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There comes a point in every musical or dance film in which the viewer must decide whether or not to just go with it. He or she must choose to jump to the left and step to the right, or turn a nose up at the whole thing. There’s really no in-between. Footloose is a ridiculous movie. At times, it’s even absurd. It asks and requires a lot of its audience, but those willing to kick off their Sunday shoes will be rewarded with a surprisingly good movie polished and bedazzled to the nines.
Remakes often lack life. In trying to update and recapture a moment, they frequently get the facts right but fall short in capturing the pop and exuberance that made the original shine. Director Craig Brewer has no such problem here. His version of Footloose has all the displays of brash and youthful exuberance you might expect, but it’s also surprisingly detail oriented and careful about letting all its characters keep a bit of humanity. Nothing is black and white. The film’s villains aren’t monsters, just as the main characters aren’t saints. They’re simply trying to figure it all out, and if that requires the occasional well-executed dance number, all the better for the audience.
Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald) watched leukemia slowly take his mother. The dreadful ordeal left him guarded and in need of somewhere to stay for his senior year of high school. His Uncle Wes (Ray McKinnon) and Aunt Lulu (Kim Dickens) step up and provide that shelter, but their tiny town of Bomont, Georgia is every bit as guarded as Ren. Three years ago, it lost five of its best and brightest teenagers to a regrettable car accident after a dance. In response, the town fathers enacted more stringent rules of conduct that enforced an eleven o’clock curfew and a ban on public, unsupervised dancing for minors.
The local kids have their ways of getting around the ordinances, but a cloud of worry and suspicion hangs over their every actions. Most choose to conform, but Ariel (Julianne Hough), the preacher’s daughter, instead acts out. She’s started dating local asshole Chuck (Patrick John Flueger), but there’s something about the new kid that she can’t quite shake. He’s got a certain confidence about him, especially now that he’s started hanging out with Willard (Miles Teller), a fun-loving redneck who’s apathetic about dancing. Together, Ariel and Ren forge a shaky and often tumultuous relationship as they decide to challenge her father and more specifically, the town’s ban on dancing.
Their protests lead to the film’s principle conflict, but in many respects, Footloose really isn’t about whether or not the teenagers are allowed to dance. In a way, that’s precisely why the film is so successful. Three years ago, an unimaginable tragedy forcibly ripped away any sense of control Bomont’s residents had. Ariel’s father (Dennis Quaid) lost his only son. He responded with tough love. Ariel lost her only brother. She responded by losing control. That grief impairs and shapes every decision made in Bomont; so, when Ren stands up and says no to a silly ordinance, he’s really indicting the entire town for vilifying its past. Whether or not, as an outsider, he has a right to do so isn’t an issue the script glosses over. Like everything else, that objection is voiced and treated with respect and tact.
Footloose is not the best film 2011 will have to offer. In fact, by year’s end, there will likely be a few dozen movies better than Footloose, but very few of them will have maximized their potential as fully as this one. Not only did Craig Brewer coax solid acting performances out of his mostly untested leads, he also habitually made perfect decisions with both tone and pacing. Not one shot is out of place here. The dance numbers are the perfect lengths. The deeper scenes are emotional without ever devolving into melodrama, and the one hundred and thirteen minute run-time flies by.
Footloose is both a pleasant surprise and a hell of a good time, at least if you’re willing to just go with it.