It’s about dancing, sure, but Sarah and Alex unpack Dirty Dancing’s dad themes and there is plenty to sort through. What happens when you disappoint your father by putting his own ethical code into action?
It’s about dancing, sure, but Sarah and Alex unpack Dirty Dancing’s dad themes and there is plenty to sort through.
What happens when you disappoint your father by putting his own ethical code into action? A young woman gets radicalized and dance becomes a metaphor for sex and revolution. Dirty Dancing is, of course, the 1987 Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze oft-maligned “chick flick” that is about dancing, yes, but also lefty politics, reproductive rights, and—if you’re Sarah—imagining Jerry Orbach’s nipples.
We are lucky to be joined in this conversation by our friend the wonderful Candace Opper.
[Sound clip collage from movie]
Sarah: Hello, I’m Sarah Marshall. This is Why Are Dads. Welcome back, everybody! Thank you for your response to the first episode. It was wonderful to have you all aboard the Orca. We fit a lot of people on a very small boat to swim the choppy seas of masculinity. And we are excited now to take you to Kellerman’s, the site of Dirty Dancing. Today I’ll be joined by my co-host Alex Steed and our guest is Candace Opper. Candace Opper is a writer, she’s a visual artist, she has work in Narratively, Guernica, a ton of other places. She has her first book coming out next year and it’s called Certain and Impossible Events. And Candace is going to be talking about Dirty Dancing with us because she’s one of my favorite dad scholars. Dirty Dancing is a story about going to a summer resort with your family and falling in love. But it’s also about coming of age politically, figuring out that your ideals are going to take you to a place where your parents can’t always follow you, and figuring out who you are if you’re not the person who your daddy raised you to be. In Dirty Dancing we have Baby, played by Jennifer Grey, who comes to Kellerman’s- a summer resort- with her family including her dad Jake Houseman, played by the beautiful and irreplaceable Jerry Orbach, as well as her mom, who none of us could remember her name, but it’s Marjorie, and her sister Lisa. They come to a summer resort to take three weeks off from their hectic lives in the summer of 1963. And wouldn’t you know it, Baby meets and falls in love with Johnny Castle, played by Patrick Swayze, a dance instructor at this fancy resort. And because she’s a do-gooder, she gets involved when it turns out that Johnny’s dance partner Penny, the beautiful Cynthia Rhodes of Flashdance, is pregnant and needs an abortion. Baby decides to cover for Penny on the night when she and Johnny are supposed to dance at a big hotel. Dirty Dancing is about dancing and summer and falling in love, and it’s also about disappointing your parents by turning out to be the person that they said that they wanted you to be. People have been asking us for a list of the next movies we’re gonna do, and we’re going to share that with you at the very end of the episode. For now, let me just say that our next movie is A Nightmare on Elm Street, and I am so excited to do it. But, first thing’s first: Dirty Dancing.
[Why Are Dads theme song of the week]
Sarah: So today we’re talking about Dirty Dancing and we’re having on my friend and personal favorite dad expert Candace Opper.
Candace: Wow. Personal Favorite Dad Expert. That’s a lot of pressure, Sarah.
Sarah: I feel like you are the person who I know who individually has written the most material that has resonated with me about just the experience of having a dad. And also specifically as I was watching this movie again, I was like this is such an appropriate movie because Candace is the only person I know that I have talked to about the experience of making a dad out of pieces of dads from the media, which I did despite having a dad who was physically there but mean and distant emotionally so I was like, “I just need to craft a dad instead of relying on this one.” One of my big craft a dad pieces was always Jerry Orbach. So I love that we’re talking about this movie with you.
Alex: Was it Jerry Orbach, like, as Jerry Orbach in everything—so our collective cultural memory of Jerry Orbach—or Jerry Orbach in this movie?
Sarah: I think it was Jerry Orbach as this dad in this movie and then also as detective Lenny Briscoe and then also in a subliminal way—which I think is true for a lot of Millennials—as Lumiere in Beauty in the Beast.
Candace: Is that still true if you didn’t... I didn’t know Jerry Orbach was Lumiere until probably a year or two ago.
Alex: But you knew. You knew in your heart.
Sarah: I think on some level you always knew, yeah.
Alex: I didn’t know until you just said that and then I was like, I knew. I knew in my soul. And Candace, you selected this movie for us to watch, right? This was your selection? How did we come to Dirty Dancing and what is your background with it?
Candace: It was my selection, yeah. When Sarah asked me about being on the show she was like think of a movie with a dad theme. I was trying to think of something that might have been pivotal to me in my childhood in thinking of my relationship with my own dad. I think this is one of the first movies with a dad that I considered a fantasy dad—as Sarah said earlier about piecing together fictional dads to make a perfect dad. So I was seven-years-old when this came out and I definitely went to go see it in the movie theater with my mom and it was definitely—revisiting it—probably way to sexy for me to have seen in the movie theater with my mom.
Sarah: Although, who could have seen it coming, honestly.
Candace: There were many, many movies like that that I saw inappropriately with my mom.
Sarah: I feel like you and your mom saw every movie that came through suburban or small town Connecticut.
Candace: With very little discretion, yeah.
