Craig Brewer has shown with his previous movies — Hustle and Flow and Black Snake Moan — how music is a reflection of our personality and the way we use it to express ourselves. But his latest feature is all about freedom — the freedom to dance your ass off.
If you’ve seen the 1984 original, you surely remember the basic premise of Footloose. Renn McCormick (professional dancer Kenny Wormald) is the new kid in town, a city-slicker relocating to a small town where dancing is illegal. He meets preacher’s daughter Ariel (“Dancing with the Stars” and country music extraordinaire Julianne Hough), battles her asshole boyfriend and fights the system. He’s a rebel. But he has a cause.
Unlike in the original, the film’s opening credits actually show the party and ensuing car crash that kick-started the music and dance ban, though it’s set to the classic “Footloose” song by Kenny Loggins. That’s really a microcosm of Brewer’s vision for the remake: keep it dangerously close to the original, but raise the stakes just enough by showing more peril, skin and CW-style melodrama. But as I watched these teenagers dancing to a cheesy ’80s song at a barnyard kegger, I couldn’t help but think that these filmmakers have no idea of what it’s actually like to grow up in a small town.
I grew up in an Illinois town small enough to make the fabled Bomont, Georgia, population 19,300, look like a thriving metropolis. We were surrounded by cornfields and the social event of the year was the demolition derby at the county fair. “Friday Night Lights” is one of the rare exceptions to actually get it right. We didn’t dance in our barns and garages on Friday nights. Keg stands. Shotguns. Throw another log in the bonfire. That’s about it.
It’s the little things. Brewer, who spent most of his adolescence in Vallejo, California, probably didn’t consider that no self-respecting dirt-track racing pseudo-badass would ever consider wearing a deep V-neck t-shirt. In fact, that’s the type of thing he’d beat someone up for. And yet that’s exactly what Ariel’s bad-boy conquest is wearing when their tumultuous relationship finally comes to blows.
While the film at times lifts entire scenes of dialogue straight from the original, it does a nice job of updating some of the classic scenes. Take the drive-in scene for example. The remake ups the ante of a bunch of youths innocently tapping their feet to “Dancing in the Streets” with Renn and a scantily dressed Ariel grinding to some hip-hop, hormones clearly raging by the time her dad shows up. Now that actually seems like something a conservative father could be upset about.
And while I like the idea of fast food cashiers illegally dealing CDs from under the counter, it’s really about ten years late and just points to how implausible the plot is, even more so now than it was 27 years ago. Can an entire town ban Spotify, iTunes and YouTube as well? It shouldn’t be hard for these kids to get some headphones and listen to Lady Gaga in their bedrooms.
The film presents itself as taking place in the same reality the audience lives in, referencing everything from Tanya Tucker to David Banner. But strangely it seems like no one in Bomont has seen the original Footloose. And what about Kevin Bacon? Have these kids never played “Six Degrees of Separation?”
We’re obviously supposed to pretend it never existed, but part of me was waiting for one character to smarten up and say, “I know what we can do to fix this! I saw it in this movie called Footloose!” Fair or not, these things are just a lot easier to ignore in sci-fi remakes because they take place in an entirely different reality.
Brewer clearly appreciates music. All kinds of music. That really comes through in one particularly fun scene where Renn begins playing Quiet Riot’s “Metal Health” (in a nod to the original), first on his iPod, then in one cackling speaker in the 1971 VW Beatle he just repaired, then through the whole car stereo after he plays with the wiring a little. It’s a nice little moment for the stellar Blu-ray audio track. The film has everything from hip-hop to country to rock. And they dance to all of it.
The leads do a decent job, even though they’re not actors per se, which gives Brewer the freedom of not having to cut away during the dance scenes. The film is also aided by the fact that some of the adults, particularly Renn’s uncle (Ray McKinnon), recognize the dance ban is silly, rather than just accept it as a reality and believe all the unsavory things the other members of the community keep saying about their nephew. It’s nice to see an adult stick behind their kid for once, especially when that kid is easily the most moral character in the film.
Footloose 2011 is certainly more entertaining than the original and I don’t think you’ll hate it if you have no problem turning your brain off for two hours. It’s just hard to believe they couldn’t have made an original, more timely teen romance that hits the same themes and emotions. Those sort of movies are relatively low risk and usually turn a good profit.