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October 19, 2011 - Rick Chatenever
So how does the new version of “Footloose” compare to the original?
I can’t say for sure. Over all these decades of making a career out of going to the movies, a lot of them haven’t stuck. Out of the thousands of movies I’ve seen are thousands I don’t remember at all. It gets embarrassing when the movie in question is someone’s personal favorite, and I dumbly smile and nod my head, not having a clue what they’re talking about as they relive it scene by scene.
Even worse is when the film is instantly forgettable and has already evaporated by the time I exit the theater.
All of this is by way of saying I can’t remember whether I saw the original 1984 version of “Footloose” or not. Yes, I know it was a landmark role in the career of Kevin Bacon, which of course is the milestone by which Hollywood careers are measured. I did somehow manage to assimilate over time what it was all about — rebellious big-city teen arrives in small conservative town of Hicksville and quickly finds himself on the wrong side of the law for … dancing!?
Having grown up in the Bible belt, the idea that a passel of agitated local lawmakers could pass an antidancing ordinance was not exactly credible … but wasn’t totally outside the realm of possibilities in the early ’80s when the original film was released. Especially considering that the town council was acting in shocked reaction to a tragic car accident that killed a bunch of high school kids returning from a dance.
But now, with hip-hop dancers, gangstas and Lady Gaga doing things on national TV that teens in the ’80s couldn’t even do in their fantasies, a townwide ban on dancing is no longer believable as a plot device … at least in cultures not run by the Taliban.
So, yes, “Footloose’s” premise —that you can outlaw dancing —is, well, nuts. But aside from wondering why Hollywood can’t come up with anything more original, if you can suspend enough disbelief to just go see the new version, you’ll be pleasantly rewarded with an energetic, colorfully choreographed, surprisingly satisfiying emotional experience.
The film’s success stems from new star Kenny Wormald’s refusal —like that of the character he plays —to be intimidated by his new circumstances. His character still has the open wounds from a personal tragedy in Boston when he gets off the Greyhound bus in his new home. They’re mistaken for “yankee attitude” by the locals. But he compensates with a sort of bravado that translates into some great dance moves that quickly get the attention of the town’s fiesty preacher’s daughter.
Julianne Hough brings steely gray eyes and raspy Southern sexiness to the role. Her chemistry with Wormald, coupled with some terrfic dance numbers under the direction of “Hustle & Flow’s” Craig Brewer, keep things lively.
There are fun performances in the racially integrated supporting ranks. Ironically though, while “Footloose” is a tale of youthful rebellion against adult small-mindedness, it’s Ariel’s parents — played by Andie MacDowell but especially Dennis Quaid as the town minister —who provide the film’s truest emotions.
The always reliable Quaid is in “Far From Heaven” mode here. His religious rigidity can barely hide his personal anguish and pain set off by that traffic accident that claimed his son among its victims.
Rather than providing a dogmatic villain to rail against, his senseless actions are easier to understand in the context of parents everywhere to try to protect our kids at all costs, especially from the very forces we know are beyond our abilities to control.
Along with the dance numbers, “Footloose” gets extra points for making this point. Quaid and Kevin Bacon are contemporaries and co-stars. As much as the movie is about youthful rebellion, it’s also about yesterday’s teens who became today’s parents, with all the misplaced worries and misunderstood love that goes with the job.
The night after I saw “Footloose,” I was reminded of how lucky we are to live in a very different place at the premiere of “Kulanihako‘i: Living Waters” at the MACC. Guided by master and emerging kumu hula, this mesmerizing production explored water as a metaphor for the life force running through Hawaiian mythology and culture, telling its “story” through hula, chant and narration.
The production was spellbinding as an almost seamless blend of dance, chant and narrative to communicate in a language combining them all. It also showed that the place we live doesn’t outlaw dancing, but rather cherishes it as a powerful, heartfelt means of bridging generations and connecting them all to the source of their culture.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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