Saturday Night Fever (1977)
By now Saturday Night Fever is more pop-culture totem than motion picture, its cinematic virtues difficult to discern through the neon haze of polyester, gold chains, throbbing lights, and collective memory. And as a nostalgic/ironic wallow, it's hard to beat--the movie is a snapshot of its times, the dancing's still fun to watch, and "Stayin' Alive," "Disco Inferno," and "You Should Be Dancing" are still great songs. But SNF isn't really about disco or the '70s, it's about the getting of wisdom--"wisdom" being defined as realizing that your old neighborhood pals are immature boors; discovering that a man and a woman can have an intimate nonsexual relationship (still a pretty radical idea in the movies, come to think of it); and being able to admit that the Puerto Rican couple was better. In short, it's a rite-of-passage movie, and a pretty good one, badly dated and way too broadly acted but held together by bustling energy, the propulsive score, and John Travolta's bust-out performance as dance-floor godhead Tony Manero. Travolta relies a little too much on stock working-class-goombah mannerisms, but his charisma's undeniable; watching him here, you can see the mix of confidence, goofiness, vulnerability, and burgeoning smarts that helped an older Travolta transform himself from has-been icon to born-again megastar.