Alex: This movie is dripping with sex. It’s dripping with sex literally and as metaphor because all of the dancing is a metaphor for sex. And then there’s also sex. It opens up with the visuals of all of the dancing. Then we eventually find the protagonist Baby, who is opened up to this world of underground sexy dancing. THEN has a lot of sex. THEN falls in love with a sex worker. The whole thing from start to finish... Thinking of seven-year-old you in the theater with your mom—there’s an abortion. Thinking of seven-year-old you with your mom is fabulous.
Sarah: And what was your impression of it as a kid? I remember seeing Clueless when I was about seven because that was the age I was when it came out. The more adult themes in it just went right over my head and I just read it as a kids movie because I understood, I think, the core theme of it. There’s this girl; she’s a really nice person; she has all these really great friends; they fight; she’s confused; she falls in love; the boy kisses her. You can get that as a little kid. And then there’s adult themes that can be understandable enough to be disturbing, or you can just be like, “I don’t know, whatever.” Do you remember what it was like to see it for the first time at that age?
Candace: From what I remember, I think I was most taken with the dancing because I was very into—I never took dance classes, but I was really into dancing. So this movie and the original John Waters ‘Hairspray’ were probably the two that contributed the most to that. And they both take place around the same era. I don’t know if it’s the same exact year. And ‘Hairspray’ came out the following year and I also saw that when it came out. I was also really taken at that age with the 60s and I think there was an influx of period pieces that was starting to come out in the late 80s and early 90s about the 60s that really kind of romanticized that time. I think ‘Stand By Me’ is another example, although that might have been like late 50s time. But the myth of the mid century being this magical time. I remember having the soundtrack on cassette. I remember being really into the music and the dancing. And just rewatching this—the infamous scene where she’s carrying the watermelon and they just push through those double doors into that room... When I watch that scene, I get chills. Because that scene cinematically was just my introduction to “Oh wow, I love movies.” Movies can make you feel like this when they push into that room and she’s just like seeing all this for the first time. It’s like an awakening for her. For me, that’s like my awakening into cinema as little 7-year-old Candace.
Alex: That’s so nice.
Sarah: And I think one of the amazing things about movies and one of the things we have been kind of reckoning with as a species—because it’s such a strange thing to make this technology and then be slowly figuring out all of it’s powers—is that you can revisit that moment in a way that the character of Baby can’t. She can’t see the exact same thing that she saw when she was like, “Wait, people can grind on each other and it’s beautiful.”
Alex: You know what else struck me when watching it is based on this coming out in ‘87 and we think that the voice of Baby that we’re hearing in 1987 is the person who is telling this story, this story is told to us by a 37-year-old person recalling being 15 in 1965 or 1964 or whatever. That’s so funny to think about as a 37-year-old person. It’s really not that long ago, but it is a real lifetime ago in this context. As she notes, it is before Kennedy got shot. There’s a whole theme later in which the owner of Kellerman’s basically narrates how it feels like the end of an era because they’re basically foretelling “The Sixties” the 60s is coming. So it’s not just from her childhood, it’s from before the 60s happened that she’s remembering.
Sarah: And it also is a story of a great radicalizing event, which is something that I didn’t get when I first saw this, which is when I was 13. It’s also the story of a young, radical—or at least a young socialist—who grew up with Leftist ideas and has a Jewish socialist upbringing, it seems like, and has the sexually radicalizing experience of falling in love with a member of the proletariat and having her dad freak out about it. Like, “Oh, you don’t truly think all people are equal. That’s interesting.” I just can’t think of that many political slash sexual awakening teen girl movies. It’s just perfect.
Alex: This is ultimately about our protagonist Baby and her family. She’s the daughter of a doctor. They go to a Catskills adjacent—I guess—resort for three weeks. Baby finds, through the staff of this place, a dancing underground. She gets intimate with dancing as a result. The person who she falls in love with, his best friend—I guess—they used to be in love when they were children? She gets pregnant. There is a botched abortion. Baby’s dad has to get involved...
Sarah: And they have to do the dance at the hotel so that the abortion can happen, which is so great. There didn’t need to be an abortion in this movie and there is. And, you know, it’s “Penny has to have an abortion the same night as the big dance show at this hotel and there’s NO ONE who can fill in for her despite the fact that we’re in a room full of dancers. Just dozens and dozens of dancers. None of them can do it though. Shut up, Baby! No one can fill in!” And Baby’s like, “What if I do the big dance at the big hotel?”
Alex: And it is very specifically—from a labor perspective—so interesting because it’s not enough that you have money to get the thing done, you have to cover your shift.
Sarah: It directly addresses the lyrics of Phil Ochs ‘Love Me, I’m a Liberal’, which go, “And I’ll send all the money you ask for, but don’t ask me to come on along.” Right? It’s about the journey from becoming a liberal to becoming a Leftist as Baby becomes through dancing.
Alex: And we even see liberal criticism because there is the young man who is a manager and he is a family member of the resort and he boasts that he’s going to go on the Freedom Rides, but he’s also sort of like a manager fascist.
