Genre: Drama, Music, Romance
Director: Herbert Ross
Screenwriters: Dean Pitchford
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer, John Lithgow
Listen, this is important: movie musicals are hard. Very few people in Hollywood understand how to do them. It’s not enough to train your camera on some elaborate choreography (Step Up), or to stick your actors in the midst of some impressive production design and film them while they belt out show tunes as if they were having a normal conversation (Schumacher’s Phantom of the Opera, Burton’s Sweeney Todd, Columbus’s Rent, and so forth). When your characters suddenly burst into song and/or dance, your movie has entered a different realm, and alternating over-the-shoulder shots will no longer do. It looks ridiculous. Music is rhythm, motion, melody; in great movie musicals, it transcends the soundtrack and feeds the filmmaking.
Craig Brewer’s remake of Footloose doesn’t have a ton to recommend it — it’s a remake of Footloose – but there’s at least one very compelling reason to see it: Brewer understands how to do music on film better than anyone else working today. When his characters dance, the entire screen comes alive with motion. The dancers move in waves, like a school of fish or a single great organism. The camera pans and swoops across their shuffling feet and convulsing bodies. The editing rhythm weaves in and out of the musical beat. The corners of the frame fill with back-up dancers or flying confetti or whatever else Brewer has handy. It’s not just the people on the screen who dance; the movie busts a move, too.
There are four big dance numbers in the film — the illicit gathering behind the local diner at which Yankee newcomer Ren McCormick (Kenny Wormald) first struts his stuff; Ren’s solo “angry dance” in a warehouse after the extent of the authoritarian repression in his new home becomes clear to him; a fun line dance in a honky-tonk; and of course the grand finale set to “Footloose” itself. All four are rousing and great, but Brewer’s mastery is not limited to the big set pieces. The opening scene, for example — set several years earlier, when a tragic accident rocked the small-town Texas community and led to the draconian restrictions on youth fun that form the crux of the plot — contains a lovely shot of a bunch of kids gathered in a circle, just doing some gentle bopping up and down, snapping their fingers and tapping their feet, as the camera gently hovers around them. I can’t quite put it into words, but there’s something about this image: it has a pulse, a sense of motion and rhythm that grabs you.
The remake replaces Kevin Bacon and Lori Singer with Wormald and Julianne Hough. Both are professional dancers; Wormald danced back-up for Justin Timberlake, and Hough, playing the preacher’s rebellious daughter and Ren’s love interest, is a regular on Dancing with the Stars. At 27 and 23, respectively, both are far too old to be playing high school seniors, and I couldn’t help but think how much more fun Footloose would have been had Brewer been able to cast actual teenagers. The two have killer moves and movie star looks, but not a ton of personality or chemistry; their romance is pretty standard-issue, and mostly takes a back-seat to the film’s cheerful affirmation of being young and having fun. Miles Teller, a charismatic and funny young actor who first came to notice as the driver who accidentally killed Nicole Kidman’s son in Rabbit Hole, fares much better as Ren’s overall-wearing southern-boy pal who learns to loosen up under Ren’s good-natured tutelage.
Footloose is talky, and at nearly two hours, it drags some. There’s a lot of town politics, and the film is packed with predictable drama (most notably between Hough and her straitlaced preacher dad, played by Dennis Quaid) that doesn’t resonate as much as Brewer would like. But I liked the film’s clean anti-authoritarian slant (this really is an old-fogeys-go-home movie, straight-up), and the way the screenplay doesn’t play up the dancing as anything other
than a fun activity and a symbol for the sort of youthful abandon that the movie urges us to indulge. And man, when Footloose dances, it’s something else.
— Eugene Novikov