Review: FOOTLOOSE (2011)

A lot of people reading this don’t need to be told why I’m doing a full review of the Footloose remake, but I guess I’ll do a refresher for those unaware. I’m a huge fan of writer/director Craig Brewer. I’m one of the few people who saw both his previous releases (Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan) in theaters. I love both of those films, and through his writing and filmmaking abilities, Brewer had proven himself to be one of the few original voices in Hollywood’s vast sea of remakes, reboots, sequels, prequels, and adaptations. So it was with great dismay when it was announced his next movie was gonna be a remake of the 1984 classic, I was disappointed, to say the least. At first glance, it looked like he had sold out and dove headfirst into that sea of unoriginality that most of us claim to hate. Time passed, and the project was out of sight and out of mind…that is, until the first trailer for the film was released in July. I had a visceral reaction to that trailer, and dedicated an entire post on this blog to breaking down why I thought I was being proven right in my original fears.

In that post, I reiterated that the Craig Brewer I had come to love as a promising filmmaker may be lost. And yes, I’ll admit, though I did try to be fair in my reaction to the trailer, I was a bit of a smartass in mocking certain plot elements I thought were ridiculous. It should also be noted that at the time, I had not seen the original Footloose. I was aware of it, but it always seemed to me to be one of those 80’s movies that you could only love if you first saw it when it originally came out, or if you saw it for the first time as a teenager. It’s been on my list of “movies to watch eventually”, but it certainly wasn’t a priority. I was gonna wait to see Brewer’s remake on Netflix, and only do even that out of respect for Brewer, on the hope that his creative voice would survive in some form.

What I didn’t expect, and what I couldn’t have expected, was that the day after I posted that trailer “analysis”, Brewer himself would not only read it, but respond to it (check the comments of that post, and the one response is from Brewer). Not only did he respond calmly and with class, but he made sure to point out that if I was a fan of his other movies, I would enjoy his Footloose remake, too. At first I didn’t even believe it was Brewer who wrote the comment. I wasn’t quite sold, but based on how detailed his response was, I started to believe it wasn’t one of my friends posing as him. I was able to quickly confirm that it was in fact Brewer who had responded, at which point he told me he’d actually visited my blog before. Then he gave me a follow on Twitter, and even offered to grant me an interview. I’ve since had several email correspondences with him. He couldn’t be a nicer, more down-to-Earth guy.

As a result of his gracious response (I can’t say I’d have responded at all in his place, let alone with such civility), I promised him I’d see his movie in theaters instead of waiting for Netflix, and even threw the original Footloose to the top of my Netflix queue. Let’s just say without his response, it may have been years before I saw the Kevin Bacon movie. I got the original film in the mail in early August and watched it immediately. I was surprised to find that I did actually enjoy it. No bullshit. I didn’t love it, and I’ll probably never buy it, but I’m glad I saw it before seeing the remake, and I do understand why it was such a big hit when it came out. I even watched it through a second time with the filmmakers’ commentary, and watched several of the bonus features. I think seeing this new one first would have been a bad idea. Anyway, that’s the setup. For various logistical reasons, I haven’t been able to connect with Craig long enough to do a proper interview, but hopefully that’ll get done soon, once his schedule is a bit less hectic after the release of the film. I certainly have plenty to ask him.

Not only did I see the remake in theaters, but I went to the damn midnight show (Brewer offered to get me into a free press screening, but needless to say, they don’t do those anywhere near Myrtle Beach). Regardless of what I think of it, Craig Brewer deserves a hit, and if it takes a mainstream remake for him to gain some clout in the industry, I can say I’ve done my part to make that happen.

My general thoughts are that I enjoyed the remake pretty much just as much as I did the original. It was basically exactly as good as I figured it would or wouldn’t be. Brewer grew up with the original movie, so I knew he’d bring a passion to getting it right while also making it modern, and his love of the original is evident in his approach. He pays proper tribute to the original with the selection of music and even the way he replicated certain shots and dialogue. I think this is exactly what a good remake should do. A shot-for-shot remake, like Gus van Sant‘s 1998 version of Psycho, is interesting to watch as a filmmaking exercise, but in the end is mostly pointless in the long run. I think Brewer’s Footloose will find its own loyal young fans, many of whom probably haven’t seen the 1984 movie, and some of whom may not even realize the original even exists. Let’s face it, a lot people are really dumb.

