Saturday Night Fever (1977) Directed by John Badham. With John Travolta and Karen Lynn Gorney.
If you want a feelgood late 1970’s John Travolta film, brimming with tunes that inspire you to get off the couch and throw some shapes, then Grease is the ‘one that you want’. If you’re after a similar experience, but with a gritty tone akin to Martin Scorcese’s Mean Streets, then Saturday Night Fever is the groove for you.
In a sense, John Badham’s celebrated classic is a film within a film. The spine follows the struggle of Tony Manero, a hot-headed Brooklyn youth, and his frustration at life’s every turn. His father treats him with contempt, his mother openly worships his older sibling, while his dead-end job provides enough money for him to indulge the one thing he looks forward to every week – his time at the discotheque. It’s here that Tony springs to life. A place where his ability as a dancer separates him from the humdrum to the extent that he’s hero-worshipped. For him it’s the ultimate escape. It’s a good framing of the symbolism of Saturday night out – a time to shun the real world and let rip for a few carefree hours.
Think deeply and it’s a strange mix. On one hand, you have the iconic pose on the above poster, one replicated and parodied in every nightclub in every city of the world since its release. Somehow, despite the downbeat, overarching message about the pain of youth, amid borderline poverty and pier pressure, the film has birthed a legacy has become symbolic of a good time.
It’s true that in its moments, Saturday Night Fever becomes glorious. John Travolta’s solo dance routines utterly captivate while the Bee Gees-led soundtrack plays a significant part of the overall appeal, thoroughly emphasising the welcome sense of diversion that Tony feels. In part, it’s also a love story struggling for air, as two people from different worlds meet in the middle by way of their mutual love of dancing. It’s safe to say that it will catch a few people out. It’s frequently foul-mouthed, with strong sexual content and references, yet beside all that, it regularly pins a smile on your face. Dirty Dancing indeed. 3.5/5