When I received the email telling me I had won two passes to the premier of the new “Footloose” movie, I felt like I had won the lottery. No movie typified my teenage years like the original “Footloose”; it was like I had won two tickets to my youth!
In 1984, when the first “Footloose” movie graced the big screen, I was a fancy-free senior in high school. Encinitas, California, where I grew up, still had that small town feel and the new AMC theatre just happened to be my first job. When “Footloose” rolled into Encinitas, it was a very big deal. I remember checking out the movie on its opening night, in a packed theatre, with my girlfriend, Christine. While we watched Kevin Bacon shake his groove thing, we could hear the rattle of California Cooler bottles rolling down from the top row of seats to the bottom of the theatre. Their “clank” noise and the laughter that ensued nearly drowned out the dialogue of the movie!
I recall watching the inagural rendition and thinking that I didn’t really understand why the adults in the movie were so against dancing. And, of course, what was up with Kevin Bacon’s hair? Was he cute, or wasn’t he? These were the lasting impressions I had of “Footloose” ’84.
Fast forward almost thirty years, and there I was at the Arizona premier of “Footloose”, the 2011 incarnation. For me, it was difficult not to juxtapose the two movies, but not so for my daughter, Shannon, who had not seen the first one. I tried to experience the film through her fresh eyes, although memories of the previous film flickered in my head like deja vu.
We arrived at the theatre to find the ticket winners standing in line with several “Hollywood types” directing people around. We were informed that a videographer from Paramount Pictures would be filming us in line and that we should “cut loose”, to quote the movie. Shannon stoicly stood her ground; she would not be coaxed into making a fool of herself for some videographer, especially not with her mother. I, on the other hand, have no shame, and I screamed as if my hair was on fire.
We finally took our seats (fourth row from the front of the theatre) and I could not help but think to myself: these are the seats where all the empty California Coolers would accummulate…
Just before the movie began, we were informed that we should stick around afterwards for a question and answer session with the film’s two leads, Julianne Hough and Kenny Wormald. Now both Shannon and I were really excited!
To its credit, the updated version of the movie better explained the death of the kids that brought about the town’s ban on dancing. Dennis Quaid tackled the role of Reverend Shaw Moore, the initaitor of the law that forbids dancing in Bomont, where the story is set. Although I liked John Lithgow’s passionate, fire-and-brimstone interpretation of Reverend Moore in the earlier “Footloose”, Quaid did a good job, too. His portrayal of a man who had lost his son in a tragic accident and who now felt a sense of responsibility to his congregation was understated, but moving.
Julianne Hough stepped into the iconic red boots of Ariel, Reverend Shaw’s troubled daughter. Hough brought all the sass and spunk to her character and was adorable, too. She also held her own in her emotional scenes with her screen father, Quaid. Newcomer Kenny Wormald assumed the role of Ren McCormack, originally made famous by Kevin Bacon. With his James Dean hair and his cute Boston accent, Wormald was no Kevin Bacon. He didn’t try to be. He played the new kid in town with the right mix of swagger and sensitivity.
By far, though, the scene stealer was Miles Teller, who starred as Willard, Ren’s hayseed friend. In the first “Footloose”, Willard was played by the late Chris Penn, who was equal parts sweet and doofy. Teller’s Willard was just as sweet, just as doofy, but with extra charm in those boots and overalls. His character got all the great lines and was so likeable, you wished his part was bigger. He would have made Chris Penn proud with his performance.
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The story was essentially the same: new kid comes to town and turns it on its ear when he learns that dancing is outlawed and he challenges the status quo. However, this screenplay has some twists and updates to the earlier version. One of my favorite scenes in the ’80’s “Footloose” had city-boy-Ren versus bad-boy-Chuck in a game of “tractor chicken”. Our new hero takes on Chuck in a demolition derby while driving busses. While it was an interesting twist, it lacked the tension and drama of Bacon’s Ren getting his shoe lace caught in the tractor’s pedal and beating Chuck at his own game.
Also conspicuously absent: memorable dancing. If you remember the initial film, you may recall some dance moves that resonate with you to this day. While the dancing in this movie was technically very good, the omission of passion was obvious in comparison to the original. For a story built around kids that were “dance-starved”, the dancing seemed to be an afterthought.
Some highlights, however, included the inclusion of Deniece Williams’ iconic “Let’s Hear It For The Boy”, made fresh by a sweet take on a song so closely associated with the original film. Blake Shelton’s reworking of the title song, “Footloose” was, not surprisingly, a little more country than rock ‘n roll, and he does the song justice. It’s much like the Kenny Loggins version–peppy, upbeat, but with a bit more twang.
What surprised me the most was my perception of the film. Back in 1984, I definitely related to the teenagers in the movie but this time, I witnessed it from the parent’s perspective. While it seemed a stretch that a town would outlaw dancing, in this rendition, I could understand Dennis Quaid’s character and that of his long suffering wife, played by Andie McDowell. Quaid’s explanation that it was his job as a parent to keep not only his kids safe, but also the kids in his community safe, made sense to me. It was possibly a little philosophical for a dance flick, but it was an element that was completely lost on me the first go-round.
After the screening of the film, the audience was treated to a meet and greet with the primary actors, Julianne Hough and Kenny Wormald. The actors were ushered to the front of the theatre, where they graciously answered questions from their fans. Hough was much more glamourous in person than in the movie, yet she was very down-t0-earth, too. Wormald, with his big brown eyes and engaging personality, was very charasmatic. If my teenaged daughter’s reaction to him was any indication of his potential star power, then Wormald has a bright future, but I don’t think that Justin Bieber has anything to worry about…yet. When we lined up to have a photo of Shannon taken with both Hough and Wormald, I thought Shannon’s little heart was going to beat out of her chest.
Overall, the film was entertaining and the leads were adorable and talented. Shannon and I truly enjoyed being in on the excitment and glamour of the premier and we’re looking forward to its national release. Will “Footloose” bring home the bacon? See for yourself on October 14th!!