What is still a feel-good musical feels better for dancing in defiance of death.
Casting Kevin Bacon gave 1984’s Footloose its real edge of rebellion. The best of the era’s MTV-modelled musicals is now also the best of the current wave of '80s remakes, crafted with unlikely humanity and care by writer-director Craig Brewer.
Bomont, Tennessee remains the Southern small town where rock 'n' roll and dancing are banned by order of Reverend Shaw (Dennis Quaid). Ren (Kenny Wormald in Bacon’s shoes) again breezes in from the Big City to shake things up, romancing the Reverend’s daughter Ariel (Julianne Hough), and leading a dancing revolution.
Wormald’s James Dean-derived quiff and clothes aren’t the only anachronisms. A cop pulls him over for playing 'Quiet Riot' (which seems fair) and, a token mention of rapper David Banner aside, the film’s would-be rebellious jukebox majors in Middle American AOR. Tape-players and train-tracks also feature, among endless nods to the original.
The Reagan-era context of ranting televangelists that inspired John Lithgow’s reverend, though, back when rock was under genuine threat from church and state, is removed. Quaid is anguished from the start, banning dancing not from religious absolutism but grief, because teenagers including his son died in a post-party car-wreck years before. Ren, meanwhile, is in Bomont because his mum died of cancer.
There’s a palpable mood of mourning, punctuated by hysterical outbursts: Ren’s violent lone dance through a warehouse, and Quaid wildly slapping his daughter. What is finally still a feel-good musical feels better for dancing in defiance of death.
Brewer’s previous film, the Southern Gothic Black Snake Moan, played dangerous notes which didn’t feel natural to him. A franchise blockbuster’s discipline makes him focus on a small working-class town where a punch-up’s as likely as prayer, Willard (Miles Tiller in the late Chris Penn’s typically hair-trigger role) the main culprit, though Ariel isn’t above kicking a 'little bitch' of a male bully down the street.
Dialogue is salty and credible. People change their minds, adults and God aren’t the enemy, and the atheist Ren makes his peace with the rev after a thoughtful speech. The young stars too are excellent, too, with Wormald underplaying what could have been a clichéd stud.
The theme tune is held back till the end. Like both movies, what should be ripe '80s cheese still packs an unlikely punch.
When will the '80s go away again? Still, the original was good…
Thoughtful and moving mainstream entertainment.
Surprisingly enjoyable. Please don’t remake Flashdance, though.