Louise does Footloose (2011)

“This country was built on bandanas.”

The Scoop: 2011 12A, directed by Craig Brewer and starring Kenny Wormald, Dennis Quaid and Miles Teller.

Tagline: It’s time to cut loose.

Summary Capsule: City boy comes to small town and starts dancing in the streets, and the sheets, and the school, and a warehouse, and just about everywhere else.



Louise’s Rating: “Dance, then, wherever you may be. I am the Lord of the Dance, said he. And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be, and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.” 5 out of 5 irony-devoid Stetson hats.

Louise’s Review: There was a time, not so long ago, when it seemed all we could talk about was whether Crash or Brokeback Mountain should get the Oscar for Best Picture. I couldn’t understand the fuss. I mean, I understood in my head that the controversy was really about perceived homophobia in the Academy and hence was Very Important, but in my heart I was secretly thinking, “Well, hey, Crash was depressing and Brokeback Mountain was long, unbelievable and depressing, why don’t they give the award to Serenity because that’s sure as eggs the best picture *I’ve* seen all year.” It is in the spirit of giving the Oscar to Serenity that I tell you that Footloose is awesome, delightful, so much fun and, as a remake, remarkably well re-made. True story: I was dismissive of the very idea of the film (the last thing I wanted was Step Up Against The Rednecks) but as soon as the opening credits started, and I realized that they were using the same font and dancing feet motif as the 1984 version, I turned around and said, “I am totally on board with this movie.” And totally on board with it is where I remain.

My review is going to assume that you have seen or are basically familiar with Footloose.

Ren “Yankee Sarcasm” McCormack is a quirkily good looking teenager who arrives as a ‘stranger in town’ into Bomont, a conservative community fond of church and Nascar in equal measure. He is surprised to discover from his new friends Woody and Willard that there are some strict by-laws operating in the town against

  1. amplified music with lewd or aggressive lyrics (so that covers… pretty much anything post-Bing Crosby)
  2. young people being out after 11 pm
  3. young people dancing with each other outside of a church, school, civic or other supervised event.

He is also intrigued to learn about the sad family history of local girl Ariel Moore. The strict ‘anti-dance/music’ rules are Bomont’s grief-stricken reaction to the death of her brother and four of his classmates after a party several years ago. Since the death of her brother, Ariel has dealt with her feelings by rebelling against the values of Bomont and, in particular, her clergyman father.

What Footloose is really about are grief, guilt and stasis. Firstly, everyone in the film is is suffering from bereavement. The whole community of Bomont suffered the loss of five high school seniors in a horrible accident. Reverend Moore lost his son, and boy did he feel guilty. As a consequence of this, the whole community went into almost a Victorian mourning period with the institution of those laws. Several years later, the adults are still dealing with their adult pain. They are in stasis. They have not moved on. In contrast, the young people are in flux. They have shrugged off the accident (all except Ariel, and, we presume, other immediate families of the dead teenagers) and have no sympathy with their elders’ desire to protect them from the necessary teenage depravity of pop music, light beer and trying to impress each other with smooth moves. They hate the rules and break them anytime they think they can get away with it. Their hearts are light and joyful.

Ariel and Ren are the exceptions to the rule. They still have raw, personal pain and guilt to handle – Ariel because her beloved brother was killed (was in fact responsible for the accident) and Ren because he has just lost his mother. That’s why he’s come to live in Bomont in the first place. Their rebellion against authority therefore has something very serious behind it. Ariel is trying to compensate for the fact that her family is viewed as having caused all the trouble in town. Ren is trying to succeed (at changing a law) where he had previously failed (at changing his mother’s prognosis). They are mourning but they must also be allowed movement and freedom, so that they can actually live their lives.

Back to plot! Quickly! Er, yeah, so… Sparks fly when childless parent Reverend Moore meets parentless child Ren. Will the town come out of its pain-induced timewarp and allow the children to be free? Will Ariel dump her 35-year-old boyfriend for the hot two-stepping newcomer? Will Willard overcome his dance-praxia?  Erm… I think that’s a ‘yes’ to all questions.

