Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Footloose (1984)

"I tell you what I'd like to do - I'd like to fold a Playboy centrefold into every one of Reverend Shaw's hymnbooks!”

The Story:

Due to an accident five years ago, an evangelical preacher (John Lithgow) has convinced the town of Beaumont to ban dancing and rock music, the twin tools that the devil uses to cause fornication. New kid in town Ren McCormick (Kevin Bacon) is aghast, and, with the assistance of his new best friend (Christopher Penn) and the preacher’s daughter (Lori Singer), decides to rebel and show the town the benefits of cutting loose and getting footloose (the theme song is now stuck in your head--you‘re welcome).

The Review:

The town of Beaumont that Ren gets dropped into feels like one of those great, mysterious cult towns in old British horror flicks; here, though, it’s re-imagined as a teenage nightmare where the town collective has a singular mind to eliminate anything that’s fun. It’s almost creepy how just about everyone instinctively gives Ren dirty looks and is petrified to so much as think differently from the herd. If the little kids had creepy eyes, you might mistake it for the Village of the Damned. Of course, that doesn’t prove to be quite true, as cracks in the fa├žade eventually emerge, most notably in those closest to town ring-leader Lithgow. Footloose is eventually about tearing down such facades; though it begins as a standard “new kid in town” film, it moves on to be a light, zippy tale of teenage rebellion set to the beat of 80s pop tunes.

Kevin Bacon rocketed to stardom due to his turn here, mostly because he’s supremely confident and suave, and basically blows into the town like a whirlwind and becomes its conquering hero (he ascends to the throne by winning a game of tractor chicken, which is kind of great). However, he’s surrounded by other solid, recognizable types--the bumpkin best friend (the terribly underrated Chris Penn) who can’t dance to save his life (which is nothing a quick training montage can‘t solve), the gruff bully who is overprotective of his girl, etc. Speaking of the girl, Singer often feels more like the film’s protagonist; her father considers her a godless jezebel, when, in reality, she’s just a normal teenage girl ready to rid herself of small town trappings and her over-bearing father. The “small town, big dreams” aspect is played up with conviction, as are her explosive confrontations with her zealous dad.

Though he’s the film’s “villain,” the preacher character isn’t the typical, one-dimensional caricature often found in stories like this. Lithgow gives a nicely layered performance of a man who puts on a certain front for his congregation that’s in contrast with his conflicted nature behind closed doors. As much as the film is about teenage rebellion, it’s also a little bit about understanding, and Reverend Moore goes through an admittedly forced character arc himself that results in something more satisfying than simply seeing him humiliated and defeated in the end (as adult characters in teen movies often are).

Footloose is certainly a bit pedantic and heavy-handed in its treatment of various themes, and it doesn’t quite find its focus until about midway through, but it’s kind of a blast when it wants to be (like when the kids go to an out-of-town bar to dance and brawl). Also of note is how the teens’ main object of desire--a school dance--is central to the film’s themes of obscenity and decency. In so many films like this, the problems are solved by something arbitrary--a boat race, a skiing completion, camp decathlons, etc.; here, though, dancing carries actual consequence. The dance sequences are nicely choreographed; one especially memorable sequence is an example of pure 80s excess and silliness, as Bacon turns a giant warehouse into his own personal dance studio. There are other music video style interludes that give the soundtrack a chance to shine, and it does; the fact that a Kenny Loggins tune actually manages to be catchy (and awesome) perhaps proves that everyone is six degrees away (or less) from being kind of cool if associated with Bacon. (Brett G.)

Tale of the Tape:

8 out of a possible 10 inches.

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