“I’m going nowhere, somebody help me…” -Stayin’ Alive
They say that it is wholesome for people to spend their whole lives in the town where they were born and grew up. It helps build a tight knit community. It instills a sense of security and personal responsibility. It makes you feel like you belong.
I basically agree with that. However, not all communities are good influences. What if your parents are unsupportive and your friends are jerks? In that case, you should probably move away from your hometown as soon as possible.
“Saturday Night Fever” is a gritty drama about a young man who learns how lousy his community is.
The community in question is Bay Ridge: a not-so-nice neighborhood in Brooklyn, right across from Staten Island.
The movie follows a few meaningful weeks in the young life of Tony Monero (John Travolta).
Tony is 19, he lives with his parents, and he works at a hardware store.
He has nothing going for him. But, boy, can he dance.
The only thing that matters to Tony is Friday night with his idiot friends at the local disco. Tony practices his disco moves and it has paid off. He is the king of the floor and women throw themselves at him.
The dance scenes in “Saturday Night Fever” haven’t aged a day. Young Travolta still looks amazingly cool.
Outside the disco, Tony isn’t doing as well.
His home life is miserable. The Moneros are a stereotypical 2nd generation Italian family. There’s the eldest son who can do no wrong. There’s Tony who can do no right. And there’s the daughter. Tony’s sister is probably the smartest and best of the siblings, but it doesn’t matter because women are plainly less important.
Women are treated very poorly in Tony’s world and the film doesn’t sugar coat it. In Bay Ridge, young women are valued so little that they end up degrading themselves. And after they have degraded themselves, the young men just shake their heads and move on to someone else.
Some of those young men are Tony’s friends. The film explores Tony’s awakening as he slowly realizes that the guys he hangs out with are racist sexist losers.
In the climax, Tony wins the big dance contest but he is far from happy about it. It is plain as day that he was only the best white dancer; the Hispanic couple deserved to win but they are effectively ineligible because of their race. At this point, Tony knows that he has to leave his family, his friends, and his toxic neighborhood behind.
At its core, “Saturday Night Fever” is the anti-“Rocky.” “Rocky” is the feel-good story of an Italian guy from an ethnic neighborhood who grows up to be a decent man and makes it big. “Saturday Night Fever” is the grim tale of an Italian guy from an ethnic neighborhood who is on the road to nowhere until he realizes that he has to get out.