Sarah: Okay, I have been wondering about this for a long time. Okay, so the way that the staff is set up at Kellerman’s—the Summer resort—is that there’s the wait staff, who are supposed to take out the daughters of the families and potentially have sex with them. They don’t really specify. And then the dancing staff, who are not supposed to have sex with the daughters, but they can have sex with each other.
Candace: And theoretically the wives also. That’s not common knowledge.
Alex: And the husbands are on for it. They’re like, “Here’s some money, fuck my wife please.” That’s a thing that happens.
Candace: “I just wanna play poker.”
Alex: And all the dancers are not Jewish.
Sarah: Yes, which is something to me that this movie straight up has an abortion in it and it’s very clear but they’re kind of subtextual about the Jewishness of the characters. They’re never like, “It was a Jewish Summer resort?” They’re like, obviously it’s Jewish, everyone is Jewish, half of the cast is Jewish. We’re not gonna mention it. You have to wonder if that was a studio decision in any way.
Alex: Well, I think we’re supposed to infer it by way of this family being headed by a very, very, very liberal New York doctor.
Sarah: [laughs] Who’s like, “Midnight abortion? Let me put on my pants!”
Alex: So how do we even get into dad stuff here because it everywhere. Why is this your dad movie, Candace?
Candace: Essentially because this dad is the exact polar opposite of my father. Like... in every way. My father was like a mafioso type guy. My parents weren’t married. He was married to someone else and had an affair with my mom. They dated until maybe shortly before this movie came out. And my relationship with him to that point is he would come over every Saturday and take us out for pizza at a place that his friend owned. And that was my only relationship with my dad. Then my parents stopped dating and I didn’t see him for 5 or 6 years and then after that he started to try to come back into my life but it was really weird at that point because I was a teenager and here was this strange, much older than my mom inappropriate Italian man who just wants to ask me about my nonexistent sex life. He was just a total type from a Goodfellas type movie. Not one of the main guys, but one of the big side guys who would rough people up.
Sarah: Like the guy who was warming the car up while someone was getting garroted in the back seat.
Candace: Essentially, yeah. [laughs] And he had four sons and I was his only daughter. The youngest. And so he just didn’t really know how to talk to women, was very inappropriate with me a lot of the time. Not really a dad figure, and not really present in my life. I think I just kind of took it with a grain of salt that this was just how my family was and that was that. I think that I started to think more about the idea of what is a dad supposed to be from dads I saw in pop culture. I think Baby’s dad was the first one I saw where I was like, “Oh. So a young woman can actually have a positive and sort of open relationship with her dad?” I jotted down that in the first 5 minutes of the movie one of the first thing she says is “I never thought I’d find a guy as great as my dad.” And she hugs him from behind in the car. I absolutely could not imagine what any iota of that might feel like. And I think up to that point, movies or TV I had seen about relationships—probably mostly from sitcoms—the dad plays a nice guy who is dopily disinterested in his kids. I think that was the 80s sitcom dad. He’s around, he’s nice, he steps in in the last 5 minutes to help talk through a problem but Baby and her dad could like talk to each other. I think it was just the polar opposite.
Alex: Sarah, you said this thing earlier—this thing Candace does—about constructing an image of, I guess, possibility through media dads? Can you talk about that and how you came to do that? Where does this fit into that?
Sarah: I don’t know. It’s interesting because for me my dad was always around physically and there were aspects of his character that I liked. We definitely have some positive memories, but he just always made it very clear to me that he hadn’t wanted me to be born. He didn’t want me around. It was just like, so troubling to even try to love him that from a young age I started being pretty aggressive with him and fighting with him and not holding out... or not feeling like I held out a lot of hope that he was ever going to be of value to me. Because I secretly was and still am and you always do, but I felt that I wasn’t. And then I went all in for media dad figures because I liked them. So I don’t know. The best way I can describe it is it just guides the sort of things you look for in media as a kid and maybe all kids look for something that is missing from their lives in the stories they consume or maybe some don’t look for that there but I think I did.
Alex: Outside of the fact he is clearly someone Baby looks up to, how do we describe Dr. Jake Housman?
Sarah: Well, I think you get the sense early on that this is a family of four and each parent has their kid.
Candace: There is actually very little attention paid to the mom. What’s her name?
Sarah: I forget her name. She is played by Kelly Bishop from ‘A Chorus Line’.
Alex: Who is a fox, by the way.
Candace: Who went on to be the grandmother in ‘Gilmore Girls’. The very rich Connecticut grandmother.
Sarah: So this is her post ‘A Chorus Line’, pre ‘Gilmore Girls’ career phase.
Candace: It’s clear that Baby is daddy’s little girl. They have a super close relationship. And there is, under the surface, some tension between Baby and her older sister Lisa. I am going to say she’s the older sister. They don’t really talk about the difference in age at all? How old is Baby supposed to be in this? 16?
Sarah: I think Baby is going to college in the Fall, so she would be 17 or 18? So who knows? Lisa gets very little attention.
Candace: She’s just rougher around the edges than Baby is—not physically but in her personality. She’s kind of biting but there’s very little attention paid to either of their relationships with her mother. Mom is just there to be on vacation. She doesn’t serve a huge purpose in the movie.
