Words by Blythe Alspaugh
I consider myself a fairly objective and levelheaded person—I try not to pass judgment too quickly, engaging new situations and experiences with an open mind. I live my life by the “don’t judge a book by its cover” standard.
I should’ve stuck with my gut instinct when it came to watching the 2011 remake of “Footloose.”
I’ve seen the remake of “Footloose” a total of two times. The first was when it hit theaters in the fall of 2011. With few memories of the original, I left feeling pleased with the remake—at the time, it was $7 well-spent. I even spent an additional $5 on the DVD, which leads me to the second time I watched the remake: for this review.
That’s right—I went out and bought the remake. Why? Sometimes I don’t think. To put it simply: My Sunday shoes stayed firmly on my feet while I continued to wonder why I wasted five perfectly good dollars on this movie.
To be fair, the remake isn’t a terrible movie. It follows the original storyline’s framework—Ren McCormack moves from the big city to small town Bomont to live with his aunt and uncle and finish high school. He’s oblivious to the laws against loud music and public dancing until he takes his yellow Volkswagen bug out for a spin and gets pulled over by local law enforcement for blasting his music on a backcountry road. He then becomes aware of the city ordinances passed to ban public dancing and all things associated. Through a short month or two in the town, he takes it upon himself to challenge the law so Bomont High can have a senior prom.
The movie opens with the party and car accident that left five Bomont High students dead, the son of the town preacher among them—the reason public dancing was banned.
This is a change from the original that I absolutely loved. I come from a small town like Bomont; everyone knows everybody, religion is an ever-present driving force and, despite the differences within the community, when tragedy strikes, everyone hurts. Seeing the pain in the community of Bomont’s faces and how deeply affected they were by their own small town tragedy was something I, as an audience member and observer, also felt and understood.
In watching remakes, there are bound to be changes that are unnecessary and even confusing. I can (begrudgingly) accept that Bomont is set in Georgia and not Kansas. I can live with the subplot of Ren joining the football team instead of gymnastics. I can even push aside my distaste for the knockoff NASCAR plot thrown in. But I can neither accept nor forgive what director Craig Brewer did to Ariel’s character.
Ariel Moore, the preacher’s daughter, is Ren’s love interest in both versions. The Ariel in the original is her own person on her own terms. She’s a girl who wants to be known as more than the preacher’s daughter, and she’s subtle about it. Her rebellion is listening to the music her parents disapprove of, sneaking out late at night, and sticking to her guns and gut. She’s got a ferocity that is quiet and muted but burns as bright as a wildfire, and she wants more than what Bomont has to offer her.
The Ariel in the remake is so inherently desperate to break away from the preacher’s daughter stereotype that she’ll do whatever is necessary to achieve it, even if she’s not wholly comfortable with it. At the restaurant just within town limits where all the teenagers hang out and dance, she calls girls who twerk “hussies” and then proceeds to pole dance on a parking meter. Her overt sexualization is entirely unnecessary.
Among the list of unnecessary changes is the iconic “angry dance” scene that takes place in the abandoned mill within city limits.
Since his arrival in Bomont, people have been on Ren’s case about anything and everything: he’s got an attitude problem, he listens to the wrong kind of music, he’s interested in the wrong things. People are very quick to pin him as a “bad influence,” whether it be on their daughters or the community as a whole.
In the original, Ren wants to do is listen to music and dance, and he’s been internalizing all the negativity thrown his way up until this point in the movie. It’s art. There are flashbacks of specific scenes where he’s been pulled over, called out, yelled at, taunted, talked down to—and his most violent action while reflecting on all of this is pounding his fist against the hood of his car and then throwing a beer bottle off screen. Everything else is told through his dancing, which is both raw and graceful.
No yelling. No screaming. No singing—just dancing. It’s all about the dancing.
This same scene in the remake is awkward, clumsy and, at times, uncomfortable. The music doesn’t match the dancing, and the dancing is a hodgepodge of pieces from the original dance and something “edgier.” Ren continually falls down, trips over his own feet and hurts himself in the process. As a viewer, I was left with secondhand embarrassment.
I understand Brewer wanted the remake to be more raw and gritty, but it was too much. Instead of picking up on Ren’s anger with the subtle cues of his body language and dance, I’m slapped in the face with it through his screaming and grunting and destruction of property (he breaks a window for no apparent reason).
Brewer stated in an article in the New York Times, “I want ‘Footloose’ to do to this generation what it did to my generation…I want it to really shake them up, and I know people will roll their eyes, but this ain’t ‘Glee.’ We’ve got a little more danger in this movie. We’ve got more sex and tense moments.”
It’s the danger, the sex and the tense moments that detract from what’s so good about the storyline. Sure, all of those things exist in the original, but they don’t overshadow the story—they enhance it.
The original “Footloose” is still relatable for today’s young audiences. Sure, iPods and iPhones were a fantasy of the future in 1984, but the feelings of wanderlust, of wanting to have a good time with friends and make mistakes without the fear of getting in “trouble” is something every teen can relate to, regardless of the decade.
Surprisingly, it’s not always all about sex. Sometimes, it’s just about letting loose through the power of song and dance—and while both are present in both versions of “Footloose,” the delivery is much smoother and effortless in the original. As such, I’m giving the original “Footloose” four out of five stars, and I’m giving the remake two and a half out of five stars.
If you’re going to cut anything loose, let it be the 2011 remake of “Footloose.” I know I did.