Saturday Night Fever (1977) (R)

If you go into "Saturday Night Fever" as I did—not knowing much about it—I'm sure you will be surprised. To many, it's the movie that reaffirmed the disco craze; to others, it's a film that boosted John Travolta's star-power name...but to me, the film is a crushing black oblivion of the teenaged years, lined with the sentimentality expected. It plays out more like something Scorsese would direct.
Tony Manero (Travolta) is at the top of his game. He's charming, good-looking, suave, and a killer dancer. What he doesn't realize is that he's wanting something more out of life. He will go to the club, 2001 Odyssey, and he'll dance until the sun comes up. He and his close-knit groups of buddies will cruise the streets looking for girls and booze.
"Saturday Night Fever" begins feeling like a dance movie—the point of the film would be that Tony and a partner (presumably the girl he will fall in love with) will dance in a competition and win five hundred dollars. If they don't win, please assume that they will learn some invaluable life lessons along the way. There are so many movies like this—"Strictly Ballroom", "Billy Elliot", and even "Silver Linings Playbook"—yet this is not what "Saturday Night Fever" is about. There is a great darkness to the film that never gets spoken about—death, rape, street violence—it's amazing that the only thing people remember from the film is Travolta strutting down the street to a Bee Gees' tune.
Tony loves to look good, he loves the attention. Girls follow him around, asking to wipe the sweat from his forehead, begging to be danced with. He's a super star of his own little world.
But then...he meets a different kind of girl.
Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney) has done all of her growing up. She is spotted by Tony dancing at the club and he is instantly drawn to her. He follows around, ditches the girl he was dancing with, and tries to woo Stephanie with his smooth moves. Sadly, she is not amazed by his cockiness...which only irks Tony. Eventually, the two start hanging out and it's clear to see that Stephanie evokes some change within Tony. He starts realizing that he can be a mature adult, he can live on his own, he can be an independent soul without the world crushing him.
But still, there's the dancing...and then the violence.
"Saturday Night Fever" is filmed with a dance-like precision. It's well-timed, well-executed, but now and again it feels like the movie missed a step or two. I was not drawn in by the characters, I didn't understand what the obsession with Tony was, and I was completely and totally ready to write the film off. But the moments in the film that are good and really good. The ending scenes are full of terror, horror, and stifling fear.
Adding to the dark themes is the home-life surrounding Tony. His mother and father don't really get along and are always griping at him for something or another. His brother is a priest who then comes home and renounces his religion. This puts the family in a tailspin, but provides for some of the most compelling scenes in the film.
In a way, "Saturday Night Fever" is about growing up...yet the movie seems to be saying that true adulthood is something that is never attained. When do you fully become mature? When can you really be fully trusted? These questions may be depressing but I think they're refreshing to see and necessary to ask.
I didn't love "Saturday Night Fever"; but I was surprised by it. It's dark enough to be haunting; but, in the end, I found it too safe.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

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