Director: Craig Brewer
Whether it takes place in 1984 or 2011, the Footloose premise will never be plausible. No matter how small the place, I can’t wrap my head around a town council banning the act of dancing and listening to loud rock ‘n’ roll for minors under the age of 18 in any era other than the 50s. Maybe I’m giving ultra-conservative America too much credit or am reading into the set-up for a dance movie too deeply, but Craig Brewer’s remake doesn’t thankfully make all dancing illegal, just non-school/church related. In this, I can almost look beyond the contrived plot device to see the message beneath. Or at least disregard it enough to have fun.
While much more entertaining to experience and feel the rhythm of the music, Brewer’s Footloose unfortunately dumbs down the message by hitting us over the head with it early and often. Whereas Dean Pitchford’s original script—also credited here as Brewer obviously spring-boarded from it by retaining whole passages of dialogue—subtly interjected the misguided idea of a reverend overcompensating for the death of his son, this new version puts it all in the open. By showing us the red cup littered booze fest ultimately leading to five kids’ deaths at the open, the reveal of just how close to home the accident is to the reverend ruined in the first five minutes. We are thrust into the chaos and privy to the depression-fueled law changes Boston transplant Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald) will attempt to repeal three years later.
If there is one thing Brewer has—whether you like his films or not—it’s his finger on the pulse of contemporary Southern culture. We saw it in both Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan, two fantastic films that exude authenticity above all else. It is no surprise then that his version of Bomont is full of Southern accents, doofy demeanors, rollicking country music, and heat-induced glistening sweat off kids bucking the system and living their lives. We are injected into this culture clash along with Wormald’s Ren, experiencing the spirituality, strict law enforcement, and hot-tempered attitudes every step of the way. This is Brewer’s own childhood with a present-day sheen. He’s made a film to reach the young artistic kids of today like Kevin Bacon and company did for him.
With increased stakes as far as the crucial dynamics between Ren and both his savior (Julianne Hough’s Ariel) and enemy (Dennis Quaid’s Rev. Moore), their actions are much more realistic in the context of what transpires. To equate a father leaving a son with the untimely death of a man’s first-born is far-fetched; changing the parallel to be a boy who took care of his mother as she slowly died of leukemia resonates much greater. So we go through the plot progressions with these deaths lingering in the background, both huge motivations in why Ren and Rev. Moore are who they are. The first a driven teenager who knows about the tenuousness of life and the second a well-meaning man who has lost his way in a desire to prevent tragedy from ever touching his town again.
All the key checkpoints of the original are left intact. Footloose remains a fish-out-of-water tale of a city kid shaking things up in his new country home. Fun itself seems to be illegal and Ren’s more progressive ideals spread like wildfire amongst the repressed teens he meets. Befriending Willard (Miles Teller), Woody (Ser’Darius Blain), and Rusty (Ziah Colon), he enlists help from those who felt Rev. Moore and his council reached too far legislatively. Adding the help of the Reverend’s daughter Ariel and her pivotal position at the center of the argument, the town makes rapid strides towards finally putting the horrors of three years ago behind them. Through this outsider they are able to remember the fallen as more than the blight that bottled Bomont to the point where everyone was one breath away from suffocation.
This remake also thankfully acknowledges the shortcomings of its predecessor and has no problems mocking itself whenever possible. Callbacks run rampant with tractors and red boots and details are altered for both better and worse. Ariel’s ex-boyfriend Chuck (Patrick John Flueger) is now an older drag racer, making his violence more believable than some punk high schooler. Ren’s uncle (Ray McKinnon) is softened and firmly in his nephew’s corner this time, the compassion that made John Lithgow’s Rev. Moore sympathetic transferred to him in a deft move to help us disregard the preconceptions and lies told about the boy. In contrast, Quaid’s Moore is now relegated to extreme villainy. A two-dimensional force of censorship, everything that made the role worthwhile in the original is gone; his eventual epiphany now forced and trite.
Altering my favorite character from troubled compassion to blind anger did, however, allow me to invest in the kids more this time around. It’s a welcome change that sets the two films apart to relevantly coexist. Rather than revolve around the over-reacting adults, Brewer’s installment lets the kids shine brighter. From the latent power of unused voices to the sexually infused physicality of their bodies uncoiling in provocative dance, these young actors steal the show. Both Wormald and Hough are fantastically athletic and kinetically dynamic even if their acting leaves something to be desired—his solo dance is sadly still overly corny. Teller’s Willard is the highlight as he learns to dance via a crew of eight-year olds singing “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” on Barbie karaoke while Blain’s drive-in moves excite and entertain.
The new Footloose is therefore a showcase for its dance moves and succeeds as such. Nuanced moments from the original are made blunter while certain problem areas are cleaned up—these changes either pluses or minuses depending on your level of nostalgic love. Having just watched Herbert Ross’ the night before, I can say they are two separate beasts cut from the same cloth with pros and cons alike. I applaud Brewer for bridging the generational gap and making a fun popcorn flick that encompasses the contemporary feel of dance and attitude amongst our youth. Is it a great film? No. I do, though, think it’s funnier and more effective than anyone’s preconceptions will allow.
Footloose opens wide on October 14th.
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