‘Saturday Night Fever’
Largely misinterpreted and misremembered as a fun-loving dance movie, this 1977 phenom really breaks down to about 15 percent a euphoric musical time capsule and 85 percent a depressing (yet moving) drama about not being able to get out of your go-nowhere neighborhood. John Travolta’s Tony Manero — in a performance so strong it gives him a lifetime pass, which he's used time and time again — would probably just be another Bay Ridge palooka if he didn’t have supernatural dance moves. His struggle to do more than show them off at the local club is a mighty one, as he keeps falling back on old habits, including hanging with his sexist-racist-homophobic friends.
It’s frankly amazing that a gritty, grimy drama that barely leaves a small pocket of Brooklyn was a monster international hit, though it almost makes sense. The dancing is so good that you can forget about the rest, just as Tony himself can only losing himself when on the floor. And there's a lot to forget: the assaults on Hispanic neighbors, the business with Tony’s ex-priest brother, the part where our hero tries to rape the female lead. When he's hoofing everything else vanishes; when he's not everything crashes down to earth. And by the way, everyone: stop doing the pointy arm thing when “Staying Alive” comes on. Travolta has about 50 better moves in the “You Should Be Dancing” number alone.