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The Slate

Sex, Drugs, Disco

A classic hit falls short.

John Travolta certainly made a name for himself with his role as Tony Manero, a conflicted young man from Brooklyn, New York, struggling through a coming of age point in his life in the 1977 film, Saturday Night Fever. With a hit soundtrack assisting the somewhat hopeless escape and phase of existence of these characters, Brooklyn serves as the perfect backdrop. Director, John Badham, has a way of balancing the comedy and the drama of the narrative while reflecting the essence of the disco era. The symbolism and underlying story that connects to the young adolescents of all generations make the movie a lasting classic, but many scenes ultimately fall short of hitting their mark as memorable or even becoming fully developed scenes with a realistic emotional pull.

At 19 years old, Tony is a relatable character with his dead-end paint store job. As the weekend rolls around, he escapes the grasp of reality by dancing the night away at the local dance club, 2001 Odyssey. Tony functions as a master of the dance floor, serving as his sole claim to pride and popularity. At home, Tony is consistently criticized by his hard-loving family and therefore ashamed by his lack of accomplishments. Living in the shadow of his brother, who is a priest, Tony desires to simply break free of the lifestyle that has trapped him.

While the film portrays the rather open sexual promiscuity of the 1970s (perhaps invest in the edited version for family viewing), the raping of Annette (Donna Pescow), a female friend who is madly in love with Tony, occurs in one quick scene, and is then forgotten about in light of another tragedy. The story spends frequent time building up the emotions Annette feels for Tony, only for it to be disregarded while she is raped in the backseat of a car as Tony says nothing from the front seat. Annette’s feelings for Tony throughout the film are presented as raw, real and desperate, thus making her reaction to her forced sexual obedience with two other men somewhat undeveloped in emotion with her subtle whimpers and seemingly forced tears from the backseat.

The film repeatedly emphasizes Tony’s desire to be a wealthier man bound to a more prideful, glamorous lifestyle. This desire is reflected in the film through his relationship with his dance partner, Stephanie Mangano (Karen Gorney). Stephanie works as a secretary desperately anxious to leave behind her cultural homegrown roots of downtown Brooklyn for the lavish lifestyle of upper Manhattan. Travolta and Gorney exhibit true chemistry through their dance rehearsal scenes (think Dirty Dancing chemistry), but the film builds up to what is anticipated to be an epic dance battle that proves drastically more boring than the rehearsal scenes themselves. This consists of a few spins around the floor and a moment of romance in their eyes as their lips meet, but otherwise a complete disappointment that is only slightly repaired by Tony’s anger and insistence that another couple danced exceedingly better. Even this short triumph of maturity breakthrough is left at the cliff as Tony proceeds to then halfheartedly rape Stephanie(once again a poorly developed backseat adventure).

The film continues to visit Tony’s desire of having the same passion for dancing elsewhere in his life in order to gain professional ground, but this repetitive hopeful thinking unfortunately never develops much further than simple discussion. The sudden death of Tony’s close friend, which lasts all but five seconds and is not even further mentioned or mourned, also serves as an unrealistic, unemotionally developed scene.  With an alarmingly abrupt and undeveloped conclusion, the film ends, the credits roll, and leaves the audience asking the question, what becomes of Tony Manero?



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