Saturday Night Fever (1977)

John Travolta’s high-octane performance took his stardom (earned on Welcome Back, Kotter) to otherworldly levels. His Tony Manero isn’t a perfectly nice Brooklyn kid, but he’s also not a rotten jerk. He’s 19, has a job that he enjoys (selling paint at a hardware store), and at night he’s the king of the dance floor at the height of the disco age.

The movie is very dated – as most movies that rely on topical music score and fashion must be – but the theme runs true. Tony dances to build his own self-esteem, since he gets little in the way of positive enforcement from a family that dotes upon his older brother, a priest. He hangs with his arrested-development pals, drinking and dancing and carousing and fighting.

Travolta is fantastic as Tony; he’s not as loud and arrogant as his friends, but he’s clearly their leader. He’s not terribly bright, but he’s smart enough to know his limitations. He’s a little thoughtful, but not too reflective, choosing to live in the present. Until, that is, he meets the slightly older Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney).

It’s easy to see why audiences flocked to this one, with its strong soundtrack (all Bee Gees, all the time) and electric atmosphere. The movie’s uncharacteristically well directed by John Badham, and Travolta’s supporting cast is appropriate, not slipping into caricatures.

Saturday Night Fever: ***

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