Starring: Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer, John Lithgow
Directed by: Herbert Ross
Musical/dance movies are usually square pegs trying to fit in round holes. The idea of people randomly breaking into song and dance is such a bizarre concept to fit within a realistic setting, many movies abandon trying to make it fit and just embrace the absurdity of it. Few films pull off the feat of making a serious movie where the core component is dance. Footloose is one of those films that you can take seriously even though everyone is one beat away from just getting loose with their feet. Herbert Ross’s film is far from perfect, and there are those who might shy away from the nonsense, but it does enough right to make it a very enjoyable film even for those who tend to shy away from these types of films.
Ren MacCormack (Kevin Bacon) and his mother have left the big city (Chicago to be exact) and moved to a small town in the south. Immediately Ren runs afoul with the local community as his penchant for music and dancing is frowned upon within his new town as both have been outlawed. The town’s preacher, Rev. Shaw Moore (John Lithgow) is most upset with Ren’s actions. More upsetting for Moore is seeing his daughter Ariel (Lori Singer) acting just as rebellious as Ren.
Ren tries to convince the town to abolish their laws and allow for a dance to happen. However, that’s shot down and Ren decides to hold the event outside of the town limits. This raises the ire of Rev. Moore and some of his ardent supporters in his congregation. Not only are these people trying to run Ren out of town, but also Ariel’s jealous boyfriend, Chuck (Jim Youngs), who is willing to take a more physical approach to showing Ren he’s not welcome.
Even though everything else is supposed to take a backseat to the dancing and music, it must be noted that there are solid acting performances all around. Lithgow does a wonderful job at portraying a preacher who struggles between his biblical studies and supporting his daughter. Even though, on paper it seems like the character evolves throughout the movie, Lithgow subtly reveals throughout the movie that the man himself hasn’t changed, but the situation has. To his credit, Lithgow is surrounded by others who really put their acting socks on under their dancing shoes. Bacon and Singer are great in their roles. Some might feel that Bacon just comes across as a moody guy that flashes the odd smile, but Bacon makes Ren feel like someone who’s being beaten down by the system and not someone told to act moody for the run of the film.
The draw to the movie is the dancing, which is not normally my cup of tea. However, as someone who doesn’t exactly run to go see a movie falling under the dance genre, I thought it was entertaining enough. I don’t know if dance aficionados will think it’s anything special (and I could be completely wrong), but I think it was well done and choreographed (again, not my forté and could be very mistaken). Thankfully, the dance sequences didn’t come completely out of nowhere and there was some thought as to how they unfolded; although I think some of them, most notably the one in the industrial area, was a little over the top.
The story is a bit basic and is mostly very predictable. You’re not going to see the movie take a dark turn and see Ren being burned at the stake for being a witch. This is your classic “traditional values vs. popular culture” storyline. The intriguing thing about this movie is that you do get a glimpse of the preacher’s point-of-view and it’s not that the cool things are what you’re supposed to like and that the traditional figures are evil. What’s interesting is that even though the movie is set in the eighties, it feels like the community is stuck in the fifties, which gives the town a feeling that it’s stuck in the past and sets the tone for the movie.
Although it’s supposed to be a flashy movie, Footloose tries to keep its tone somewhat serious. However, it could have delved deeper into the fight between traditional values vs. pop culture and the writing could have been tighter. It’s good enough for someone who doesn’t care about dancing in movies to still enjoy it, but even those who do won’t find this film exceptional. It’s fun while it lasts, but it’s not beyond remarkable.