Sarah: Mom just has no idea what’s going on.
Alex: She stops the doctor at the last possible moment from getting involved in the big dance scene. He’s going to intervene and in classic great silent movie momming, she stops the dad from getting in his own fucking way by being like “Don’t get involved; this is fine.”
Sarah: Also, I don’t think I fully appreciated this scene before—there is the wonderful scene where it is raining and Lisa is looking for her makeup and her mom is like, “So you’ll take your honeymoon in Acapulco some day, don’t worry about it.” And Baby and her dad are doing a jigsaw puzzle and then Baby is like, “I’m gonna go play charades!” And you just know that her dad is looking at her like she’s leaving him in the middle of a jigsaw puzzle to get drilled by one of the dance instructors.
Alex: We know that Baby is going to save the world and Lisa is going to “decorate it.” That’s my favorite delineating line between the two of them. And at some point Lisa says to Baby—in the most tragic way possible that makes me think that he’s a good dad to Baby in the sense that each of them has their own respective paren—when Lisa has no idea what’s really going on but she knows that there’s tension between them she says, “You’re just mad that Dad talks to me now.” And it’s like, holy shit, Lisa.
Candace: It almost feels justified that Lisa is kind of an asshole. “This is our daughter Baby. This is our other daughter, Baby’s sister.”
Sarah: And it’s one of those moments that you realize parental love is conditional because Baby has always been the child her dad wanted her to be. He named her after the first woman in the Cabinet, whose name was Frances, not Baby. And so you understand based on that that she kind of matured exactly how he wanted her to and now she’s realizing, “So, what if I’m putting these political ideas into reality by helping to organize for the rights of the dancing sex workers of this resort?” And he’s like, “No, no, not like that.” And she’s like, “No, no, not like what? This is exactly the spirit of the ideals you raised me to believe so what am I doing wrong? Is it the having sex with Patrick Swayze part of it?
Alex: It is.
Alex: There is a fissure between Baby and her dad. How does that happen and why is it significant?
Candace: Baby starts to get involved with the dance crew, kind of in secret because not only does she not want her parents to know, but they don’t really want guests involved. It is clear early on that the dance staff does not want the guests hanging out with them. So she’s trying to hang out with these people who are clearly eons cooler than any of the guests hanging out at this resort. Max Kellerman’s nephew, who is sort of being groomed to potentially be the next person to run this resort, is this smarmy rich kid and he’s trying to court Baby. And when they’re sort of walking around together she finds Penny, who is the beautiful, blonde, lead dancer who we know has had a relationship with Johnny in the past but now they’re just friends? I don’t know, that’s kind of confusing. They dated when they were kids, whatever that means. Like, who knows how long ago that was?
Alex: 5 to 25 years ago.
Candace: Baby finds her crying in the kitchen and she sort of escapes this impromptu date with Max Kellerman’s nephew, whose name I also can’t remember.
Sarah: His name is Neil. And that’s an amazing scene because there is a crying woman and Neil does not notice her. He just keeps offering foods, each grosser than the last.
Alex: No man in this movie outside of Johnny can see a crying woman. They’re physically incapable of seeing a crying woman.
Candace: So baby runs off to get Johnny’s attention and explain that Penny is crying in the kitchen and we learn that Penny is pregnant.
Sarah: She’s “in trouble” as they said in 1963.
Candace: Which I think I understood at the time as pregnant, even as a 7-year-old. We learn that there is “a doctor” coming into town. I don’t know, is this a traveling abortion doctor? Goes from town to town, giving abortions. I don’t know.
Sarah: Right, what could sound safer?
Candace: And it’s Penny’s only opportunity to get an illegal abortion. We learn that it costs $250. They don’t have the money for it and Baby says, “I’ll get the money.” This is where some of the class issues really start to come in because Johnny really starts to give her a hard time about getting the money from Daddy.
Alex: It’s so nuanced about class because he says that right to Baby’s face and then turns to Penny and says “You should take the money.” He can simultaneously be angry about how fucked up it is that Baby could just ask for the money, and then he instructs that they should just take the money.
Candace. Yes, yes, yes.
Sarah: I feel like Johnny is kind of like what John Travolta’s character in Saturday Night Fever was going for a little bit. He’s trying to be an angry working class guy who then has all these grievances for a reason and he’s embittered, but then he has a heart of gold as opposed to just sort of some nihilist that you don’t really know how much he’s registering what’s going on—which is what Saturday Night Fever was. It’s such a beautiful classic romantic comedy kind of a setup, where they hate each other... but they have to dance together. And they’re connecting! Through dance! And you can see it happening and there’s so much dancing so you can see the relationship evolve. It’s amazing to me how many movies could do this. It seems relatively easy. Have people who have to dance for a reason. They have to develop chemistry, which happens if you have to dance a lot with a person. Great, montage it. Two songs.
Alex: So she gets the money from her dad.
Candace: She gets the money from her dad. That’s an interesting moment too. It’s nice to sort of dive into. She goes to him, “Dad, I need $250 dollars...”
Sarah: He’s wearing an amazing top.
Candace: [laughs] I don’t remember the top.
