Guilty Pleasures: Footloose
Can our Scott McKenzie escape the long arm of the law with another bad movie?
Your honour, Footloose is a criminal movie on more than one count. First of all, as I will prove today, it is such a guilty pleasure that every fan of this travesty should be sentenced to a life of shame without chance of parole. Secondly, it is guilty of riding on the coat-tails of Flashdance, which was released one year earlier. All the producers cared about was knocking out a ‘dance movie’ as quickly as they could and the only criteria that led to Kevin Bacon’s casting in the lead role of Ren was that he was considered ‘f**kable’.
The movie has dated horrendously. This is immediately clear from the embarrassing opening credits, where we see set after set of feet clad in shoes (and leg warmers, no less!—see exhibit A) from the 80s. If one were to sit down and actually attempt to endure this relic, they would be in no doubt about the sheer volume of cheese they will be expected to consume in the following 107 minutes. The main problem is that in making a movie that was supposed to be ‘cool’ in the 80s, the producers have created evidence of just how un-cool the era was. The fashions presented to us and the attempts by the actors to dance are the equivalent of catching your parents at it. You know it’s natural to them, but there’s no way you ever needed to see it.
Exhibit A – Kick off your Sunday shoes! Thanks, but I’d rather not.
This may have been the movie that launched Kevin Bacon onto the road to stardom, but for some reason it appears that every attempt to make him look like a red-blooded cool dude has been thwarted. To begin with, it’s difficult to come across as the new James Dean if the chicken race you’re competing in substitutes tractors in the place of stolen cars (exhibit B), and your success is based on the way you tie your shoelaces rather than your heroism. Lori Singer plays the love interest but the relationship Ren shares with Willard (played by a pre-two-for-one-dinners Chris Penn) is unashamedly homoerotic.
Exhibit B – More chug chug than vroom vroom
The emotional climax of their relationship is surely the montage of Ren teaching Willard how to dance (exhibit C), to the tune of ‘Let’s Hear It for the Boy’. I challenge anyone here today to watch this sequence in the light-hearted innocent way it was probably intended in 1984. In this post-modern, post-irony world, it is impossible to watch the sequence without questioning whether you’d prefer to have caught your parents at it than endure another second.
Exhibit C – To hell with the girls, let’s hear it for the boys!
I could go on picking holes in this movie. I mean, how does the town full of people who haven’t danced for years suddenly learn to do so in perfect formation by the end credits? Why does everyone in the diner turn round to look at John Lithgow when he’s chastising Ariel, even though some of them are in the bathroom, unable to see him, never mind hear the music his daughter wasn’t supposed to be playing? Where does all the glitter come from? Don’t even get me started on the ‘make Ginger pop’ story.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I implore you on behalf of all that is decent to find Footloose guilty.
I will concede that Footloose would not have been made were it not for the success of Flashdance, but I ask you to consider the following question—is it not a better movie? After all, all Flashdance has to offer are neon lights and welding, but Footloose offers so much more. To begin with, the themes are more hard-hitting than you might expect from a by-the-numbers against-all-odds 80s teen movie. Family break-up, drugs, book-burning censors and a couple of fairly brutal moments (exhibit D) are all major factors in an adult story that betrays its Karate Kid-style setup.
Exhibit D – Cop this, Ariel
Footloose is different because it doesn’t prescribe to the typical clichéd social structure within high school movies. In this world there are no jocks and geeks, just the good guys and the bad guys and the script is peppered with many nice exchanges between them. There is a wide array of different characters, some of which are awarded very little screen time, possibly indicating that a lot more footage ended up on the cutting room floor. This means there are a decent number of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments, like when Ren is helped out at the diner in a one versus three grappling match (exhibit E).
Exhibit E – One outnumbers three
Admittedly, this movie may not be the greatest ever made, but the performances of some members of the supporting cast rise above the rest. The exchanges between John Lithgow and Dianne Wiest are few and far between, but they are at the emotional core of Footloose, and Ren’s use of quotes from the bible to curry favour with the Reverend add a dash of welcome intelligence to the proceedings. As my learned friend for the prosecution has stated, the relationship between Ren and Willard may bring their intentions towards the characters of Lori Singer and an almost unrecognisable Sarah Jessica Parker into question, it does allow for some entertaining scenes:
Ren: You like Men at Work?
Willard: What men?
Ren: Men at work.
Willard: Well where do they work?
Ren: No, they're a music group.
Willard: Well what do they call themselves?
Ren: Oh no! What about the Police?
Willard: What about 'em?
Ren: You ever heard them?
Willard: No, but I seen them.
Ren: Where, in concert?
Willard: No, behind you.
At the very least, Footloose must be acquitted on the grounds that not just one but two of the original songs were nominated for an Oscar.
Prosecution: Objection! Those songs were a bunch of cheesy crap!
Judge: Sustained. But watch your mouth, councillor. Now, as ever, I must ask the good people of DVDActive. Footloose… guilty pleasure or not guilty?
Editorial by Scott McKenzie
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