A 1977 drama directed by John Badham (who also directed War Games). Story by Nik Cohn. It stars a lithe John Travolta, already a well-known actor, as Tony Manero, and Karen Lynn Gorney as Stephanie Magano. Tony is 19 and lives in Brooklyn with his temptestuous Italian family, all of who hold up Tony's brother the priest as a glowing example of perfection. His white-haired grandmother (Nina Hansen, billed as the Little Old Lady in The Exorcist III) doesn't speak English and is usually clutching her rosary. It's not a happy place. As Tony puts it, "everybody's dumpin' on everybody."
Tony works in a paint store during the week and his only outlet is going to the Odyssey 2001 disco, where he is the undisputed king of the dance floor. After he gets a raise he tells his family that he's only felt good about himself twice, "today at the paint store, and at the disco." Tony and his working-class friends have no plans more long-term than the upcoming weekend. They get into brawls and force women into madonna/whore roles.
Tony wants to compete in the upcoming dance competition at the Odyssey, and starts practicing with Annette, a girl who wants to "make it" with him, and wants to marry him. She isn't taking the dancing seriously, however, and Tony stops their sessions. He notices a dancer, Stephanie, practicing at a barre, and tries to talk to her, but she only tells him that she'd rather be alone. He tries again another day, and she agrees to go for coffee with him.
Stephanie is ambitious about moving up in the world. This intrigues Tony, though at first he's a bit confrontational about it. She's going to take college courses, wants to move to Manhattan, and coddles pretensions ("Drinking tea is more refined"). She mentions having had coffee with Paul Anka, and lunch with Joe Namath. However, she's only a typist in a tough business (a record company) so much of what she says is bravado.
Stephanie motivates Tony, partly by disdain, to do something more with his life (never underestimate the power of disdain). As she succinctly puts it: "You live with your parents, you hang with your buddies and on Saturday nights you burn it all off at 2001 Odyssey. You're a cliche. You're nowhere, goin' no place." Stephanie is barely different from Tony. She is so critical of him because he represents what she is trying to rise above. One is most critical of others when they see something they can't stand about themselves. But he is a marvelous dancer, and they train as partners for the contest.
Meanwhile, in the awkward subplots, Tony's brother leaves the church, and his family is devastated. Tony tries to rape Stephanie, Annette is raped in the backseat by two of Tony's friends, and Bobby falls off the bridge.
Tony and Stephanie's dance for the Odyssey is a slow, relatively subtle number done to More Than a Woman. They win, but Tony thinks that the Puerto Rican couple (dancing to Calypso Breakdown) should have gotten first instead of second place, that the contest was rigged (that Italian/Puerto Rican prejudice), so Tony walks over and gives them the trophy, saying "I think you deserve it, all right?"
Tony tells Stephanie that he's going to get his own place, and a job. Stephanie tells him that the reason she liked being with him is because "You made me feel better. Gave me admiration, respect...support." Tony says that he wants to be friends with her, wants to try, and she hugs him. This is, of course, a significantly more open-minded view of women for Tony, and a major part of his ascent from his life in Brooklyn is distancing himself from his friends.
This is a pretty good movie, rather touching, and more than iconic disco kitsch. Travolta has had a wildly vacillating career of highs and lows - according to The Dow Jones John Travolta Index. Fever made $142.5 million domestic box office gross, somewhere between the $153 of Grease in 1978 and Pulp Fiction's $107, whereas Swordfish has grossed only $18 - 2 million less than Travolta's $20 million salary.
The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack made the Bee Gees stars, and has remained extremely popular since the movie opened - the best-selling movie soundtrack ever. Travolta was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar in 1978, and Fever garnered four Golden Globe nominations. Travolta also won the 1977 National Board of Review (critic's event) award for Best Actor in 1977. As a point of comparison, Diane Keaton got a Best Supporting Actress from the NBR that year.
SNF was unfortunately followed by Staying Alive (1983), and was referenced in Mars Attacks!, Reality Bites, The Last Days of Disco, Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, etc.
Dig Travolta's wing collars, and look for Fran Drescher in the disco.
"Would you just watch the hair? I work a long time on my hair, and you hit it!"
"I like coffee. I drink coffee."
Some info from imdb, of course - though one of my exes was obsessed this movie so I saw it dozens of times on laser disc, and several times recently. By the way, a good review of this film is at filmsgraded.com, from Brian Koller; a terrible one in Matt's Movie Reviews. Perhaps the best, I dare say, is by Roger Ebert, who puts it up against Scorcese's similar Who's That Knocking at My Door? (1967). You can find it at http://www.suntimes.com/ebert/ebert_reviews/1999/01/fever12.html. Siskel had bought Travolta's white suit; I wonder who has it now?