What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that two versions of this hit were released on home video, one a PG-rated (more deserving of a PG-13, really) edit, mainly on VHS, and a later R-rated DVD that put back a lot of the original theatrical film's harshest gutter language and vibes. Both detail urban gang-style behavior by the characters – even by nominal hero Tony Manero -- with much swearing, fighting, casual and/or animalistic sex (the most disturbing being a gang-rape at the end), and ultimately deadly mischief. Though Tony ends up seeking a healthier path, his family's Catholic religion has nothing to do with it; in fact, his brother, a priest, quits the clergy, declaring that he has no faith anymore.
What's the story?
Nineteen-year-old Brooklynite Tony Manero (John Travolta) lives uncomfortably at home with his large Italian-American family, works at a local paint store, hangs out with his troublemaking pals, and treats marriage-minded girlfriend Annette (Donna Pescow) with contempt, partially because she won't have sex with him. Tony's main escape is on the illuminated floor of a glittery club called 2000, where he's the star and his dance moves take him to a fantasy world away from a dead-end routine. While dancing Tony meets a local girl named Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney) who has big plans to move up in life via dance lessons and relocating to the city. Tony coldly dumps Annette as his dance partner in the club's upcoming competition and starts training with Stephanie. She challenges Tony to grow up too -- but Stephanie's no angel; it's hinted that she's also the mistress of her married boss. With his gang's ongoing feuds, girlfriend crises, and family problems, the hero has a fateful turning point on the night of the dance contest.
Is it any good?
Despite the Bee Gees' disco music and bell-bottom trousers, Saturday Night Fever is a tough and serious-minded drama about restless, sometimes violent young men on the sordid side of New York City. Travolta fought to keep his character not just vulnerable but also raw and occasionally cruel, and that's why Tony Manero works so well (Travolta received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor). The story packs a punch and should not be seen by younger children looking for Dance Dance Revolution cues.
Even Hollywood producers thought the movie was unusually profane and explicit, and when it was released on VHS, it was in an edited PG-rated form (which would be considered at least PG-13 today), with alternative versions of certain scenes that director John Badham shot for network TV airings (Badham has said he thinks the PG scenes have better acting). In 2002 the coarser R-rated edition appeared on DVD, and parents should know it really is more severe.
Explore, discuss, enjoy
Families can talk about Tony's finding value and self-esteem on the discotheque floor (and in a small raise he gets at his paint-store job) that he says he doesn't receive at home, where he's considered the black sheep. It's interesting that Stephanie, the love interest who helps Tony see the error of his ways, isn't the proverbial "uptown girl" outsider, but someone from his own neighborhood who is trying to actively better herself after "crossing the bridge" into Manhattan society. You can discuss how much of this storyline is specific to New York City and its social classes, and how much is universal -- especially the similarities to other films about at-risk youth, from Rebel Without a Cause to 8 Mile. Also, why do you think this film and its soundtrack are still so popular today?