Footloose Review

Screenwriter Dean Pitchford wrote Footloose after reading a news story about a town that had outlawed dancing. Back in the early 1980s, this was unusual but not completely out of the ordinary in small, rural communities. The story made sense with the times, and for audiences to come, dancing was a stand-in for other social issues. Perhaps I am reading too much into the original 1984 Footloose, but then again, how else can I explain the fact that a 1980s dance movie has become a classic in its own right?

Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon) has moved from Chicago with his mother to the small rural town of Bomont, a town that frowns upon rock 'n roll and teen sexuality. The town is so afraid of subversive outside influences that they have even banned dancing. Ren is full of anger towards the townspeople who judge him for reading Slaughterhouse-Five, his uncle who tries to be his father, and the town preacher Reverend Shaw (John Lithgow) who does not trust him. Still, his rebellious reputation attracts the attention of the preacher's daughter Ariel (Lori Singer), Ariel's best friend Rusty (Sarah Jessica Parker), and Willard (Chris Penn), a redneck with two left feet. Together, they fight the town council to overturn the law, and in the process, Ren and Ariel fall in love.

The dancing and acting in Footloose have already been reviewed to death by other critics. Bacon, Penn, and Parker all look like they are having a great time, and Lithgow somehow manages to take a two-dimensional character on paper and make a three-dimensional character on film. I am less interested in the individual elements of the film, though, than I am interested in how this film has managed to stick around instead of fading into teen dance movie obscurity.

On paper, Footloose should have been forgettable popcorn fluff. As teen rebellion stories go, this is about as tame as it gets. Kevin Bacon is supposed to be the “bad boy” of the town, and his worst offenses are reading Kurt Vonnegut and dancing/flipping around a grain mill. He tries to fit in by joining the gymnastics team. In 2011, most parents would love to see their sons or daughters hanging out with such a clean-cut young man who wears suit jackets and ties to school. Heck, the only kids that wear suit jackets and ties to school these days are hipsters, and hipsters are hardly “bad boys” either.

As silly as it might seem today, though, audiences have to keep in mind that society has come a long way since Footloose was first released in theaters. At that time in certain areas of the country, pastors were bigger leaders in the community than the actual elected leaders, and parents would have told their teenagers to stay away from guys like Ren. Consider that many churches today, even the very strict ones, have dance ministries, but back in the late 1970s to early 1980s, most churches had a tough time accepting dancing outside the church, much less accepting dance as a form of celebration or worship. The movie hit a timing sweet spot where teen dancing was becoming more accepted but there were still enough people against it so that the movie didn't come off as a fairy tale.

This is why I don't like the idea of remaking Footloose in 2011. Footloose was written in the 1980s America and belongs in the 1980s America. If Ren was living in 2011 small town U.S.A., he would probably be studying the Bible trying to find verses about love and acceptance before going to the town council in support of gay marriage.

Maybe the reason why older and younger audiences alike have continued to embrace Footloose is that “Ren the Rebel” and dancing as a social issue both seem so tame in retrospect. Older audiences are more willing to accept a young kid who wants to dance more than they would accept today's youth fighting for more controversial social issues. At the same time, kids today will get into the story because in spite of its cornball script, the movie taps into that universal frustration of being a teenager and being misunderstood by the adults around you. 27 years after it was released, Footloose is still entertaining audiences with its cheesy charm, and even with the remake, I am sure audiences will continue to revisit the 1984 original, especially with this new Blu-ray release.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

Special features on the Blu-ray include a behind-the-scenes featurette about the making of the film, interviews with the cast remembering co-star Chris Penn, Kevin Bacon's original screen test and costume montage, the theatrical trailer, and commentaries with Craig Zadan and Dean Pitchford as well as Kevin Bacon.

"Footloose" is on sale September 27, 2011 and is rated PG. Drama. Directed by Herbert Ross. Written by Dean Pitchford. Starring Chris Penn, Dianne Wiest, John Lithgow, Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer, Sarah Jessica Parker.

Oct
31
2011
Rachel Kolb • Staff Writer

I love movies, writing, and breaking into song in public. You can follow me on Twitter @rachelekolb or check out more of my work at http://rachelekolb.wordpress.com.

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