Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004)

Cynthia Fuchs

Suddenly, Katey's aware of a perspective other than hers and other Americans'.

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights

Director: Guy Ferland
Cast: Romola Garai, Diego Luna, Patrick Swayze, Sela Ward, Jonathan Jackson, Mika Boorem, Mya Harrison
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Lions Gate
First date: 2004
US Release Date: 2004-02-27

Wholesome blond Katey Miller (Romola Garai) has just arrived in Havana and she's feeling out of place. "Here's what I know about Cuba: high school Spanish wasn't going to help me," she adds, "Nobody cares what you do here." Her dad Bert (John Slattery) is a Chrysler executive, her mother, Jeannie (Sela Ward), is a prim, tennis-playing society matron, hoping her eldest daughter will take up with well-coiffed prep-schooler and executive-to-be James Phelps (Jonathan Jackson).

The chances of this coupling are actually good in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, as the white folks in Batista's Cuba tend to stick together -- at the alarmingly upscale Oceana Hotel -- making small talk with each other and money off the local government. Katey, being a smart, curious, and moral sort, actually has other ideas, and is less invested in fitting in than her little sister Susie (Mika Boorem). Sitting poolside with the other Yanquis, Susie giggles appreciatively, if unintelligently, at snotty joking by diva-girls Eve (January Jones) and Polly (Polly Cusumano). Competitive for her own good reasons, she goes so far as to laugh along when the snooty girls ridicule Katey's outfit: "My god, June Cleaver is in Havana." While the other girls show off their colorful one-pieces and styley sunglasses, Katie slouches in her cute cardigan, book in hand.

And then Katey finds her cause, when Eve sneers, "Stupid spic." Javier (Diego Luna, perhaps best known as one of the exquisite boys in Y Tu Mamá También) has seen it all before, and so he takes it mostly in stride, even when his boss blames him and docks his meager pay. Katey, by contrast, is shocked, and tries to make it up to Javier by taking the blame herself for a spilled drink. She's surprised again when Javier rejects her offer to "help." Suddenly, she's aware of a perspective other than hers and other Americans'.

The two meet again the next day, as Katey is conveniently lost on her way to school and comes upon Javier dancing in the street, all swivelly hips and nimble leaps. (These sorts of geographic coincidences recur throughout Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, to the point that the kids appear able to walk across town in a matter of minutes.) Katey has her own dance background, her parents being erstwhile ballroom champions and her own moves the result, in part, of pleasing daddy.

Katey's appreciation of Javier's beauty -- her gaze at him -- marks the start of a beautiful romance, as Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights goes on to follow the trajectory of the 1987 first version of the film. Katey and Javier decide to enter a dance contest at the Palace, but must practice on the sly, as her folks would be horrified that she's spending time with an underclass Cuban boy. Jeannie is especially prone to expecting and controlling; resentful that she gave up her career to raise her daughters, she's fierce when it comes to protecting them and orchestrating their futures (the "brain" Katey's destined for Radcliffe): her sacrifice had to be for something, right?

For his part, Javier is supposed to be working, as he supports his family while his brother Carlos (René Lavan) focuses his energies on the coming revolution. This distinction between the brothers is simplistic, much like most every emotional and cultural element in the film. As it adjusts the original's class-ethnic politics to class-race-national politics, Havana Nights relegates the world-altering backdrop of the revolution as background for the impossible love story.

By the time the kids are dancing at the competition, to a tune performed by Lola Martinez (the singer Mya Harrison, taking her next step toward movie stardom, following her few minutes dancing in Chicago), their routine is phenomenally polished, as such events tend to occur in the films about girls and boys sublimating their sexual desire in sinuous, nonpornographic choreography. Even as their performance shocks Katey's parents, the film here achieves its payoff: Katey and Javier delight in each other and their own newfound grace, suddenly mature in form if not precisely in longing. It lasts about a minute: "history," or rather, Havana Nights' strained version of it, intervenes.

It's hardly ever a good idea to remake a beloved movie. Still, the rationale here appears to be that the new incarnation adheres to the life story of its choreographer, Joann Jansen, whose own youthful romance did take place in 1959 Cuba. Currently completing a book based her experience, she recalls for the New York Times (22 February 2004) how she came to know her lover through dancing. This, she says, is what dancing is all about, and the film underlines it by having Katey and Javier practice against a wall on which is projected an 8mm film her parents, gloriously in love, moving in tandem, wholly in sync.

Jansen trained non-dancers Garai and Luna to perform such exchange and intimacy for this film, and she's partly successful. But Garai is not Jennifer Grey (though she possesses her own charms) and Luna is most definitely not Patrick Swayze. Oddly, this awkwardness ends up being more okay than it might have been, because the real Patrick Swayze does show up for a couple of scenes, as the dashing Johnny Castle, Katey's dance instructor at the Oceana. He's surely older, his face tighter and hair thinner. But he can still dance like nobody's business, and his hip swiveling -- athletic, precise -- is still thrilling.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.