Sarah: Alex, do you remember the top?
Alex: I certainly do. I remember every one of his outfits in the movie because I watched it 7 minutes ago. Do you want to describe it, Sarah?
Sarah: The top suggests an empire waisted outfit. It’s got a prominent seam directly above where you know his nipples are, and so it makes you think about his nipples? Or at least it did me. And Baby’s wearing this nautical top and they both sort of look incredibly preppy and they’re still united as characters and we’re seeing that through their choices in costume.
Candace: She asks him for $250 dollars. He asks what it’s for. She says, “I can’t tell you. Someone is in trouble.” It’s an interesting repetition of that phrase. “Someone is in trouble.” He doesn’t take the hint.
Sarah: It’s like, maybe they fell down a well. I don’t know.
Candace: And he’s basically like, “Cool, he’s $250 dollars.”
Alex: He asks if it’s illegal, and then she says no, and he gives her the money.
Candace: So there’s a lie right there. I mean, I was thinking about that and was like okay, what does $250 in 1963 translate to? It’s a lot of money.
Alex: It’s like $850.
Candace: It’s a lot of money! For him to have that money lying around... it’s not a whole lot of money to him, but to ask her two or three questions and then give it to her basically seemed wild to me.
Alex: I remember I dated the daughter of a veterinarian once and we were playing softball and she broke her finger. So I called her dad and she was not handling it well, and I understand because any pain sucks the most and she was freaking out about it. So I called her sad and I was like, I don’t know what to do. So he said look in the visor of my Prius, which we were driving, hilariously. And there was $2,000 in cash in his unlocked Prius.
Alex: And I was like, different world than my world.
Sarah: It’s like, oh, then they give you the good stuff. They give you the real medicine if you slip them cash when you show up. And you’ve got to fold some of those into little diamonds and then when you shake hands with the doctors...
Candace: I assume if he was a vet, they probably have health insurance.
Alex: Right! I was like, what... It was such an accidental reveal into his situation that it was, “Oh, alright, cool.”
Candace: Was it accidental, though? Maybe he was waiting for that moment to show off.
Alex: Nope, he was letting me know this was not for the long term.
Alex: So that’s transgression number one. Because he is inevitably called when the abortion goes badly.
Sarah: Because the traveling abortionist of the Finger Lakes turns out to be not doing a very good job. What a shock.
Alex: He has what is reported to be a visually dirty knife. The knife. That is dirty. And a folding table. And that’s all he has. So Baby’s dad comes, he helps the situation, and is lovely to Penny—not to Johnny. He believes it’s Johnny’s baby.
Sarah: And that Johnny hired the bad man and he imagines Johnny to be the villain rather than this just being a situation in which they accidentally hired a bad man.
Alex: Right, and he’s angry about “You’re not what I thought...” AND THEN! 25 minutes in the movie later... I don’t know, a couple days later? Because Baby has to let Kellerman’s know that she knows Johnny didn’t steal money from someone, in front of her father to Kellerman, she had to be like, “I know it didn’t happen because I was fuckin’ Johnny!” So she has to reveal to her dad that taking money for an illegal abortion WAS NOT the worse thing that I did. I fucked one of the dirty dancers.
Candace: As dirty as that abortion knife.
Alex: And so now we have to untangle that it’s not cool between Baby and dad anymore.
Candace: It’s not cool.
Alex: How did you feel about his response?
Candace: Well, so it’s interesting. First of all, she wakes him up in the middle of the night to go deal with the Penny situation. It’s like that Doctor Dad moment. No questions asked. Got my bag in the middle of the night and go deal with this situation. And that was kind of magical to think of a dad that’s that efficient. He fixed it. He whipped up something.
Alex: Everyone was like, “It was so cool to see someone fix something.” Everyone says it several times. “We’ve never seen a man fix something! It was crazy!”
Candace: “We’ve never seen a dad help in a situation before!” I also want to say, and it’s sort of in the background, but dad comes back to check on Penny. He doesn’t say anything about it, but he just does his Doctor Dad duty and follows up and Penny clearly has not had a good dad in her life. And she’s just so grateful and so moved that only did he take care of the situation but he came back and was really tender with her and really followed up and made sure she was doing okay. I guess I am not surprised because I think the movie needs this to move forward and clearly there is going to be some rift for them to have to go through so watching it now it makes sense... and it makes sense that even if you are Baby and her dad and you have a really trusting relationship, something like those class issues can cause a huge rift like that.
Alex: The miscommunication between Baby and her dad is just because her dad didn’t ask her what was going wrong. Like, her dad made the preemptive assumption that this baby belonged to Johnny, that Johnny got this sketchy abortion doctor involved while he was moving on to a new woman who happened to be his doctor. His assumption is that a) Johnny is a scumbag and b) the scumbag is going to probably get his daughter into the same sort of trouble. And I assume there’s obviously the same sort of traditional sexual dad tension of I don’t want to have anyone to have sex with my daughter. But this is not just someone who ha sex, this is someone who gets women pregnant in his mind. He never once is like, “What happened? What was the situation?” It’s the classic parental impasse. There’s the huge assumption, but he could have been like, “What’s going on in your life? This seems like a huge thing that has happened and I should probably know some things about it.”
