Much of 1980s pop culture bounced off of me. There were many giant hits that I simply wasn’t interested in, and “Footloose” was one of those. I saw it. I was aware of it. The soundtrack was omnipresent. But it wasn’t really my cup of tea. It was only later, looking at it in the context of Herbert Ross’s career, that I considered the film and really appreciated what it is. The film works as a story of teenage rebellion and it works as a dance-based musical for the age in which it was made. Ross was the right choice for that picture based on his history with musical films, and his “Turning Point” is one of the classic dance movies of all time.
Hiring Craig Brewer to helm the remake of the film was inspired, and it pays off as a choice in the way he’s approached the material. Brewer’s script is reverential to Dean Pitchford’s script for the original, but it also manages to have its own voice. The film opens with a sequence that immediately recalls the title sequence from the original film, close-ups of dancing feet, a great way to kick off with energy and charm and letting the audience know that it’s going to get something familiar but with a new edge to it.
The new film stays close enough to the general structure of the original that Pitchford actually shares screenplay credit with Brewer, and fans of the original will see all the same relationships and basic characters. Ren McCormack is still the new kid in town, although he’s Kenny Wormald this time instead of Kevin Bacon. And Ariel Moore is still the spirited daughter of Reverend Shaw Moore, with Julianne Hough and Dennis Quaid standing in for Lori Singer and John Lithgow. Miles Teller is the best friend Willard instead of Chris Penn. And the new casting is interesting because I think it reveals where the film’s focus lies. Wormald is a formally trained and award-winning dancer, and Hough is a “Dancing With The Stars” vet. The emphasis here is on the dancing, and Brewer’s film captures the energy of southern youth culture with some excellent dance sequences. Hough and Wormald come to full life when they’re dancing, and when you see Wormald’s “angry dance,” a direct nod to the first film’s most famous scene, he nails it. Bacon’s a better actor than Wormald, and even in something like “Footloose,” there was something dangerous about Bacon, something that made him an interesting lead in something as mainstream and pop as that. Wormald scowls a bit, but his Ren is such an immediately decent guy that I don’t think you could use the word “dangerous” to describe him in any way.
Hough is more interesting, though. Like Wormald, she can throw down during the dance scenes, and she certainly looks right in the non-stop parade of cut-off jeans and bare-midriff shirts that they dress her in. But in the film’s dramatic scenes, she’s the stand-out. She’s the one that surprises. Miles Teller was great in “Rabbit Hole,” so I’m not surprised that his job here seems to be to carry his scenes with Wormald, and he does it very well. But Hough actually has chops, and she’s good in her scenes with Dennis Quaid, who plays his character as a broken-hearted overprotective father, his fear almost palpable at all times. His gradual thaw is played well here, and the film never makes him a snarling cartoonish bad guy. He and Hough have a few tough scenes, and she gives as good as he does in the scenes.
Brewer makes good use of the songs from the 1984 film that work, and while the film is too long, dragging out the drama, it’s got a real pulse. The movie is well-shot by Amy Vincent, who shot Brewer’s breakthrough film “Hustle & Flow” and “Black Snake Moan.” They’ve got a really rich creative collaboration going on at this point, and the thing they do so well is capture the smell and the feel of a place. Bomont feels like a town that exists, not something set up for the cameras, and there’s a lovely regional vibe to the movie. I like that Brewer is an unapologetically southern filmmaker, and I like the joy and the respect that seems to fuel his film. Even when the town is wrong with the laws they pass, there’s the sense in his movie that the people making those choices did so because they love their kids and they love their community, and they’re doing what they can do to hold this life together. There’s one bad guy in the film, town douchebag Chuck Cranston, but he’s easily dealt with, and he never overpowers the film. Ray McKinnon, Kim Dickens, and a whole slew of familiar “that guy” faces fill out the adult and teen cast well, and I think Ziah Colon in particular is worth mention. She’s Ariel’s best friend Rusty, and she’s ridiculously charming. Even with very little to do on the page, she gives her character a substantial weight in the film simply by virtue of her own sunny presence. Films like this largely succeed or fail based on the chemistry of the casts, and Brewer struck gold here.
I still don’t think “Footloose” is amazing, but I think fans of the original should be pleased at how much respect has been shown to that movie. For a new generation, this is a heartfelt film that stands on its own, a solid story about how hard it is to let our kids grow up and make their own mistakes, and how even the best of parental intentions can curdle at times.
“Footloose” opens in theaters everywhere tomorrow.