by Susan Cohen
Cut out the montages. That's what the original Footloose should have done. Cut out the montages, and it would have taken the film out of the stifling guilty-pleasure category and into provocative-teen-drama territory. No one really wanted to see Christopher Penn learn how to dance anyway.
I watched Footloose for the first time last week, and now I'm on the bandwagon. In fact, I'm holding onto the reins with all my might. And I'm very distrustful of this newfangled version that sure looks like it's a shot-for-shot remake, even though our reviewer says otherwise. How dare they even try to re-tackle this movie that I've been in love with for just a few days?
While I was writing this column, I was able to read Scott Renshaw's review of the 2011 version of Footloose, co-starring the most horrible person in the world, Ryan Seacrest-dating Julianne Hough. He liked it. If you haven't read his take on the new film, it's on page 50 to your left. Renshaw says that new director and co-writer Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow), whose IMDB profile shows his clear fondness for cowboy hats, got rid of the book-burning subplot, which is one of the most important parts of the whole film, and an important example of why the original Footloose is, really, kind of a great film: It's complex.
That's not a term that's used frequently when talking about teen movies, which aren't known for their breadth of themes. Most only touch on a couple of common topics: makeovers, class warfare (I'd estimate about 75 percent of all teen movies really just boil down to the rich kids versus the poor kids), and sex and sex and sex. And most of the movies that deal with makeovers and class issues also deal, very heavily, with sex. That's why it was so surprising for me, a child of Clueless and She's All That, to see the teenagers in Footloose actually stand for something besides popularity and losing their V-card.
Yes, Footloose has sex, but it's different. It's on the periphery — it's a symptom of what's happening and not the driving force. When the kids in the film run away to a bar over the stateline one night, despite however much tension is passing between Ren (Kevin Bacon) and Ariel (Lori Singer), a girl who's "kissed a lot of boys," it's never meant to be a sultry lead-in to an inevitable fierce makeout session like would happen nowadays. Ariel, the girl who's having the sex, is very aware of the profound reasons for why she's having it, and manages to be sultry while wearing a sweater and jeans and not the Daisy Duke cutoffs that Hough wears in the new version.
And it goes beyond that. You think John Lithgow is the bad guy, you really do, and then he goes out and rescues a bunch of books from the real nutjobs. Rev. Moore's extreme idea to ban dancing and music led to even more extremism, and we discover that this person who we think we're supposed to root against is much saner than he seems. And then we find out his kid died. Renshaw says the new version starts with the backstory, the tragic accident that kills Rev. Moore's son, Ariel's brother. In the original, we get that halfway through, and suddenly it makes sense why Ariel stands in front of trains and sluts it up.
I liked Footloose because I never thought that a movie released in 1984 could be so refreshing. The kids talk almost like adults, without it being too smart or cloying, too Ellen Page in Juno. Better yet, they actually stand for something. When was the last time you saw kids stand for something in a film? And stand for it so much that they'd confront their town government in a feasible way to try to get what they want. Most teen movies would like to think they're tackling large-scale issues like "learning how to be yourself" and "taking a stand for what you believe in." In Footloose, Kevin Bacon actually takes a stand for what he believes in. He gets up in front of the powers-that-be and argues his case.
I already hate the new Footloose. I have no plans to see it. Despite what Renshaw says, it will be bad, because the new filmmakers have made assumptions. They assume that modern audiences can't handle subtlety or a slow-burn that's not really all that slow. They assume that all we want is dance scenes. Forget the dance scenes. Besides the fact that they drive the plot — who needs 'em?