Footloose (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
16Oct/110

Footloose (2011)


It's not as hot as Drive, but it'll do in a pinch.

As you can see, there was no edition of my analysis on the rise and fall of the modern dance movie, mostly in preparation for this bit of cinematic trifle.  Now I say trifle, but when it comes to Footloose I mean it in the most loving way possible.  It's got just enough brains to avoid being completely bogged down by what is one of the stupidest plots in existence, and just sexy enough to avoid dating itself entirely, but perhaps a bit too serious.

Footloose suffers from a not-so-rare movie condition known as the "dead son syndrome".  This is where it seems like the actions of an entire universe hinge on the fact that a son, usually in a tragic accident or in war, died and along with him the hope for a better tomorrow.  The inverse of this is the "murdered daughter syndrome" which has inspired nary a many revenge thriller.  But the only murder here is of the poor preacher daughter's (Julianne Hough) innocence and is because her brother died in a car accident.

This, of course, leads the town to ban dancing along with various consumptive acts of spirits and imposing a curfew.  Somehow, in the original, I never really felt as though this was particularly silly (outside of the Reagan-era context, of course) but this was screaming to be made into a funny plot point.  The biggest shame is there are moments where director/co-screenwriter Craig Brewer, who really could have made this into a nasty treat (see the line-dancing scene and all of Black Snake Moan) needed to just sit back and point out how dumb it all is.

But if there's one thing which still permeates this remake it's the earnest sensation that you just gotta dance in some way to be happy.  Ren (Kenny Wormald) shows up leather jacket in tow, pouty-lipped sensitive in half-expressed smolder, and a tie because he's still secretly respectable.  Will he win over the town with his sensitive looks concealing the fiery passion of a dancing gymnast still reeling over the death of his mother and struggling with his libido?  Kenny Loggins has your answer.

The only way this picture could be more smolderingly sensitive is if Ryan Gosling is on Ren's shirt.

I enjoyed this earnestness even if it kept getting in the way of being the really enjoyable sleaze I know Brewer is capable of.  It hurts the film somewhat the best scene is also one of the most awkward to fit in amongst all the loving authority defiance.  Basically, Ren and Ariel (the preacher's daughters) engage in the least subtle form of "dancing as foreplay" I've seen, erupting into a sensuous display of skill and sweat ending with Ren basically going down on her on the dance-floor.  It's a sexy, dirty scene and indicative of the direction I wish Brewer decided to take it.

All of this is presented in all-too-brief flashes of sex and in the mouth of the best character, Willard (Miles Teller).  He provides a very sly and self-knowing commentary on how silly this entire film is with quite a few stabs at the legal problems involved in outlawing dance as well as the strangely strong power of Reverend Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid) over the town.  Willard is self-aware in a way the film, as a whole, needed to be to really tap into it's potential as an entertaining remake.

The real potential is in examining just how badly not being the dead son has completely screwed up Ariel.  Hough's performance is really kind of special, occasionally hinting at the depths of rage shading into near-insanity over her survivor's guilt and the way the men in her life use her sex.  This is the kind of situation Brewer is built for and once again we get flashes, but it never quite coalesces into a real fire.

The camera just loves Dennis Quaid's forehead, as it's the most interesting thing about his performance.

But what about the dancing?  Well, compared to the original, and especially in light of the increase hip-hop/crumping influences of recent years, it's damned aggressive and I love it.  Their courtship on the floor is so fascinating because of Brewer's camera allowing their bodies to take full-frame, center-stage attention.  Even the group dances are aggressive foreplay, stomping and groping toward each other.  Just compare the original warehouse dance to the remake.  It's easy to laugh at the tight clothes and carefully arranged mood lighting but in the remake it's a lot more raw and entertainingly destructive.  All of this is, of course, accompanied by another amazing Brewer soundtrack, utilizing some stomping country and hip-hop tunes to provide just the right less-than-subtle audio cues.

Footloose (2011), at least for me, is every bit the equal of the original.  Strangely, it's more anachronistic but less laughable.  I wish Brewer ditched the serious and just embraced the sex and sentiment, but at least I'll have comforting thoughts of that line-dance scene.

Comforting thoughts, indeed.

And now for something completely different...

Presented here, for the first time, is a thorough cultural and contextual examination of the Footloose remake by Amanda Morelli.  She came to film through frequent screenings of classic flicks such as Casablanca with her father.  Now she grasps the meaning of David Lynch's Inland Empire, admires Laura Dern's slack jaw in Jurassic Park, and longs for Italian horror films about clowning.  Amanda is graduating Tiffin University this December with a certification in Drug Abuse Counseling to go with her Bachelor of Science in Psychology at Ohio State University.

Can never, will never, be a replacement for John Lithgow.

How do you translate something as iconic and as much of a zeitgeiest for the '80s as Footloose (1984) ans translate that into a film that makes sense in 2011?  Well, in the case of Footloose (2011), you sort of do it.

The reason why Footloose (1984) worked so well in the '80s is because it was pre-internet, pre-cellphones (you could argue about the giant brick phones, but those did not have the ubiquitous presence as cellphones do today), and other pre-modern technology (iPods, etc.).  If a town wanted to ban dancing and loud music it was pretty easy to remove it from town and to control its usage.  It would be damn near impossible to do now unless the town was stuck in the '80s and the town of Bomont somewhat is.

You never see anyone with a cellphone or a computer in the library or in anyone's home (though the comedic sidekick, Willard, makes a point to say that the town has "Wi-Fi and shit").  The only time you see any modern technology is Ren's iPod when he is jerry-rigging it into a radio for the car.  It's bizarre (though not quite on a Twilight Zone level), but Footloose (2011) would not work without the lack of modern technology.