Candace: And also, we haven’t really talked about Robbie yet, who is the actual scumbag.
Alex: Huge Ayn Rand fan, by the way.
Candace: [laughs] I know!
Sarah: He must have a Readers Digest condensed edition because that is a thick book and he apparently carries it around at work! So who is Robbie?
Candace: Robbie is a member of the weight staff. He is an Ivy League student of some ilk. He’s this rich preppy...
Sarah: He reads very long books! He’s very intellectual! He’s read The Fountainhead! [laughs]
Candace: He’s very into capitalism. Very early he’s courting Baby’s sister Lisa but we find out that he’s the one who has gotten Penny pregnant but like you said the dad assumes it’s Johnny and would never guess it would be Robbie. Later Robbie is sleeping with the older woman who has also been sleeping with Johnny—who has been hiring Johnny for sex and she later hires Robbie for sex and Lisa catches then when she’s going over there presumably when she is going over to lose her virginity to them, which we all know is a bad idea. My point is, the dad is not seeing that at all because we all know Lisa is the lesser sister and he doesn’t give a fuck about what’s going on in her life. He is not paying attention to the fact that Lisa is ALSO about to sleep with the real scumbag who got Penny pregnant.
Sarah: That’s true! He’s not paying attention to Lisa at all! The irony! The fox is right there in the henhouse!
Alex: That’s great! He can only see this reality that in his mind is narratively predetermined. In his last interaction with Robbie, after all of this has gone down in the way Candace just put so beautifully, he’s going to give Robbie an envelope full of money...
Sarah: From that big wad of cash that he takes to the resort with him obviously. The abortion / tip fund.
Alex: [laughs] He’s wishing him well on his way to school and then Robbie very stupidly reveals that he is the person who ended up getting Penny pregnant and dad takes the money right out of Robbie’s hands—and by the way, DOESN’T give that money to Johnny which, maybe he should have.
Sarah: He’s like, “Looks like I broke even this Summer! It all worked out.”
Alex: “Didn’t have to tip that asshole!” Candace, the whole piece about him not seeing it because he has a lesser opinion of his daughter—that’s a... It’s a heartbreaking reveal for this lovely man.
Candace: We could do a whole other episode just on Lisa. She’s trying, you know?
Sarah: Oh yeah, she has so much spirit.
Candace: She’s trying to date someone, she’s trying to be in the talent show. She’s trying to get her dad to care for her.
Sarah: She’s trying to wear cute shorts. She doesn’t know she has a fish right on her crotch apparently even though it’s all I’ve been able to think about for 20 years.
Candace: Maybe there needs to be a prequel to this just about Lisa.
Sarah: No, a sequel called Lisa Dancing! And it’s set in like 1967 or something. There you go, there’s your sequel.
Alex: In the end, in a classic sitcom situation even though the road to get there is much more complicated, everything is fine. Dad sees the way.
Candace: Just because Robbie foolishly drops the ball. Can we talk about that for a second? He says it so casually. Like, “Oh, thanks for the money. It sucks I got Penney into trouble.”
Sarah: “She says I got her pregnant but it could have been some other guy!”
Candace: “You know how girls are,” or that’s the subtext of it.
Sarah: “Girls who don’t read The Fountainhead, you know...”
Alex: Yeah, he just really spills the beans in a gross way.
Sarah: I think Robbie is on his way to medical school and there is the implication that Baby’s dad sees himself in Robbie and gives him the benefit of the doubt and is like, “You’re one of those getting up in the middle of the night to save someone from a botched abortion, right?” And Robbie’s like, “No-ho-ho! Not at all.”
Alex: And the doctor does something we all sort of want regardless of our relationships with our fathers. He owns his mistake and he shakes the hands of the person he’s wronged, and he admits it.
Sarah: And you can tell he really doesn’t want to. But he does it!
Candace: But he does it! It’s like when my three-year-old is apologizing to someone and he looks like he’s being skinned or something.
Candace: It’s really difficult for him and he’s like, “I’m. Sorry.” You know, that’s the moment that Baby’s dad is having. He says, “When I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong.” And just hearing that I’m thinking, “I don’t think I ever heard my dad say that in his whole fucking life.” Nope. Never.
Sarah: No. Mmm-mmm. My dad and I had a fight last week and it doesn’t matter what it was about—just trust me that he was being mean for no real reason. This is someone who claims to be a not very verbal person and he managed to apologize and not apologize simultaneously by saying, “I’m sorry I upset you.” Brilliant.
Alex: Yeah, that’s a good evade. You get to say something but not own it.
