BANG Movie Review: Footloose (the remake) Meets Reality

It’s a classic: twinkle-toes city boy arrives in small town USA where the kids aren’t allowed to dance, and makes it his mission to get the bylaw changed – and win the heart of the preacher’s daughter.

When we first saw the trailer for the new Footloose movie, Sean asked, “Why do they need to remake this movie?” I wondered the same thing: the original Kevin Bacon classic has stood the test of time admirably. But since almost every movie made these days is a remake or a book adaptation, I guess they had to get to this one eventually. Even though the dancing in the trailer made me raise my eyebrows, I knew I would see it sooner or later.

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Turned out to be sooner. I had a mini-meltdown on Saturday morning, having done my best to pick up the slack that week, as my husband went to hospital unexpectedly for the better part of three days – to have a procedure done that would require him to go back and forth to the hospital each subsequent day while his wound heals. I was thrilled that Sean’s medical issue was minor (it’s hard not to imagine the worst), but the stress was getting to me. And, it must be admitted, I had ignored my crying quota for a bit too long. Sean, recognizing my need to do something stressless, actually told me, “You and Skye should go see a movie today.”

Hence, Footloose. A fun, escapist flick. Right? I enjoy (and own) the original, in all its cheese and semi-accidental profundity. And frankly, I dig any movie that celebrates humanity’s need to get its groove on.

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If you are also a fan, you will find that the new Footloose pays homage to the 1984 version at every turn (so to speak) – and WE KNOW, because when we got back to my house that same day, we watched the DVD:

  • The opening credits feature feet dancing to the original song Footloose – with the exact same font for the names;
  • Many lines of original dialogue are used verbatim;
  • Ren McCormack drives a VW Bug, wears Chuck Taylors, and dons a tie on the first day of school;
  • Ren says “Jump back!” when he hears about the town’s no-dancing bylaw (yesss! I was waiting for this moment!);
  • There are copious amounts of glittery confetti at the prom;
  • Ren and Ariel’s prom outfits are slightly updated versions of the same clothes;
  • They kept the original version of “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” by Deniece Williams for Willard’s learning-to-dance montage – WHICH IS AWESOME. Favourite scene in both movies.

There are also plenty of differences. We approved of the updates they made, for the most part. To get more specific (which you know I gotta), they switched out the tractor race for a demolition derby of school buses. Blah blah, I’m not a fan of that scene in either version, so whatever. Also, the rural town of Bomont in 1984 is completely white, whereas in 2011, it’s startlingly multicultural. (More realistic in this respect? Probably not.)

I preferred the original for:

  • The unlawful dancing scene at the restaurant. In 1984, this scene captures the instinctual joy of regular people bopping around to catchy music; in 2011, it’s more of an exhibitionist grind-fest.
  • John Lithgow’s performance. I felt he was a much more multifaceted character, playing the preacher, than Dennis Quaid, who was heartfelt but kinda dry. With John Lithgow, you really see the mutual love between him and his congregation. And when he interrupts the dance-fest at the restaurant, his quiet disappointment is tragic.
  • Same for his wife – Dianne Wiest gives a better impression of depth and lovability than Andie MacDowell.
  • The book-burning scene. Don’t know how plausible it is – in fact, I hope its implausibility is what got it kicked out of the remake – but it sure was theatrical. (And Ren’s defense of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, right at the beginning of the movie, was just cool.)
  • The unadulterated cheesiness of the warehouse “angry dance” scene. They’ve done a pretty good job with the new one, added a few surprises in the name of believability, and it must be noted that Kenny Wormald did all his own dancing whereas Kevin did not do all of his… but nothing will ever touch the Original Angry Dance. It’s pure 80s awesomeness.

I prefer the remake for:

  • The character of Uncle Wes. Back then, he was an overbearing goody-goody; now, he’s a standup guy with a rebellious streak and a sense of humour.
  • As far as I could tell, they totally removed the cigarettes. Kudos.
  • Ren’s Boston accent. Skye described it as “yummy” and I had to agree.
  • Despite the sexually charged nature of much of the dancing (which I thought didn’t do justice to the talents of the female lead) at least they addressed sex itself. In 1984, Ariel and Chuck were implied to be sexually active since who-knows-when and virginity wasn’t addressed as a choice at all; now, we see the moment where Ariel holds Chuck off and he pressures her until she succumbs – and that’s how we know he’s a “bad guy”. (Well, one of the ways.)
  • The unexpected ballad version of “I Need a Hero” was kinda nice.
  • The line-dancing scene, in which we saw the kind of exuberant boogieing that is the whole point of Footloose, was FUN.
  • Finally, this movie actually confronts grief. Okay, hold on, folks, this one gets its own Di-atribe.

I think people sometimes forget that Footloose isn’t an altogether silly, flighty movie. It has those moments, but at its crux is tragedy: bereavement, especially child loss. This town doesn’t dance, because it doesn’t party at all – ever since a carful of teens, including the preacher’s only son, was killed in a crash a few years back – coming home from a party.

This is all part of the plot in the 1984 version, but they kind of skim over the grief. This new version takes on death much more thoroughly. First off, they show us the crash, drawing a big black scary line between partying and untimely death – for us as well as the town council. Next thing we find out, Ren’s own mom has just died of cancer, which turns Ren from a teen-whose-dad-took-off to a teen-who-took-care-of-his-sick-mother-and-still-mourns-her. That’s big. It means he relates to grieving. It means he had to grow up early.

I appreciated how they had a glass-fronted shrine to the car accident victims right in the school hallway. I appreciated that Ariel told her dad up front that she’d been acting out because she’d been lost since her brother died. I appreciated that Ren and the preacher had a heart-to-heart about death that really put them on the same wavelength. These aspects don’t drag the movie down with sadness, but they give pain its due.

Even before I became a bereaved parent, I thought a lot about how parents are never “home free”. Just because you get past 12 weeks’ gestation doesn’t mean you get to have a healthy baby. Just because your son survives the SIDS years doesn’t mean he won’t get a brain tumour at age 7. Just because your daughter gets through puberty doesn’t mean she will reach adulthood.

How awful to listen to the news, the morning after watching both Footlooses, and hear that the residents of the small town of Magrath, Alberta are mourning the loss of four local teenagers in a car crash. The stricken parents of these bright, happy teens are apparently not blaming dancing or partying or alcohol (which was, police say, not a factor) but could you blame them if they did? Life after loss means trying to make sense of what happened and find something to pin it on, attempting to figure out why so that you can avoid it next time. Even if you come up empty-handed, you have to try. To me, that’s the true human condition: some people are worried about their own mortality, but to me, the really scary thing is the mortality of the people I love. My heart goes out to the community of Magrath, especially these parents. I shudder to think what they’re going through, and wish them the best thing I can think of right now: the strength and comfort of their unity in each other.

Ha, you thought this would be a fun review. C’est la vie.

Anyway… Footloose 2011. To sum up: I’d see it again. Probably multiple times. Not a cinematic masterpiece, but entirely watchable. Kinda like this li’l bit of genius. If only we all had an abandoned warehouse where we could blow off steam, the world would be a happier place.

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