Thursday, October 28, 2010

Jennifer Grey - Time of her life or overrated comeback?

Any fan of the iconic 80’s movie, Dirty Dancing, will be relishing in the apparent ‘comeback’ of it’s female star Jennifer Grey, who was almost as famous for her later nose job, as the movie which shot her to stardom.

Comeback is a bit of an overused dirty word I think. But I digress…

So the story goes, for those who haven’t heard, Jennifer well and truly hit the big time when Dirty Dancing, a low budget film not really expected to do big things, went nuts at the box office and became a cult classic. Following this meteoric rise, Jennifer, who had a distinctive nose, made the decision to undergo rhinoplasty. The surgery was botched, to the point where she says her friends couldn’t recognise her. She had surgery again to correct the mistake – changing her face forever.

It must have been a pretty hard thing to go through; she says she even considered changing her name to match her new face, but decided against that in the end. Not many of us could say our career and livelihood banked on how we looked. Jennifer found it increasingly difficult to get work after the surgery – no one recognised her as the awkward yet loveable Baby Houseman, or Ferris Bueller’s sister.

And so it seemed Jennifer was cast into the Hollywood purgatory, which exists for so many stars who hit the big time in one or two movies. They disappear into obscurity, only to show up in the odd B-grade ad or TV reunion.

So when Jennifer accepted a spot on the US version of Dancing With the Stars (DWTS), the irony was lost on no one. Her first performance, cleverly choreographed to a track from Dirty Dancing – ‘These Arms of Mine’ - was praised by the judges, put her on top of the leader board and saw her tipped to take out the competition.

Since Jennifer’s very first performance hit You Tube, I’ve been addicted to the weekly performances, streamed over the internet. Its like I’m experiencing my obsession with Dirty Dancing all over again. Her stylish week one Viennese waltz with that classic 1960 track by Otis Redding from the movie, with its soulful tones, was just mesmerising. I got goose bumps the first time I saw it (and yes, I may have watched it a hundred times since then). If you squint really hard Jennifer’s partner Derek Hough could almost be a young Patrick Swayze.

I was hopelessly in love with Patrick Swayze from the moment I first saw Dirty Dancing – I think I was probably eight years old. It was a big thing for my mum to let me watch it, after all, everyone knows THAT dirty dancing scene where Baby carries the watermelons and stumbles across the underground dance club. And I swear it’s purely a coincidence my boyfriend, when his hair is done just so, and the light is right, looks a little like a Patrick Swayze, circa Dirty Dancing.

I didn’t really understand the whole abortion sub-plot. And so goes the story – neither did around 40% of test viewers before the movie was even released. A studio executive famously said they should ‘burn the negative and collect the insurance’.

Thank the lord they didn’t. I can’t imagine not being able to quip “nobody puts Baby in a corner” anytime a conversation remotely allows.

Jennifer’s week two DWTS performance saw her and partner Derek take on a jive, followed by a stunning Argentine tango, which both resulted in continuing high praise and scores from the judging panel. Jennifer’s most recent week six performance wasn’t as well received as the first few. She performed a paso doble, where she was labelled ‘out of control’.

I have to admit – I’ve grown a little tired of the Australian version of Dancing with the Stars – I loved the first couple of seasons – but now the bare chests of B-grade celebrities just all look the same. I’ve seen the odd clip of the US show – but Jennifer Grey has really got me interested this year’s US season. Viewers who loved Dirty Dancing and were inspired to take up dancing themselves, are exactly the ones who will be inspired by Jennifer Grey all over again, tuning in every week to DWTS. It also helps that the TV packages leading into her performance are littered with Grey’s laughter – reminiscent of that iconic scene from Dirty Dancing, where Baby and Johnny practice lifts in the lake.

Adding to the intrigue of Jennifer’s reappearance is her recent battle with cancer. A lump was found in her thyroid and removed. She didn’t undergo any chemotherapy treatment. Grey says she’s happy just to be alive and doing something she never thought she would have the guts to do.

So why has this reappearance of Jennifer Grey struck such a chord with me and so many others? I’m not entirely sure, to be honest, but I think it's somewhere in between my love of the underdog (after all she is making a ‘comeback’ after more than two decades in the Hollywood wilderness) and the fact that Jennifer actually doesn’t come across like she was looking for a comeback at all. She seems to be taking it in her stride and I don’t get the impression this is the best thing that’s ever happened to her. I suspect, from the calm and happiness she exudes, that this success is a triumph for her – like flipping the bird to Hollywood. But I also get the feeling she’s happily lived her life out of the spotlight.

The assumption that an actor or actress isn’t successful if they’re not in the spotlight for their whole career, or life for that matter, is laughable. Why is it even called a comeback? She wasn’t dead. The fact that Jennifer comes across like she could take or leave her return to fame, is what maker her so loveable – all over again.


  1. Great post Kirsty. Like you, I've become obsessed with Jennifer Grey winning a show I've never even really seen. Go, Baby, go!

  2. Thanks Amy. Wouldn't it be the best thing ever if she won?!

  3. Wow! I'm so excited to go home and look up dancing with the stars on youtube! And, despite that being up there with the nerdiest comments I've ever made, I'd like to genuinely thank you for navigating the world of popular culture, so I didn't have to! I already know I'm gonna get on the Jennifer bus, and without you, I mighta missed it! Hayls xx

  4. Awww thanks Hayls. You are too kind. Glad to recruit another Baby fan!

  5. so happy Jennifer won DWTS season 11! Watched her week to week on DWTS & I have fallen in love with Jennifer Grey. There's something about her that makes her so extraordinarily interesting & amazing! Love her sense of humor, the way she carries herself, the way she responds to interviews, she' a natural!Am still repeatedly watching her post performance & rehearsal interviews on you tube. I don't seem to get tired of watching all her weekly dance routines with Derek on DWTS!Hope to see her dance again...pure joy & pleasure to see her do what she does best!
    Thanks for posting.I don't think a lot of readers have seen your post,but it's awesome, it would be nice if more would see this!