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Review: Footloose (2011)

Footloose (2011)

Directed by: Craig Brewer

Premise: A remake of the 1984 film. A teenager moves from Boston to a small town in Middle America where dancing has been outlawed.

What Works: The premise of Footloose—that a community would or could outlaw dancing—is a very strange one, especially for an audience in 2011. But the new film manages to make this believable with an opening sequence in which a group of youths are killed in a car crash. The gravity of that opening is embodied effectively throughout the film by Dennis Quaid as a local pastor and community leader. Quaid plays the role as a concerned if overprotective parent and this makes his character and his cause much more sympathetic than if he were merely a fire breathing moralist.

What Doesn’t: The new version of Footloose is handicapped and ultimately sunk by its lack of authenticity. This new film never completely or convincingly translates the 1980s musical into a contemporary film. The remake is coproduced by MTV and there is clearly an attempt to bring the music channel’s brand of hip urban culture to a rural setting but the film is never able to complete the transplant. Footloose 2011 never feels as though it takes place in a real setting; instead it plays like a Hollywood vision of middle-America. As a result the picture traffics in a lot of stereotypes such as the outsider, the rebellious preacher’s daughter, the dense but goodhearted country bumpkin sidekick, and the villainous, woman beating and pickup driving redneck. The stereotyped roles are to be expected (this is Footloose, after all) but the roles are made worse by the casting. Lead performers Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough were clearly cast for their dancing skills rather than their acting talents and they bring nothing to their roles. At no point does the movie present these characters as real people with actual emotions and that kills the love story, which is dependent upon creating empathy for the character’s desires and convincing the audience that these people should be together. More broadly Footloose suffers from a lack of urgency or dramatic conflict. The film introduces its main character and sets him in opposition to several authority figures as well as the local toughs, but after than there is no development of that conflict, and when the film arrives at the ending nothing has been won, lost, or affirmed. This is a big loss for the film, since the point of Footloose , like Chocolat, is to make a humanistic case against asceticism and embrace the risks inherent to living a full and meaningful life. That the film misses this is doubly disappointing coming from director Craig Brewer, who had previously directed Hustle and Flow and Black Snake Moan, a pair of musical films based around the sensual and healing qualities of music. Instead of embracing those organic and even lascivious qualities, Footloose keeps them at arm’s length and by doing that it keeps its audience at a distance as well.

Bottom Line: Footloose is a disappointment. The film misses opportunities to modernize or improve the original material and it comes across as a crass, plastic, commercial product rather than an organic celebration of life, dance, and music.

Episode: #360 (October 23, 2011)