Sarah: “I’m sorry I did something that you reacted to in an adverse way.” Like when they hand you the baby they give you a little business card that says “How to never actually apologize but seem like you’re apologizing!” So speaking of the final scene, I feel like this is the only moment in the movie where it’s truly no longer of this world. Suddenly they do this final dance, which is clearly from 20 to 25 years in the future, and which Tito the bandleader—whose relationship with Max we could also do a whole episode about—has sheet music for somehow and it’s just this magical feelings jubilee moment where Baby and Johnny have been dancing for this whole movie and they dance together and show everyone their relationship and then suddenly as the music progresses everyone starts owning their truth. Suddenly these two old women are dancing together! And you’re like, yes, the old lesbians! Do it! Show yourselves! Show your love! Penney and Dr. Housman dance, because you know there’s something there. And so one of my questions is is this a musical? The classic definition of musical—or one of them—is you talk until you have to sing and you sing until you have to dance. And so the characters in this aren’t singing, except Lisa, who does sing a lot. But there’s a lot of music happening and a lot of very joyful music. That feels like one of the themes when they curated the songs for this. In the final moments the things that cant be communicated anymore verbally seem to happen through dance. So! Is this a musical?
Candace: I mean, based on your definition I would say that the last scene is a musical. It’s hard to say. I have complicated feelings about the last scene. I think most of those complicated feelings come from the fact that I really dislike the contemporary songs in this movie. Building off of what I was saying earlier about how fascinated I was with the 60s as a kid was “Don’t take me out of this moment, movie.” I had the soundtrack on cassette and I would just fast forward through those songs. I didn’t want to hear those crappy, contemporary pop songs.
Sarah: I get the feeling that the screenwriter, whose baby this movie was selected 1960s music to go along with some of the story—there was probably some sort of bargain struck at some point where we will have one 60s song for one 80s song so we won’t alienate the kids. The kids can’t possibly want more Otis Redding! And the kids were like, “No, we want more Otis Redding, but nobody listens to us.”
Alex: I grew up with the weird 60s as remembered by the 80s memory of the 60s. But I know of the songs contemporary and not because my neighbors were girls who were a couple years older and I was familiar what they were listening to and I just assumed all of the songs were from the same time period the same way that I had assumed Happy Days was actually made in the 50s...
Sarah: I believed that for so many years of my childhood.
Alex: So I have that weird, queered decades memory of all of this stuff. I was watching it this morning and my wife Carolyn looked at the screen and was like, “Are you guys going to talk about how it’s not clear—unless you hear up front what year she says it is—when this takes place because of the music?” It’s so interesting that it takes you out because for me, it reminds me... it’s almost like a genre. The 60s remembered by the 80s is a genre and time.
Candace: Aside from the music—and your explanation, Sarah, makes it seem more worthwhile than it is... when they’re all pairing off, it’s really warm.
Alex: Max asks Tito, “We have sheet music for this?” Which implies to the person who is lamenting the end of an era that this is not natural. Like, what is happening is actually a tear in...
Candace: ... the time space continuum.
Sarah: It’s truly a movie about the beginning of the 60s, right? We’re being told it’s Labor Day. There’s this feeling that it’s the end of the Summer and Fall is coming. Any story that takes place on the eve of World War I and World War II—there’s this feeling where you know everyone is hurtling toward history but the characters don’t. Because know the Kennedy assassination is coming. This is Labor Day of 1963 so yeah, it’s coming in 2 months. And Max Kellerman observes the beginning of the 60s.
Candace: Or the end of the 80s... if there’s a time in the Space-Time Continuum.
Candace: Can we talk for a second about Baby, or Jennifer Grey specifically. Choosing an actress like Jennifer Grey for that role was so important for that time and I think maybe why this movie resonated with so many young girls. she didn’t look like so many contemporary young actresses at the time. She looked like a normal person. I am basically talking about her Jew nose. She looked like a normal person and it was just her character. She was this geeky, sort of nerdy girl who finds her way into this cool cohort and somehow comes into herself in a different way. But a character like that was so much more relatable as played by Jennifer Grey.
Sarah: I can’t picture her played by Jennifer Connelly—someone with a perfect face who’s been on European modeling campaigns as a child and you could do that and the movie would do really well.
Alex: Could she have been both hot—traditionally hot because I think Jennifer Grey is adorable—but she is down to fuck IMMEDIATELY and I am curious if that person could have been simultaneously traditionally hot and like that in the movie and be handled. I feel like it would have been banned immediately.
Sarah: For me the answer to that is... ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ is a good way to illustrate this distinction. Because in film you have your Jennifers Jason Leigh and your Phoebes Cates. Your Phoebes Cates are to be looked at and masturbated over—I’m very sorry, Phoebe Cates—and your Jennifers Jason Leigh are the ones who are going on an adventure and being like who am I attracted to and what is my journey and am I going to have to get an abortion too in one of the two movies ever made in which someone successfully gets an abortion until like 2014. I feel like if we had a baby that was played by an actress everyone knew when they cast her and was there to be looked at and gazed upon then in the same way Jerry Orbach doesn’t like to think about his daughter having a sexuality, it is like uncomfortable for male filmmakers to project something that they understand to imagine, like, this female protagonist who is meant to be gazed upon having a sexuality of her own and acting on her own desires. That’s just scary. Girls aren’t supposed to have a sexuality, they’re supposed to be sexualized. Not that Jennifer Connelly doesn’t have a sexuality, but you can tell when a young female actress has been written into that role and it is what happens most of the time. Baby is so interesting a character to watch because she shows that you can be desired and have desires if you haven’t been cast by a focus group to fulfill this very specific sort of look and kind of appeal that they have in mind... We get to watch her figure out what she wants and go for it. It’s amazing.
