everybody uses everybody
Hell is sexy. And fun. And, it doesn't matter how much you use people or manipulate people, you're going to make it on Broadway (or wherever) and everything will be fine.
These are the lessons of Staying Alive for seven-year-old me.
The obvious reaction some might have is that Jackie shouldn't take Tony back... Except for two things: 1) they aren't really together in the beginning of the film and he is quite honest--at first, anyway--about not being exclusive; in fact, he indicates to... Unnamed girl early on that he thinks they are in a relationship and she counters (IMDb quotes wrongly attributes this line to Laura): "Guys like you aren't relationships; you're exercise"; 2) she also hooks up with Carl. As Laura says... well, check today's title above. Tony and Jackie use each other so they don't have to feel alone in between their flings with other people. Tony and Jackie use each other for support when they get rejected after auditions. Tony uses Laura because he's trying to trade up. He actually doesn't really use her to get the backup gig in Satan's Alley, nor does he use her to get the starring role opposite her later. But, Jesse, the director of Satan's Alley, definitely uses the animosity and attraction between Tony and Laura to fuel the last rehearsals and the opening night performance. Laura uses Tony for a brief fling and strings him along (much as he does Jackie). Jackie uses Carl as filler when she can't be with Tony. At any given point, all of these relationships are as good or as bad as their fights. The best fight, of course, being when Tony kisses Laura on stage and she scratches his eye so he bleeds.
Tony's big problem, of course, is that he thinks he can do everything alone. He doesn't want Laura's help getting the Satan's Alley gig. He doesn't appreciate Jackie enough (and is envious of her when she is in a show and he isn't). In a way, the whole Jackie thing is about Tony figuring out that he needs her in his life, but then the movie has the scene with his mother back in Brooklyn and the message gets a bit mixed. He's there, ostensibly to apologize for having the bad attitude that made him who he was in Saturday Night Fever. (He has also previously explained to Laura that he didn't used to respect womanhood but now that he's in Manhattan he has a more mature attitude.) But, Tony's mother (Julie Bovasso) says, "This attitude you're talking about--that's what got you out of this damn neighborhood."
Still, just by focusing on Tony, the film leans in his favor. Since it's not a musical and it isn't Tony singing "Moody Girl" it feels like the movie is judging Laura for being just like Tony. We're left alone with him on the balcony when Laura rejects him. Regardless of what Tony's mother says, Tony gets points with the audience for apologizing. Later he not only makes up with Jackie as well, but asks for her help.
Staying Alive then is a lesson in redeeming an asshole, even if he might never quite earn it.
Plus, you know, sexy hell, a few too many dance montages, and, finally, strutting.
Really, that’s it for this movie.
Oh, and, poor Butler (Charles Ward).