Staying Alive

Several months ago, I attended a party and chatted with this gal. As it is wont to do, the conversation turned to John Travolta, and after revealing my deep love for Saturday Night Fever, it also became known that I hadn’t yet seen its inferior-to-most sequel, Staying Alive. Though I don’t remember how she convinced me, exactly, I do remember her argument being incredibly strong in favor of the movie, so I decided to abandon my general distaste for sequels and give it a whirl. At the very least, I thought, I’d get to see another two hours of Travolta in his pompadour prime.

It’s pretty common knowledge that this movie got horrid reviews. But you know what? Screw those reviews. And thanks to her for the superior recommendation. Staying Alive is as good a sequel as Magic Mike 2, in that it retains all of the sexiness and none of the moodiness of the original, but the plot is kicky as hell anyway.

And, actually, Staying Alive covers a lot of unexpected ground. Tony Manero, finally out of Brooklyn and into Manhattan, is a dancer bumbling his way through the Broadway scene. He has to deal with gay stereotypes, his own ego and sexist tendencies, fierce competition and making rent. Those of us with office jobs have truly no idea what entertainers go through. Tony is as talented as they come, and dancing is definitely what he should be doing, yet he and an overwhelming pool of other talented guys and gals are just as unemployed. It may or may not come as a surprise that Sylvester Stallone directed, co-wrote and cameoed in the movie. Say what you want about the cheesy dialogue, but Sly knows a rags-to-riches story better than most. (He also knows how to cast his brother, Frank, in a great role.)

I mentioned sexism before, and of course it’s still rampant in this story because it’s inherent in Tony the character. But Travolta’s lovability prevents you from hating Tony, and it gives some depth to his prejudice. Over the course of the movie — and presumably, over the course of the six years since Saturday Night Fever took place — Tony learns a few things about himself, but not all edges are smoothed, even by the end of the movie. Initially, Tony treats his singer girlfriend, Jackie (Cynthia Rhodes) like utter shit, and she turns to one of her bandmates (Frank, playing Carl) for comfort. But Tony demonstrates his personal progress and his desire to get her back with a long walk to Bay Ridge and an incredibly touching conversation with his mother. The change doesn’t feel contrived, either. There’s a nice, simple purity to it. Initially, too, Tony tries to get with the lead dancer in a production, only to learn that she’s using him for a different reason. He has to reconcile with the discomfort of that double standard, and eventually learn to work with someone he hates, in order to make the show successful.

Honestly, the worst part of the movie is the show itself. The costumes are hysterical, the filming of it is slow-mo-over-the-top, and the style of it is out of left field, if left field were on another planet. I don’t know what to call it, nor do I want to try, but “visually confusing” ought to suffice. “The opposite of disco” will also work here. Just try to forget about it and focus on the movie’s strong emotional core, if you can.

As a side note, I really enjoyed this dumb exchange:

Tony: Don’t worry. She’s in good hands.
Carl: And what are you, Allstate, pal?
Tony: Yeah, you want disability?

As a second side note, I wrote this down when I watched the movie, and I have no idea if it’s a quote or something incredibly smart I thought of myself, but either way, it sums up the movie perfectly. I hesitate to take credit: “When your style is out of style, what happens?”

As a third and final side note, I’ve only had positive reactions since mentioning that I’ve watched this movie. Case in point: