez, whose name has also been floated. The closest Gomez gets to Judaism is her boyfriend, Justin Bieber, who has “Jesus” tattooed in Hebrew on his ribs.
Either way, I’ll probably stay away. After all, “Dirty Dancing” is streaming 24/7 on Netflix.