(written by Dean Pitchford / directed by Herbert Ross)
As a 1980's kid, who watched plenty of teen flicks, how did I miss FOOTLOOSE?
Was I too busy playing with my Kenner STAR WARS action figures? Did some of the R-rated movies I probably should not have seen make FOOTLOOSE look juvenile? Was I against really bad dancing? The answer to this rad filmic mystery is simple. The idea of a bunch of late-teens not being allowed to dance seemed, like, totally lame to my 10-year-old brain. So, the years rolled on and I missed FOOTLOOSE on VHS, Laser Disc, DVD and even streaming.
Now, 36 years later, I decided to cross FOOTLOOSE off my list of unseen 80's films. Thanks to COVID-19 shutting down Hollywood, I was able to experience this tale of teen rebellion on the big screen for only $2.
The plot is right out of a song. A rebellious big city boy moves to an oppressive farming community. He meets a small town girl with a death wish, who is also the preacher's daughter. This boy and girl fall in love and just want to go to prom. The problem is that this small town banned dancing when a drunken car crash, after a dance, killed a bunch of teens. Will the boy and girl fight against school bullies and Bible-thumping adults for their right to party-hardy? Will the preacher stop being such a buzzkill? Will somebody call an ambulance out of fear that the big city boy's dancing is actually an undiagnosed medical condition?
Seriously, how the hell did Kevin Bacon become famous? His acting is a standard teen flick performance. (Did he learn nothing about the thespian art from FRIDAY THE 13TH?) His dancing is embarrassing. (Was it improvised on the spot?) His smile is consistently a lecherous leer. (He obviously wants to do the Horizontal Bop.) Plus, his character's name is Ren, as if the audience needs more of a reason to hate him.
Lori Singer, as the preacher's daughter, is forgettable. I can't even recall the character's name. Christopher Penn, as Willard, Ren's new small town friend, is stupidly likable and made me think of Joshua Jackson in DAWSON'S CREEK. Sarah Jessica Parker, as Rusty, the preacher's daughter's best friend, livens up any scene. John Lithgow and Dianne Wiest, as the fire & brimstone preacher and his quietly powerful wife, give this film credibility that it doesn't deserve.
Strangely, I may have missed the film back in the day, but I owned a cassette tape of the FOOTLOOSE soundtrack. So, sitting in the theater in 2020, I was eagerly waiting to see how certain songs would be used in the film. A few musical interludes surprised, confused and impressed me.
"Footloose" by Kenny Loggins
I give props to any film confident enough to open with the title song over a montage of dancing footwear. I wonder how many people left the theater early back in 1984 because they got what they wanted from the beginning credits.
"Holding out for a Hero" by Bonnie Tyler
I was experiencing such fits of hysterics watching a game of chicken played with tractors that I'm surprised someone didn't accuse me of dancing like Kevin Bacon. I seriously can't decide if this scene is the dumbest thing ever filmed or if it is satirical brilliance because holding out for a tractor chicken hero is ridiculous to the extreme.
"Let's Hear it for the Boy" by Deniece Williams
I legitimately enjoyed the use of this crazy-catchy song. Willard confesses that he can't dance, so Ren teaches him how to dance, or whatever Kevin Bacon is doing. This joyous scene surprised and impressed me from start to finish. Showing two men dancing together in a 1984 film, without obvious, hateful jokes, is the cinematic equivalent of giving the finger to that generally repressive, homophobic decade.
While Ren and Willard are just friends, my mind envisioned a modern day remake. A rebellious big city boy moves to an oppressive farming community. He meets a big sack of duh boy who can't dance because the town has banned dancing. Will the rebel teach the big sack of duh how to dance while fighting school bullies, Bible-thumpers and their growing attraction to one another? The answer is yes and they embrace their feelings through a kiss and a dance at the underground prom, while a cover of "Let's Hear it for the Boy" by Beyoncé plays on! Somehow I suspect this is not the plot to the 2011 remake, but it should be.
In conclusion, I believe my 10-year-old self would have been bored by FOOTLOOSE because, with a few exceptions, my adult-self was bored during it. However, I'm glad I can cross this off my unseen 80's films list. Hopefully COVID-19 keeps the classics coming to a theater near me. Maybe I'll finally see FLASHDANCE!
P.S. A different film about dancing...
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