Alex: Why did that stand out to you, where you wanted to talk about her being nontraditionally beautiful?
Candace: It felt really unique for the time as a young girl watching movies and having lots of fantasies about what kind of teenage girl I wanted to be. I think I knew already that I was different and uncool and I wasn’t going to grow up to be a Jennifer Connelly so I think it made the agency of that character feel more real. Like, “Oh, I can just be a normal teenage girl and potentially have a really fun, cool experience with a 35-year-old man. [laughs]
Sarah: And unionize the sex-workers!
Alex: Rarely do I think about the fact that my favorite movie as a kid was Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters is about four ugly men. Like, the most handsome ghostbuster is maybe Harold Ramos. Men in comedic roles are just allowed to be fucking shlubby, off-putting looking humans, so that’s an interesting point. Your point, not my point about the Ghostbusters being ugly. So I feel like it’s time for the closing question, so Sarah, since we have a guest I think you should pose it to Candace.
Sarah: Oh, great. So Candace, we know who the dad is, but who is the daddy?
Candace. Oh. Um. Ooooooh.
Sarah: And once again, it can be the same person.
Alex: Once again!
Candace: For me personally, Johnny is like 120% the daddy.
Alex: That Loverboy lip-synch...
Candace: When they’re crawling toward each other! Oddly enough, speaking of Ghostbusters I think my first movie crush was Pete Venkman and I was like a little bit younger when I saw that but I had much older brothers and I watched a lot of movies with them and I remember stealing their tape recorder and getting in their closet and recording a secret tape about how I loved Pete Venkman. Yeah, I think I slipped into a lot of fantasies about how I was Baby and I was having a sexy relationship with a guy but not in a way where I was particularly fantasizing about him or fantasizing about sex at that point yet as a seven-year-old. But more fantasizing about the romance and the sexual tension even if I couldn’t put a name to it at the time or understand the value of sexual tension, I still appreciated that for what it was.
Alex: Sarah, um, not a mystery to us about where you land on this but could you just answer anyhow.
Sarah: Yeah, so definitely when I first saw this when I was 13 I was very enamored of the “Baby situation” and like obviously when you’re a teenager there is something very sexy about going off and having your adult adventures. “You’ve gotta do the big show at the big hotel and then you’re gonna go have sex with Patrick Swayze because you touched his butt! You showed him you wanted to have sex with him by touching his but! And he was like, okay!” So sexy. And then you go and have orange juice with your stupid parents at like 8 am. To me there’s something very wonderful about having that sexy teenage adventure. But yeah, when I was 13, 14, which is when I first saw and became enamored of this movie I was also watching Law and Order reruns for like 4 hours a day so like I would go to school, my dad would pick me up, he would probably say something mean to me and I would watch Mr. Jerry Orbach arrest criminals for 4 hours so yeah... all about him. I knew as a young teenager that I was like being inappropriate by sexualizing the dad and I didn’t care. If he didn’t want us to think about his nipples then he would not have worn that shirt.
Candace: I want to add something to this question that I thought of while you were saying that. So Johnny actually is much closer to probably what my own father was actually like when he was in his early 20s: a working class guy whose parents were immigrants and he actually did paint houses and may have been in a house painting union in his life. He was a really good looking guy with a really built body. He worked out a lot, he was a boxer, and so maybe it’s really creepy of me to say Johnny is the daddy. But... [laughs]
Sarah: That’s what this show is all about! That it’s totally normal for me to be 13, watching that movie, and be like, “Jerry Orbach!” None of us is normal. It’s fine.
Alex: Jerry Orbach looks GREAT in this movie.
Sarah: He really does. His face is as plump as a Georgia peach.
Alex: He’s very handsome. His getup at all times is fantastic.
Sarah: Bursting with vitality. Probably wearing Vitalis also.
Alex: I used to wear Vitalis as a kid. Um... I’m very sorry no one said Wayne Knight, but that’s fine.
Sarah: You can say Wayne Knight. Alex, who’s the daddy? Is it Wayne Knight?
Alex: Thanks so much for listening to Why Are Dads. Thanks so much to Candace for being our guest, as it were. Thanks to Carolyn Kendrick who wrote and performed the music, she also produced this episode. Thank you to Neelesh Maharaj aka Funky Fresh Lesh for additional musical support. A lot of yall have been asking about a curriculum. What are we going to watch? That is what you want to know so you can watch too for future episodes. Next week we’re going to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street, and then after that we will watch The Squid and the Whale. Then, Friday, then The War. The one, I should say, specifically with Kevin Costner and Elijah Wood. Afterward we’re going to watch Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Then order gets a little murky, but we’ll watch Dead Poets Society not long after that, and then Se7en. Remember Se7en? With John Doe, etc? That’s as far as you need to know in advance for now. We’ll have that list on the website as well if you want to check that out. You can find us online @whyaredads on Twitter, and also on Instagram. Please don’t forget to like, rate, and subscribe wherever you listen. We’ll talk to you next week! Thanks again for listening to Why Are Dads.