Hey, have you heard? The remake of the 80’s classic Footloose opens in theaters this weekend! (I know you have, there’s no escaping those “This weekend, get ready to cut loose!” commercials.) Given the task of reviewing it for this site, I decided to give the original a re-watch in order to properly compare and contrast the two (aka: point out why the original is superior and how most remakes are Hollywood’s lazy way to make a quick buck cashing in on nostalgia with a subpar rip-off instead of coming up with an original idea.)
Like everyone else, there are films I remember from my childhood that have a special place in my heart and that I can still recite word for word even without viewing them for several years. You know, the ones you watched over and over, the ones you quote with your siblings as adults, the ones other people may think are terrible, but they just don’t get it.
“I got this call from Brenda, I went to pick her up.”
I have to admit, Footloose is not one of these movies for me. I do remember watching it a few times on VHS back in the day, but it never made “the list.” Still, I group it in with other movies of that period and have always looked back on it fondly with nostalgic love and was quick to cry “How dare they?” when I first learned of the 2011 remake.
Sitting down to give the original a fresh look, I realized that with viewing a film again after many years, there is always the risk that one’s opinion may change and it may not be as good as they remember. (Adventures in Babysitting is still awesome.) So with that, here goes.
In case you were just born, the story goes like this: Teenage hero Ren (Kevin Bacon) moves from the big city of Chicago to a small town and soon learns the lifestyle is way different. Rock music and dancing are illegal. Yes illegal. See, a few years before, some kids died after driving off a bridge. Were they dancing in the car? Maybe, as much as you can dance in a car, I
suppose, but they most likely drove off the bridge because they were also drinking (which, underage age consumption of alcohol and drunk driving ARE already illegal). One of the kids in the car was the town minister’s (John Lithgow) son. The minister decided that making dancing illegal will prevent future similar tragedies. I know what you’re thinking, the minister has authority to pass laws? Apparently so, just go with it. He also has a daughter, Ariel (Lori Singer), she’s pretty rebellious and takes a liking to streetwise Ren, but ut-oh, she already has a boyfriend. Ren decides to fight for his right to party, I mean dance, and takes on the town with Ariel, his choreography-challenged goofy friend Willard (the late Christopher Penn) and Ariel’s little friend Rusty (little Sarah Jessica Parker) by his side.
Will they get to dance at the prom?
Footloose kicks off (sorry) with that familiar song by the same name and close-ups of dancin’ feet. Right away, it’s plain fun. You can’t help boppin along knowing there’s some sweet darkly-lit choreography comin’ your way (I loved the darkly-lit for the dance-doubles sequences of the 80’s before Darren Aronofsky was able to transpose Natalie Portman’s head on a professional dancer 85 or 95 percent of the time.) There are many fun dance montages throughout the film. My favorite is the Willard training scene set to “Let’s Hear It For the Boy.”
Speaking of the music, I’ll raise my glass to that too. Again, it’s fun and each song fits in with the feel of the scene. There’s even a little Quiet Riot in there!
It’s great to see a young Kevin Bacon in his first big starring movie role. As Ren he’s swaggerific before swagger was a thing and it’s hard to imagine what this film would have been like had either Rob Lowe or Tom Cruise not fallen through.
I’d imagine it wasn’t as silly at the time since 80’s cheese wasn’t 80’s cheese in 1984, it was just normal. But man, some of the dialogue seems ridiculous, even for the time. “Why don’t you just flake off?” (Like dandruff?)
Besides the whole “no dancing allowed” thing, there are many silly things that would never happen. For instance, the way every one freaks, and I mean freaks out over music. At one point Sarah Jessica Parker channels Ralph from Reefer Madness during the “Play Faster” scene and nearly has a conniption because she just can’t contain herself until she finally jumps up and dances with some old fat guy. Then there’s the tractor chicken race in which both vehicles appear to be going approximately 5mph (as a song with the lyrics “He’s gotta be fast” play). There are many other examples of silliness throughout the film, but it’s charming silliness and is fun with a couple beers.
The character of Ariel just grated. Is she suicidal? I don’t get it. One of the first things we see her do is climb out the window of a moving car into the window of a moving truck being approached by a speeding tractor-trailer while everyone involved yells at her that she is going to kill herself (instead of you know, just slowing down and stopping). Later she stands in front of a moving train until she needs to be pushed away at the last moment. Look how rebellious and reckless that minister’s daughter is! She toys around with Ren while still with her boyfriend and then bashes the boyfriend’s pretty little souped-up 4 wheel drive when he calls her out on it. But then we must feel sorry for her when he slaps her. And then also when her father slaps her. She gets slapped a lot, almost as much as she gets kissed.
I don’t know. I think I was remembering it better than it actually was (I hate when that happens.) While the original will always be iconic, I can see how maybe the idea can be updated and possibly improved upon. I’m pleasantly optimistic about the remake. Still, the original is worth a watch for the dancing, music, and silliness. So kick off your Sunday shoes and grab a few some lazy afternoon when you’re feeling nostalgic.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a drink: every time someone mentions Ren’s tie
Take a drink: every time someone comments on how foxy Ren is.
Take a drink: every time you see a cassette tape (note to the youngins: Music used to come on these little plastic things that you had to put into a machine to make it play. People used to leave their houses and go to stores full of these things and buy them! I’m not shitting you! And also, if you don’t remember these things, you shouldn’t be taking a drink of beer right now!)
Take a drink: every time Ariel does something incredibly stupid that might result in death.
Take a drink: every time you spot the dance double (Hint: watch Ren’s dance of anger in the warehouse)
Take a drink: every time Ariel gets slapped in the face.
Take a drink: when you wonder where all that confetti is coming from.
Chug: during the tractor chicken race