Footloose (1984) [retro review]

“There is a time to dance, and this is ours.”

The Scoop: 1984 PG-13, directed by Herbert Ross and starring Kevin Bacon, John Lithgow and Diane Wiest.

Tagline: He’s a big-city kid in a small town. They said he wouldn’t win. He knew he had to.

Summary Capsule: Dislocated high school student (Bacon) rebels against anti-dance law instituted by Baptist preacher (Lithgow).

Justin’s Rating: All I want to do is… dance! dance! dance!

Justin’s Review: Music is our identity. This philosophy has been passed on down through time, but reached a new apogee in the eighties, as the rally cry “I want my MTV” united kids even as they were divided amongst musical tastes. What better reason, then, to have a movie about the Big Bad Boys of Redneck Nowhere forbidding the song and dance!

Ren’s a Chicago turd out of water in a western town. The town is controlled by a super-religious Reverend Moore, who has helped declare a no-dancing, no-rock music, and no-tractor racing law. Fortunately for him, the local teen populace is fully supportive of this act, and Ren quickly conforms. The movie ends with a nice round of “Kumbiya, My Lord” with the entire town holding hands and swaying.

Of course, what I really saw was yet another rebel-against-the-system movie, which took a really wrong turn by declaring pansy dancing as its focal point. The music is somewhat good, the drama decent, yet when you see Kevin Bacon beginning to gallop about as the Lord of the Dance, unnerving is not quite the term that comes to mind. By the end, the rebels win their dance, which they throw as some sort of prom where pastels and sparkles reign supreme. This act downgraded the town’s tourist reputation from a C- to a solid D.

The big question is this: even in 1984, is it possible for towns, even in the rural West, to be this ignorant of pop culture? Amish, I can accept. Tom Hanks stranded on a Pacific island talking to a volleyball, sure. But this was during the period where Bruce Springsteen reigned king, and even flannel had neon colors. In the 21st century, rebellion against a no-dancing law seems pretty quaint and antiquated in comparison to our huge problems with drugs, AIDS, and Al Gore.

One last note: as a semi-serious drama, Footloose deals with the pastor/pastor’s kid situation with deft hands. Neither Victorian father nor rebellious daughter fall into total stereotypes, and it gives them real depth as they try to understand each other’s world. A couple kudos points for that.

Sue’s Rating: But my sneakers are my Sunday shoes!
Sue’s Review: It seemed like a good idea at the time. I thought it would be neat to let my dearest daughter, Spawn of Mutant 2, watch Footloose with me. After all, she’s a hip, young teenybopper and Footloose is about hip, young teenyboppers, right? She’d get to see just how cool it was back in the 80’s, and probably be all envious and stuff that she has to do the coming of age thing in the boring old twenty-first century. Yeah, it was a great idea.

It didn’t take long for the luster to wear off. In fact, my first warning came about five seconds into the opening credits, which are backdropped by a succession of energetically dancing feet in a variety of trendy footwear of the day. It bears mentioning that somewhere along the line, SoM2 has developed the “dubious eyebrow lift” normally seen when James T. Kirk says something immeasurably stupid to Spock, or PoolMan is forced to drink our watery American beer. SoM2 is good at the eyebrow lift. Very good at it. Those brows got more exercise than the happy dancing opening credit feet. “What are they doing?” she asked constantly. (Eyebrow lift, eyebrow lift). More on that in a bit.

Footloose is a simple story. Kevin Bacon plays Ren, a Chicago kid transplanted into a small, rural community. A partying kind of guy, Ren is appalled to discover that dancing is forbidden within the town limits, rock music is frowned upon, and that there is an endemic religious conservatism that makes even the Amish look like a bunch of decadent hedonists. Opposing him is the very Reverend Shaw Moore, the town pastor who has his own reasons for banning anything that might lead kids to drink booze, smoke… stuff, or jiggle their hips.

The battle lines are quickly drawn with Ren and his friends on one side wanting to hold a senior dance, and… well, the rest of the town on the other side. It’s your classic “takin’ it to the man” sort of scenario, with a really good soundtrack.

Needless to say, Kevin Bacon, Chris Penn, Lori Singer, etc. etc. are central to the film, which was made to cater to the teenaged market. They did fine with the script they had to work with, but I can’t point to Footloose and say, “This is where you could see how brilliant so-and-so would become.” I could do that for Taps and Sean Penn, but Footloose wasn’t made to make a point as much as to entertain.

What I might not have noticed back in the 80′s was that John Lithgow brought a lot of humanity to his role. The character of Rev. Moore could easily have been irredeemably hidebound throughout the entire arc of the story, but it wasn’t. He’s a man who honestly tries to do the right thing, leads his flock of parishoners as best he can, and painfully admits his mistakes when he truly sees the extremes his sermons have brought about in the community.

Moore’s wife, played by Dianne Wiest, was absolutely excellent as the “perfect” preacher’s wife, portraying the qualities of meekness and supportiveness while still seeing the bigger picture. Maybe I’m a slow learner, but I always thought that the Bible verses Ren was given to use during his town council argument, came from the Moore’s wayward daughter, Ariel. Now I’m convinced that they came from the quietly sweet, yet subtly subversive Mrs. Moore.