Tipper Gore might have quite a few issues with in this image.

The idea of "music corrupting the youth" was a hot-button issue in the '80s.  movies like Rock: It's Your Decision (1982), which is hilarious and disturbing, were made in earnest.  The formation of the Parent Music Resource Center began in 1984 after Tipper Gore heard Prince's song "Darling Nikki," which, if you know anything about '80s Prince music, has overtly sexual lyrics.

The Parent-Teacher Association petitioned 30 record labels to put a Parental Advisory Sticker on any profane music in October of 1984.  Today, the fear of the influence of music on youth is still present (though not expressed nearly as much as in the '80s or ever as much after the Columbine shootings 12 years ago), but the fear of the influence of videogame violence on youth has also arisen to the same level of fervor as the music corruption issue in 1984.

Footloose (2011) really wanted to be sexy and to capture the spirit of teenage rebellion, but it fails to do both because the movie is constrained by its PG-13 rating.  Craig Brewer directed Black Snake Moan, which is one of the rawest and dirtiest films I have ever seen, and Footloose (2011) does not even come close to that same level of sexy raw energy.  Sometimes the movie has flickers of sexiness, such as the line dancing scene where Ren and Ariel are about five seconds from having sex on the dance floor.  Other times, the movie is trying a little too hard to be inoffensively sexy, such as a scene where all you see is a woman gyrating her ass while tapping a keg and spilling beer everywhere and it comes off as silly.

Another party foul in a movie that just loves to spill alcohol.

It's a tepid and restrained movie trying desperately to be sexy, but isn't ready to go all the way (much like Ariel for the first 15 minutes of the movie).  The movie shows teenage rebellion as obnoxious stoners, 30-year-old race-car drivers having (implied) sex with girls and conducting a school bus demolition derby.  It's just too silly to be taken seriously even though the movie is trying its damnedest to not be ironic.

One thing I would have loved to see in this movie, it would be a sense of self-awareness.  If the movie didn't take the premise so seriously, then it could have been a somewhat funny comedy (there were some funny moments in the movie, so going all the way with the humor is in the realm of possibility).  The only way I can express this is with a fabricated dialogue:

City Council Member:  We must ban dancing from the town.  It's evil!
Self-aware Character:  How can you do that?  It's rhythmic movement to music.
CCM:  Then we must ban music from the town!
SAC:   Good luck with that.  Anyone can listen to music on their iPods and cellphones these days.  Plus, you can look up any music on Youtube and watch music videos.
CCM:  Then we will remove all traces of technology past 1984!  No one will see any computer or cell phone in sight!
SAC:  Well at least I can still play my Colecovision.

Oh, hi statutory rape and blatant daddy issues, didn't see you there!

But these characters don't exist, and who we do get is fairly bland.  Despite being the main character, Ren is really uninteresting because Kenny Wormald's performance is nowhere nearly as charming, magnetic or as passionate as Kevin Bacon's.  There was a sense of raw sexuality and danger about Bacon, but Wormald purses his lips and plays a second rate and non-offensive James Dean with an inconsistent Boston accent and fails miserably at leaving any kind of impression.  He's there because he's supposed to be there and that's about it - not terrible, just mediocre.  I have a feeling he was picked based on his looks and great dancing skills (his warehouse catharsis dance was more destructive and less silly than Bacon's).

If there's any performance I would praise (out of the lead characters), it would be Julianne Hough's portrayal of Ariel.  Instead of playing her as a silly and vapid girl, Hough plays Ariel as a deep and tortured soul wracked with grief from her brother's death and angry at her parents for diminishing his memory by making him into a puritanical ideal and a means to push radical moral values onto a grief-stricken town.  She has to balance the idolatry of her brother by becoming a counter-symbol.  The movie should have been about her character.

The worst performance in the movie, by far, is Dennis Quaid as the preacher.  He is so bland and ineffectual that it borders on offensively bad.  The role of the preacher in the movie is to convince the town to go along with the new laws and be the spokesperson and the leader for the new movement.  The problem is that Quaid is so unimpressive and uninspiring (relying on tragedy to persuade everyone) that the whole town doesn't really want to go along with it anymore (the 9/11 parallels are eerie).

Let Dennis Quaid's stern, unchanging face be a staunch reminder of how dangerous dance really is.

In one scene, the two main leads go to an underground secret dance party at a diner, and it is implied that these secret dance parties are nothing new.  Is anyone at the event arrested for dancing?  No.  The worst thing is that Quaid shows up, sees Ariel grinding on a guy, and forces her to go home.  That's it.  In comparison, John Lithgow's portrayal of the preacher was passionate, inspiring and, most of all, effective.  His charisma and power ensures that the town will uphold the law to the letter because the desire to do so is tied with the fear of repercussions there.  Quaid's useless preacher makes Ren's speech at the end of the movie less of a defiant stance and more of an anticlimactic final straw.

If it wasn't for Craig Brewer's ability to capture the raw, kinetic, and sexual energy of dance (as watered down as it is in this movie), the lack of subtlety, the poor performances by most of the lading case (Hough being the exception), and the silly premise of the movie played straight would have been too much for me to derive and type of enjoyment.

Footloose (2011)
Directed by Craig Brewer.
Screenplay by Craig Brewer and Dean Pitchford.
Starring Kenny Wormald,  Julianne Hough, Miles Teller and Dennis Quaid.

Posted by Andrew

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