I won’t rehash the plot of the movie. You can go anywhere else to find that if you have no clue what Footloose is about. With that said, let’s get into some specifics…

WHAT I LIKED

The script/structure. Brewer gets credit on the script with Dean Pitchford, who also wrote the 1984 film. I think bringing Pitchford in was a good move, though I’m curious to know if the two of them were ever in the same room at the same time working on it. Most of the major beats are the same, and fans of the original will find all their favorite scenes reimagined here. I like how they changed a few things around (Ren‘s reason for coming to Bomont is different), updated other things (the game of tractor chicken becomes a crazy bus race), and made other scenes more contemporary. It feels authentic to 2011, and if I’m not mistaken, they even managed to accomplish that without a single scene with somebody using a computer or cell phone. Kudos on that.

I’m still not sure I buy that a town would outlaw public dancing because some teens got in a car crash while coming home from a party that featured lots of dancing, but they spend enough time on the crash and how it directly affects some of the main characters that it doesn’t come across as utterly ridiculous. I don’t doubt WHY the town “elders” would think this was a good idea, but I do doubt that it would actually happen. Regardless, the script has enough drama in it that all the main characters get their moment to shine. You have to be invested in the dramatic scenes before you can feel any elation during the dancing.

Dennis Quaid does not approve of your behavior.

The cast (mostly). I think, to varying degrees, just about every member of the 1984 cast is more suited to the roles than the 2011 cast, but I did like this cast quite a bit. Kenny Wormald is actually from Boston, so (thank god!) he is able to use a real Boston accent in the movie, as opposed to the over-the-top Hollywood Boston Accent (as displayed by, say, Jack Nicholson in The Departed or just about everyone in Mystic River). This is his feature debut as a lead, and he carries himself well. They didn’t have a whole lot of options for the Ren McCormack role, because they needed to find someone who wasn’t already a star who could dance and act. He is an excellent dancer, and has the required movie star good looks. He’s got room to grow as an actor, but does a plenty good job with what’s required of him here. Julianne Hough was supposedly a big deal before being cast here as Ariel, but I haven’t seen more than about 5 minutes total of Dancing with the Stars, so she’s completely fresh to me. She, too, does a good job in her big time debut. She’s cute as hell, and in closeups her eyes explode off the screen. The two leads are likable and have nice chemistry, and you do root for them to end up together, which is kinda sorta important.

OH, HAI HOUGH!

My favorite member of the new cast, and maybe the only one who outshines his original counterpart, is Miles Teller as Ren’s best friend Willard. If you were one of the few people who saw last year’s Rabbit Hole, you already knew this kid had talent. I’d say he has the most breakout potential of this young cast, and you’re gonna love every minute he’s on the screen. Dennis Quaid does a terrific job as Ariel’s father, Rev. Shaw Moore. He’s an obstacle between Ren and Ariel being together, but he’s not an antagonist, and at no point do you dislike him, which is a really tough thing to pull off. You understand his motivation, which is important, and as such, you don’t blame him for his reservations towards Ren. Though I do wonder why he isn’t equally disapproving of Ariel’s boyfriend, Chuck. Speaking of Chuck, I think this is the one place where the original was far better. Patrick John Flueger doesn’t make this guy hateable enough, and barely pulls off the pivotal scene where he hits Ariel. I thought Jim Youngs was much more convincing in this role in the ’84 movie.

The final two highlights for me were Ray McKinnon as Ren’s uncle Wes, and the little girls playing his daughters (Maggie & Mary-Charles Jones) were off the charts adorable. Brewer also brings back Claude Phillips in another small role. Phillips appeared in crucial scenes in both Hustle and Black Snake, and needs to be in every Craig Brewer movie going forward.

Bromance of the year?

The music. The new songs are okay, and the covers of the songs from the original soundtrack are pretty good, but I think I prefer all of the older versions better. Pretty much all of the covers could be best described as pop country. I’m not well versed enough in many of the soundtrack artists to know how many of the songs are actually original to this film, but hopefully a few of them are. Blake Shelton‘s version of “Footloose” is growing on me, and either version of this song is certainly better than the majority of pop songs made today. Brewer effectively uses the White Stripes‘ “Catch Hell Blues” during Ren’s infamous warehouse rage dance sequence. I dunno, the soundtrack didn’t blow me away like it did in Brewer’s previous films, but it’s still a good album, and these guys certainly made better choices for songs than a lot of other filmmakers might have. I can’t think of the last time a movie soundtrack was a huge hit on the charts, and I’m rooting for it to happen again soon.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE

The dance choreography. Of course, Jamal Sims‘ choreography isn’t bad (it’s quite good, and fun to watch), but that there are choreographed dances at all just feels a little out of place, for a simple reason. I continue to wonder…if Bomont is as small a town as we’re repeatedly told, where do so many of these kids get professional dance training? Would a gymnast/dancer from Massachusetts really be able to go into a country nightclub and do an epic line dance routine? I think not. I had this problem with the original film, so I’m not surprised it’s back, but it is still an issue. For me. It doesn’t take away from your enjoyment of the film, but I did think about it, and you don’t ever want distractions like this taking you out of the moment or out of the story.

