In this year of remakes, Footloose stands out as one that definitely did not need being made. But it was, so I dutifully checked it out. I realize that most of the people in today’s audience did not see the explosive 1984 hit that made Kevin Bacon an overnight star, and got quite a few people dancing and singing who might not have done so before the film.
No reason to compare the two films scene by scene. Let’s just say the new version follows the old version closely. It has some improvements–the cinematography is much more colorful. The parts of the preacher are expanded, giving the characters much more depth and sympathy than in the original.
What’s not as good in this remake, oddly, is the dancing. Kevin Bacon’s dance moves had a certain hormonal grace that was pure poetry in motion. Kenny Wormald’s style (even if it is performed by a dancer, not him), especially in the famous warehouse scene, is so angry and destructive that the famous solo is annoying rather than ecstatic.
Another aspect of the film that I personally found disappointing was the character of the preacher’s daughter, Ariel. The part was played well by Dancing with the Stars veteran, Julianne Hough, who is gloriously pretty–but she (and Wormald) are obviously way beyond teen years. She’s 23, Wormald is 27. I never believed for a minute that these characters were teenagers.
But more disconcerting than her mature age is Hough’s was way over-the-top provocative clothes and dancing, even for the proverbial rebellious preacher’s daughter. At one point in the film Ariel, who is always teasing boys, asks Ren, “Do you think I’m a slut?” I said to the screen, “Yes you are!” But Ren, a classy guy, merely responds, “No, but I think you’ve been kissed a lot.”
Three years ago, five teenagers from small-town Bomont, Georgia, were killed in an auto accident on their way home from a dancing party. In an effort to never suffer such a tragedy again, the grief-stricken town declared a 10 o ‘clock curfew for everyone under 18 and prohibits public dancing. Dennis Quaid is the town’s Presbyterian pastor and city councilman. He’s wonderfully sympathetic as the suffering parent who is committed to protecting the city’s children as long as they are young enough to be in his sphere of influence. The pastor’s wife is Andie McDowell. She’s as lovely and demure as she always is–and ridiculously underused. When is somebody going to give this talented woman a part that will allow her to strut her stuff?
Bomont’s restrictive rules are tough on all the teenagers, who take various forms of devious subterfuge. Enter the new guy in town. From Boston Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald) has come to live with his aunt and uncle after the leukemia death of his mother and abandonment by his father. On the first day of school, Ren meets, insults, and then becomes friends with Willard, played by Miles Tenner, whose extraordinary performance last year in Rabbit Hole with Nicole Kidman, is still haunting me. He’s the most appealing character in the film and steals all the scenes from Wormald, who is a nice guy, but doesn’t have “it” on screen yet.
Ren also meets Ariel (Julianne Hough), the stereotypical bad-girl preacher’s daughter, who lies to her trusting parents, fools around with guys way too old for her, and is always doing something incredibly self-destructive. I just wanted to slap her.
Ariel’s current bad boyfriend is a race car driver named Chuck (ably played by Patrick John Fluegger, who is destined for much bigger things). In one scene, Ariel and Chuck have a fight. She smacks him–hard. He smacks her back and then tries to escape in his car. She takes a crow bar and destroys the front of his precious vehicle. He tries to stop her and he smacks her again. He drives off. She falls down on the ground and then goes home to get her bruises taken care of. At no time does she tell the true story of what happened. Heck, she started the whole thing by whacking the guy! What did she expect? Equal rights, gals–you smack a guy he might just very well smack you back. That scene, and a later scene of a testosterone-pumped fistfight where the bad guys lie defeated on the ground and the good guys don’t even have their tuxedos mussed up– were pointless and silly.
Ren pleads with the city council to allow teenagers to dance, to let them celebrate “their time”–for soon they will all have to take on mature responsibilities and leave their carefree days behind. He quotes the Bible itself in passages regarding dancing in praise of the Lord. It’s a great scene — and I really liked being reminded that dancing was, and still is, if treated with respect, a wonderfully sacred thing.
Will Ren successfully convince the older men (all men, by the way, no women on this city council) to change their minds about public dancing? Will the town’s black citizens come to the rescue of the dance-starved kids? Will Ariel go to the dance with Ren–and finally wear something age-appropriate? Will her father forgive her her trespasses and dance with her?