Saturday, October 15, 2011

Stubs - Footloose (1984)

FOOTLOOSE (1984) Starring: Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer, Dianne Wiest and John Lithgow. Directed by Herbert Ross. Written by Dean Pitchford. Produced by Lewis J. Rachmil and Craig Zadan. Run Time: 107 minutes, Color. U.S. Musical, Drama.

The original FOOTLOOSE, since there is now a remake, would never be referred to as a great movie, though it may well be on someone’s list of favorite films. It is sort of like cotton candy at the fair, it’s sweet, but doesn’t stay with you very long and indulging too much is bad for you. Now, watching the film won’t put on weight, unless you’re eating a big bucket of popcorn while you do, but it doesn’t seem to be the type of story that deserves multiple retellings. Once was enough.

The premise of the film is foot-loosely based on a law that had been on the books in Elmore City, Oklahoma. Dancing had been banned in this small town for 100 years, though the ban was actually lifted four years before this movie’s release.

FOOTLOOSE tells the story of Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon), who moves with his mother (Frances Lee McCain) from Chicago to the little town of Bomont, where the local minister, Rev. Shaw Moore (John Lithgow) has gotten the city to ban dancing and rock and roll music. The reason for the ban dates back five years when Moore’s only son was killed, along with others, after a dance and a car wreck.

Ren, the outsider in a small town, quickly draws the attention of most everyone in town, as he doesn’t belong. One of the first’s to notice him is Ariel (Lori Singer), the daughter of Rev. Moore. While Ren meets resistance at first, he quickly makes a fast friend with Willard Hewitt (Christopher Penn).

But with friendship come enemies and Ren makes one out of Chuck Cranston (Jim Youngs), Ariel’s boyfriend and high school bad ass. In what must be an homage to REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, Chuck challenges Ren to a game of chicken. But rather than jalopies, the boys run tractors right at each other. In a twist, Ren tries, but can’t get out of his tractor because his shoelace gets caught on one of the pedals and Chuck is forced to leap for safety.

The hazing isn’t over, as one student tries to plant a marijuana joint on Ren in front of an all too convenient teacher. But while Ren is innocent, he develops a reputation as a troublemaker, but not because he smokes cigarettes and engages in underage drinking. Ren decides that all ills can be solved through dance and he goes before the city council on behalf of the high school seniors to have the law overturned.

When that fails, Ren finds a replacement location across the railroad tracks from Bomont. And with the blessing of Moore, who has softened his views about the evils of dance, thanks in part to his wife, Vi (Dianne Wiest), the dance goes forward. There is one last disruption, an impotent attempt by Chuck and his gang to stop it.

But in the end, all the senior high-schoolers of Bomont turn out to have a great time and despite a ban on dancing through their formative years all turn out to have a great sense of rhythm and have dance moves right out of the music videos of the day.

While watching the film is mostly a fun experience, the film does have more than its fair share of issues, most of them revolving around characters.

To begin with, Diane Wiest is pretty much wasted in the movie, as her part is somewhat pivotal but very, very small. She spends too much of the film in the background smiling or stirring a pan in the kitchen. Maybe it was early in her movie career, but she has far too much talent for the role.

John Lithgow’s Moore is not really that much of a bad guy. We do see him give one fire and brimstone sermon, but otherwise, he comes off as a moderate to a liberal preacher. Soft-spoken and almost a milquetoast father, his attempts to keep his daughter in line are limited to mostly disapproving looks, though he does slap Ariel once (more on her later). When some of the more religious zealots in town take to burning books they disapprove of, right off the shelves at the library, Moore steps in as the moral compass of the town. He must see the dichotomy of being a censor of music, but not books because it is soon after this event that his feelings start to change.

The biggest troublemaker in the movie isn’t Ren. It is the preacher’s daughter, Ariel, who is the definition of crazy bitch. Her stupid daredevil antics risks the lives of her friends (including Sarah Jessica Parker) and her then-boyfriend, Chuck, as she tries to move from a car driven by her friend to Chuck’s pickup truck, all the while riding down a highway with a big rig bearing down on them.

She is a girl with a reputation for being loose, though they never show her going further than kissing, we do see her and Chuck on a blanket outside after presumably having sex. (She does admit to her father that she is no longer a virgin.) Even Ren picks up on the fact that Ariel has been around the block a few times.

Ariel cheats on Chuck with Ren and when Chuck confronts her, she attacks him. When he fights back, she takes a pipe to his prized pickup truck, smashing headlights before he punches her. I’m all for not hitting women, but Ariel may be the exception. She is a troubled girl on many levels, but she is the one the movie wants us to root for Ren to win over. I wouldn’t wish her on my worst enemy, let alone the protagonist, I’m supposed to like, in a movie.

FOOTLOOSE is not really a musical by the definition most of us have for the genre. There is lots of dancing, but there is really no singing by the cast. The music doesn’t necessarily move the story along or comment about the actual events but is more of a backdrop to what is going on. And the music that these kids fight to hear is, for the most part, forgettable pop tunes. While Chuck has decals for Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead on his pickup, very little of the music in FOOTLOOSE is all that original or memorable. Maybe they shouldn’t have let the screenwriter help with every original song.

There is, of course, the exception of the title song, Footloose, which does last beyond the viewing of the movie. It may be because it appears three times, but of all the original songs, it is by far the one that stays with you the longest. Way to go Kenny Loggins.

This is the movie that made Kevin Bacon a star and he is good and likable in the film. Who hasn’t felt they were the outsider at one time or another in their lives? I’m not sure how many kids really wore neckties to high school or danced to get over their anger, but he is right for the part.

While this is Bacon’s film, I think the best performance may be that of Christopher Penn as Willard. Penn has a real presence in this movie as the hick who turns into a dance phenom under Ren’s tutelage. It is a lean, happy, playful Penn in FOOTLOOSE, and it is sad to think that his career in movies was so short.

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