The first discussion is, inevitably, “How does it compare to the Kevin Bacon (ultimate actor name!) 80s classic?” I think it comes down to ‘very similar, but in a good way:’ a tad redundant, perhaps, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable. Once again, I’m assuming some familiarity here. Otherwise, just skip the next couple of paragraphs. The script is largely the same. If it turned out the actors used the original copies, with occasional pencil edits and ad-libbing, I would not be at all surprised. Some dialogue has been updated, and the locations changed, but the main plot is identical and the same characters have the same conversations with each other. Likewise the music. If you liked the soundtrack album featuring such timeless tunes as ‘Footloose’, ‘Let’s Here It For The Boy’, ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ and ‘Metal Health’, then you can hear them all again, remixed and adding emotional depth to other parts of the story.

I am okay with every change they made to the script, and some are really welcome. Additional scenes of the initial accident and the passing of the by-laws take away some of the mystery of Bomont, and the shock of finding out that Ariel had a brother who died, but Dennis Quaid’s opening speech as Moore is certainly very moving, and hearing the wording of the laws makes them more believable. Ren’s arrival by himself means that the characters of his aunt and uncle have to be a lot more supportive, and as I never approved of Kevin Bacon’s Uncle Wes being a bit of a … you know what… I really enjoy their bigger roles and the fact that they spend a lot more time with him and do better by him. The tractor chicken is now a bus race. Yup, you heard correctly, a race on buses. Because there is never enough of that shown on television. Something discerning viewers might miss are the scenes situating Reverend Moore in a wider Bomont populace – going around the town talking to old ladies and kids, stopping book-burnings, typical preacher stuff. Oh, and we don’t get a shower scene of Woody the captain of the football team either, but he does dance now, so that’s okay.

There is so much to like in Footloose, whatever version you’re watching. A personable hero overcoming an unnecessarily harsh regime through dance and the Bible? That’s actually quite unusual, you know, and I find it refreshing.

Another thing – the character of Willard. Again, it is unusual for a fish-out-of-water character to find such a good friend as well as a love interest, alternatively, it is unusual for an interpreter/intermediary character to be so prominent and three-dimensional. I can only think of one other example, and that’s Danny Butterman in Hot Fuzz. Willard is a jokey horndog with a fighting problem and no rhythm. He promptly adopts Ren, and in return, Ren devises a comprehensive programme of dance coaching for him, leading to a hilarious montage. Ah, the joy of two young men dancing together. That’s what Brokeback Mountain needed – much more bopping in the cowboy hats. Anyway, Willard is delightful, and actor Miles Teller brings such a dorky sexiness to his portrayal. I want my seventeen-year-old self to date him.

Romance! Yes, there is romance in Footloose! I’m very susceptible to a good falling-in-love story, and though I don’t think Ren and Ariel spend nearly enough time together to be believable as a couple, I *ahem* totally ship them. I think their relationship arc has punch and is actually compelling to watch. For Ren, Ariel is hot trouble, but as he realizes how much she’s suffering, and she agrees to help him in his mission, his understanding of her grows. Ariel, the blue-eyed girl, is confounded by Ren’s big city worldliness – he is willing to challenge the rules of Bomont, the rules that say ‘Reverend Moore will forever decry dancing’ and ‘Ariel Moore must ‘be sexy’ for the benefit of men who neither love her nor respect her’. An incredibly important and powerful scene in both films is that in which Ariel and her boyfriend Chuck have a no-holds-barred physical fight. This fight sets Footloose apart from other teen movies. This is not a sustained, unprovoked brutal attack, revealing Chuck to be a psychopath. Nothing so unrealistic. This is just a moment when his continuous boorishness, patronizing and sexual coercion finally push Ariel into physical aggressiveness. It turns out that she’s tough, but the fact that he’s a grown man and she’s a slender girl means that when he hits back, he wins. Moreover, his cruel words are truthful. I can think of no other teen film with a situation like this – a male and a female have a fight on more or less equal terms, and it’s not for comedy or for torture porn, but arises from the story naturally. This moment is a crucial point on her route to a relationship with Ren.