Granted there’s some wooden acting, and the “meaningful” explanation Ren gives his mom over his motivations never made a whole lot of sense to me, but in the context and at that time, I can still remember how the entire movie resonated and how Kevin Bacon was hot enough to make up for a lot of shortcomings. Maybe it wasn’t quite the rallying cry for my generation, but we could dance to it!

Man, it was really fun watching it again. Except, of course, for that one small detail.

Enter, once again, SoM2. Remember the eyebrow? I have to say that it’s hard to truly enjoy a blast from your past when the person next to you is sniffing like an archaeologist over an intriguing clump of dirt.

Here are some of our little exchanges.

Me: Kevin Bacon looks so young!
SoM2: Who?
Me: Kevin Bacon.
SoM2: Never heard of him.

SoM2: Is that Sarah Jessica Parker?
Me: Uhm… yeah. I think it is.
SoM2: Man, she’s got to be really old!

SoM2: So, cars didn’t have radios back then, huh?
Me: Sure they did.
SoM2: But that girl just took a radio out of the car and put it on the hood.
Me: That’s a boombox.
SoM2: *eyebrow* Uh—huh.

SoM2: No seatbelts either? When did they start putting seatbelts in cars then?
Me: We had seatbelts!
SoM2: Then why aren’t they using them?
Me: They weren’t mandatory.
SoM2: Well geesh, how stupid is that?
Me: …

SoM2: What about drinking? Why are they all drinking beer? Is that legal?
Me: I don’t know. I guess it depends on what state they’re in.
SoM2: *eyebrow*

SoM2: What *eyebrow* interesting dancing. Was that… normal?
Me: It’s cool!

SoM2: Yeah? *eyebrow* Interesting.
SoM2: That guy is wearing a tie to school? A tie? Who wears ties to school?!
Me: It was preppy. A lot of guys did that in my school.
SoM2: *eyebrow* Prep-py?

Me: Check it out! Tractor chicken!
SoM2: Hey, they’re driving right at each other!
Me: Like I said, tractor chicken!
SoM2: They could have an accident!
Me: Right, cause they’re playing tractor chicken!
SoM2: Why do you keep saying tractor chicken?!
Me: *explains “chicken”, adding unusual subclause involving “tractors”*
SoM2: *BIG eyebrow* This was common in your day, was it?

SoM2: Oh, look! Is that breakdancing! I’ve heard about that!

*Sigh.* So it’s offical. There might be a time to mourn, and a time to sow, and a time to reap, and a time to dance, but apparently there’s also a time to be an old fuddy-duddy. I’m just going to go sit in my rocking chair now and dream my sweet mousse scented dreams of rebellious youth.

C’mon, guys! The Lawrence Welk Show is on!

Intermission!

  • In his defense of dancing, Ren quotes from the biblical books of Ecclesiasties, Psalms, and one of the Samuels, I think.
  • Fun with tractors! See what we miss in the cities?
  • In the scene where Rev. Shaw shows Ren a picture of his deceased son Bobby, John Lithgow actually showed a picture of his real son.
  • Being wishboned by a car, a truck and a semi would not be dignified. Or easy to clean up.
  • The mournful cry of the mortally wounded Pac Mac
  • Why no, we did not habitually try to face down freight trains for kicks in the good ol’ days. Not unless it was a Friday.
  • What is it with preachers’ daughters anyway?!
  • It’s a tiny rural community with a rockin’ Olympics quality gymnastics team? Ooookay.
  • Ah Kenny Loggins. All the way from The House At Pooh Corner to the Danger Zone, how can you not love that man?
  • Didja notice the look of utter horror on the face of Sue’s kid, when Sue lustily sang “I’m Free (Heaven Helps The Man)” word perfect and in its entirety? No, you probably didn’t notice that, but it was great!
  • There are references to Men At Work and The Police, but neither group is in the soundtrack. Such a pity.
  • Dance Willard, dance!
  • Red cowboy boots – a sign of a depraved mind.
  • With the Principal’s knowledge, 24-year-old Kevin Bacon attended the Provo Utah High School as “Ren McCormack”, a transfer student from Philadelphia to get into his role. With his narrow tie and new-wave haircut, he was treated pretty much like in the film. Bacon gratefully left with the location scouts on the afternoon of the first day.
  • One of the better 80′s compilation soundtracks, the Footloose album includes the title song by Kenny Loggins, “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” by Denise Williams, “Almost Paradise”, “Dancing in the Streets”, and “Hurt So Good”

Groovy Dialogue

Reverend Moore: I think it’s Haydn. A chamber piece.
Ariel: And that kind of music’s okay?
Reverend Moore: It doesn’t confuse people’s minds and bodies.

Willard: You know what it is, you’ve got an attitude problem.
Ren: Oh I’ve got an attitude problem?
Willard: Yes and I’m not the first one that’s noticed it. I mean we’re not stuck in the [goshdarn] middle ages here. I mean we’ve got TV. We’ve got Family Feud. We’re not stuck in Leave It To Beaver land here.
Ren: Well, I haven’t noticed a wet T-shirt contest in town yet.
Willard: Yeah, but I’m waiting. Patiently.

Ren: Jump back!

Willard: People think she’s a hellraiser.
Ren: Is she?
Willard: I think she’s been kissed a lot.

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3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Teen Wolf [retro review] « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

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