Censorship leading to rebellion was hardly an original concept when Herbert Ross’ Footloose premiered nearly 30(!) years ago, but the concept is given a fresh shake in Craig Brewer’s remake (Hustle & Flow). Taking the 1984 original and shaking it of its dorkiness and ugly 1980s veneer, Footloose is a notable exception amongst a glut of disappointing remakes. It takes what worked in the original (the layered plot, the fresh music and the character of Willard) and polishes them up in a shiny new package that finally serves them justice.
The general outline is still the same; smart alec teenager Ren (newcomer Kenny Wormald) with footloose feet arrives in Small Town, Middle America where dancing has been outlawed. He falls for the rebellious preacher’s daughter, Ariel (Julianne Hough, Burlesque), and goes about changing the town’s perception that dancing and music are against God and against the law. The cheesy angst-filled sequences of dancing alone in abandoned factories remain, but somehow it all comes together here far better than it ever did before.
Brewer’s appointment to Footloose may at first appear curious, what with his past films all being quite propulsive, but it turns out he was the perfect choice because he understands music and he understands choreography. The dancing is presented in gorgeous widescreen cinematography by Amy Vincent, who manages to capture all the kicking feet, swishing hips and contorting arms far better than many bigger budgeted musicals have done as of late. There’s an electric, modern energy to Footloose that is perhaps best encapsulated in the opening credits, which put a big ol’ grin on my face that never vanished. Kenny Loggins’ incredible title tune remains, as does Deniece Williams’ amazing “Let’s Here It For the Boy”, but several new and reworked songs provide a lively country twang soundtrack.
Much praise must go to the young actors. Wormald, looking astoundingly like Johnny Depp circa 21 Jump Street, may not be much of an actor yet, but neither was Kevin Bacon. His dancing is where he really shines and the many scenes in which we get to watch him strut about are amongst the film’s highlights. Hough does her best Miley Cyrus impersonation and manages many fine moments, whilst newcomer Ziah Malone is fun in the Sarah Jessica Parker role and is an inspired touch of colour-blind casting. It’s Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole), however, as Willard who is the breakout star of Footloose. So robust and infectious, he takes the character’s large personality and goes for broke. His dancing is aces, too.
Not even a rather obvious lack of interest in the adult actors (Dennis Quaid and Andie MacDowell amongst them) can stop Footloose from finally becoming the film that 1980s nostalgia would have us assume the original is. It’s time to “cut loose”!
Footloose is released in Australia on October 6th
Director: Craig Brewer
Cast: Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough, Miles Teller, Dennis Quaid, Andie MacDowell, Ziah Malone,
Ray McKinnon, Ser’Darius William Blain and Patrick John Flueger