(Seriously, Chuck Cranston v.2011 is like an old man. Ariel is so damaged to date him. Ew.)

Finally, I must mention the line-dancing. I participate in this highest form of art myself, and to see it here in a movie made my little heart grow three sizes. I think it’s a good shout-out to the ’90s stage musical, where the bar across state lines is definitely a cowboy bar. True story: I bounced up and down in my chair when I saw what they were doing. Not being a professional, I can’t really comment on the rest of the numbers beyond saying they’re enjoyable and I have no problems with how they’re shot.

My final injunction, good people, is to Cut Loose! Enjoy yourselves with a simple (though not simplistic, and definitely not modern) story and watch some ordinary teenagers throw off repression and demonstrate some implausibly good dancing skills. It really is just fun. Cut Loose!

I thought this place existed only in my head.

Intermission

  • The movie is dedicated to Herbert Ross, the director of the original Footloose, who died in 2001.
  • Spot the tiny football player!
  • Ariel’s prom dress is the same as in the 1984 version. Isn’t it horrendous?
  • A car-fixing montage 5 minutes in. Not only can he fix a car, he can put his mp3 player into it? Come on!

Groovy Dialogue

Ren: My little brawler! You’re beautiful!

Wes: That’s that yankee sarcasm I’ve heard so much about. Wish it was funnier.

Ren: Now if anyone else brought their Bible, like I did, turn to the Book of Samuel.

Willard: What are you doing dancin’ with another man while you’re wearing my hat? That is disrespectful!

Rusty: You know, when you said you were gon’ wear a cowboy hat, I didn’t know how to feel about it.
Willard: What do you think now you’ve seen me in it?
Rusty: I think you’re sexier than socks on a rooster.
Willard: That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.
Rusty: I mean it, stud.

Willard: Where you from? You talk funny.
Ren: *I* talk funny?

Ren: I was hoping you could teach me the 3 Rs… You know, reading, writing and redneckery.

Willard: I can’t even bring a bandanna to school because they think I’m in a gang. If my face gets all sweaty, I got to use the back of my hand. Let me tell you something: this country was built on bandannas!

Willard: You could put a quarter in that girl’s back pocket ‘n’ tell if it’s heads or tails.

Ren: I’m not talking about some drunken kegger free-for-all orgy.
Willard: Now that, that’s an idea!

Ariel: I have been so lost. I’ve been losing my mind.

Ren: Let me tell you something about the law. It’s meant to be challenged. Nothing’s set in stone.
Willard: Ten Commandments were. What’s your smart alec reply to that?

Ren: I was just laying off some steam. I’m sure you’ve got your own wicked ways.
Ariel: You think I’m a slut or something?
Ren: I think you’ve been kissed a lot.

Willard: Daddy’s gonna take her out the wood shed.

Ariel: Does that turn you on, girls acting like hussies?

Wes: Sunday is God’s day. If you wanna drink beer on God’s day you gotta buy it on Beer’s day, which is Saturday. It’s on the bottle – the separation of God and Beer.

Willard: Hey man, you know your bus is on fire.

Ariel: Hey Dad, guess what. We’re dancing.

Willard: The wheels on the bus go Boom Boom Boom! Yeah baby! That was awesome. Let’s do that again!

If you enjoyed this movie, try:

  • Fame (1980, remade 2009)
  • Rock of Ages (set in the ’80s and featuring Julianne Hough (Ariel))
  • Center Stage or its sequel, which stars Kenny Wormald (Ren).
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1 Comment

  1. Great review! My thoughts almost exactly on the film. (And I was also totally crushing on Willard — they could have wrecked his character in the movie, but they didn’t. The actor is the same one from one of the stage versions, which maybe is why he plays it so well. I definitely found him way sexier than Ren.

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