Footloose

Footloose

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The announcement of a remake for a film like Footloose always gets fans up in arms. Though it wasn't a hit with the critics, the 1984 original gained a devoted following and made a star of Kevin Bacon. Those fans will be plased to know that this is a remake that sticks very closely to the original's story and treats it with a certain reverence. It has a similar vibe and is likely to be something they'll find fun even if they don't think it's up to the mark. Its weaknesses - slender story, cheesy characters - are pretty much the same.

Crucial to making this work is new kid Kenny Wormald, who steps into Bacon's shoes as city boy Ren. After the death of his mother, Ren has moved to a small cotton town to stay with relatives, but he's horrified to learn that dancing is banned there. This strict ordinance was created in reaction to the deaths of five of the town's teenagers in a car crash. Local preacher Moore (Dennis Quaid), who lost his son, thinks of it as a protective measure. But his strict approach has alienated his own daughter, Ariel (Julianne Hough), a blue-eyed country girl who quickly steals Ren's heart.

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With the weight of the film on his shoulders - and feet - Wormald doesn't let it down. He has that combination of energy, charm and steadiness essential to making this kind of thing work. His Ren is not a stereotypical bad boy but a kid from the wrong side of the tracks who wants to do what's right. But dancing is how he blows off steam, how he expresses himself, and a ban on dancing is something he feels compelled to fight.

Less successful is the character of Ariel. The team behind this film have gone to great lengths to bring it up to date, giving us a small town setting with present day technology but a culture still very much rooted in the Fifties (in positive as well as stifling ways). Unfortunately the film's own sexual politics are stuck in the Fifties too. When we first meet Ariel she's an edgy, energetic good time girl who seems to be having, well, a good time. As the story unfolds we discover that was all a tragic response to bereavement and what she really wants, like every good Southern girl, is to wear a pretty frock made out of curtains and dance with her daddy. Her confidence seems to fade before our eyes and there's no substance left to replace it with. In parallel to this we have Andi MacDowell as her devoted mother, whose great triumph of self expression is standing up in a town meeting to request that a man be allowed to speak.

Those are the characters - but what about the dancing? This has been updated a little more, but generally in a good way. Black characters may be underdeveloped but at least a little reference is made to the leading role black culture played in developing rock n' roll, and the cultural lead that provided to repressed young white people. There's also good use made of spaces. The grain mill of the original is now a cotton mill, a better shape for the stunt work and acrobatics put into Wormald's pivotal solo dance sequence, which is only a little too long. Direction in the dance scenes concentrates on building character. Four songs remain from the original; the positioning of Let's Hear It For The Boy is particularly delightful, striking just the right balance between mockery and affection. Most importantly, there is good humour throughout.

In many ways, this is constructed as a nostalgia trip, going back much further than 1984. The cars, the clothes, the frowning librarians, the strict gender roles - everything is warm and fuzzy, harking back to an era when life was simpler and people were happier. Its biggest problem is that this isn't very convincing - most young people who go to see it will come away relieved they're not stuck in a place like that - and it also seems to be at odds with Ren's celebration of the new. "It's our time," he says, and one can't help thinking, sorry darlin', your time was 30 years ago. But if you're willing to be patient with these things, you probably will find that it gets you tapping your feet.

Reviewed on: 12 Oct 2011
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Footloose packshot
A troubled young man from Boston moves to a small town where dancing is banned and falls for the local preacher's daughter.
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Director: Craig Brewer

Writer: Dean Pitchford, Craig Brewer

Starring: Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough, Dennis Quaid, Andie MacDowell, Miles Teller, Ray McKinnon, Patrick John Flueger

Year: 2011

Runtime: 113 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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