Fully versed in all forms of dance.

-This is the nitpick of all nitpicks, but one of my favorite moments in the original is at the end of the film where Ren & Willard get into a fight with Chuck and his boys. When Kevin Bacon’s Ren comes outside to help Willard, he joins the fray by doing this epic dropkick off the steps, and in the new movie Kenny Wormald’s Ren just jumps off the steps and spear tackles a dude. I wish they’d kept the dropkick. But again, that’s just a nitpick.

It’s good to come out of a live action movie (that isn’t a comedy or romantic comedy) feeling good, with a smile on your face. Typically, that kind of feeling today is reserved for Pixar movies. You don’t realize how rarely that happens these days until you finally see a movie like this. Footloose is a true “feel-good movie”, an altogether rare occurrence in modern cinema. I’d much rather have seen an original story accomplish these things, something where the critics could rave “This is the Footloose for this generation!” Instead, we have to say, “Footloose is the Footloose of this generation!”, but I guess having any movie like this is better than none at all. Considering some of the trailers for new stories I had to endure prior the feature presentation (a Queen Latifah/Dolly Parton choir movie called Joyful Noise, the dreadful Adam Sandler dual role flick Jack and Jill, and the latest abomination from Katherine Heigl1, One for the Money– which I guess is the prequel to the Matthew McConaughey/Al Pacino sports gambling flick Two for the Money), maybe it is best to continue with the remakes until somebody comes up with a decent original idea.

Having seen both versions of Footloose for the first time within a 2-month span, I can’t really say which I think is better. The original did some things better, and this one stood out in its own ways, too. I don’t love either of them, but I guess I like them both just about the same, and that’s probably the best compliment I can give to Craig Brewer, who was a true fan of the original before making his version. He certainly didn’t fuck it up, and if you’re gonna dedicate a year of your career to do a remake, you better put your own stamp on a familiar story (check), and you better at least equal the original in overall quality (check).

I’m not against remakes in principle (one of my dream projects is to redo Hitchcock‘s Rear Window, and I wanted to make another War of the Worlds before Spielberg stole my thunder in 2005), but I dislike this trend of remaking movies that originally came out just 20-30 years ago. It seems Hollywood is determined to update every popular movie from the 1980’s, and that’s just f’ing sad. My general rule personally is that the only remakes that deserve to be made are of foreign language films when they’re being remade in English (The Ring, for example, or this December’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), or if you make serious changes to the original or can improve on an original because of today’s technology. I’m not sure Footloose fits into either of those categories, and I’ll say the same thing about the upcoming Dirty Dancing remake (yes, it’s happening). Again, it’s sad that this is what Hollywood thinks is necessary to get people to show up to the theater. However, in the end, the audiences…me, you, we, are the ones at fault, because we allow movies like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Transformers: Dark of the Moon to gross over $1 billion around the world, while a fantastic original film like 50/50 struggles to reach $30 million. Shame on us.

Recommendations-

IMDb Rating: 7/10

THEATER-WORTHY: Yes, with a date or a group, and especially with a good crowd. It’s a great audience movie. I don’t see a lot of groups of straight guys going to see this film, but it’s a fine date movie and a perfect Girls Night Out movie. Just don’t see it alone like I did. I’m a lonely loser. Enjoy Footloose with someone. Anyone.

RENT OR PURCHASE: I’ll Netflix it, because I want to listen to Craig Brewer’s commentary track (I’m assuming you did one!). His commentaries on his previous films have been fantastic, and I expect nothing less on this.

-If my in-depth reviews bore you, and you want a quick and efficient review of the remake that includes a nice plot synopsis, you can check THIS one out. And for an amusing negative review, Brewer himself tweeted a link to Roger Ebert‘s review, which you can read HERE. Ebert also hated the original film. Seriously though, if you’re on Twitter, you need to follow Craig Brewer (@MyBrewTube). He might be the most accessible, fan-friendly director in all of Hollywood.

-Lastly, check out THIS interview with Brewer and the two stars of the film over at A.V. Club. Good stuff about how the remake came together, how/why Brewer came onboard, and the differences between the two movies.

Footnotes:

1Why has Katherine Heigl not fired her agent(s)? Or is she really that bad at choosing quality projects? She did Knocked Up in ’07 and it’s been all downhill from there. She’s almost as bad as Gerard Butler, who can’t seem to find anything as good as 300, which also came out in ’07. What a waste.

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