Finally, along comes a remake – a darn faithful one, too – that’s not a just a pointless rehash or mindless retread. Craig Brewer’s Footloose manages to update the popular 1984 original for a new generation without complete pandering to the contemporary box-office gods or running roughshod over the fond memories of middle-aged moviegoers. First, let’s remember that the mid-Eighties film is no great classic of cinema, although its heartfelt story about stifled teenagers, small-town myopia, standing up for your beliefs, and the joyous, regenerative powers of music and dance has remained resonant through the decades. And I’m certain that our nostalgia is also due in part to our recognition of its energetic young star Kevin Bacon as a compelling up-and-comer.
Although the 2011 Footloose has none of the mad verve that marked Brewer’s first two movies – the redemptive pimp tale, Hustle & Flow, and the outré Southern gothic, Black Snake Moan – it does show the filmmaker coming into full command of his creative talent. Brewer also receives screenwriting credit along with the author of the original, Dean Pitchford. Obvious updates include things like having the kids listening to music on their iPods. A subtler shift can be seen in the film’s tone that strips away the town fathers’ reactionary, Southern Baptist-like prohibition against public dancing and loud music in favor of a more parentally concerned, less religiously tinged ban. As the town minister who loses his son in the car accident that prompts the ban, Dennis Quaid hasn’t appeared this uptight and repressed since his turn as the closeted homosexual in Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven. But still, the remake reuses iconic cues like the skinny ties and VW bug from the original that have become fashionable again, recycles several of the first film’s most memorable bits and scenes, and retains the eternal-teen allure and angst of young upstart Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald).
Professional dancer Wormald turns out to have been a wise choice for the lead. He’s cute, competent, and capable of much more than just kicking up his heels. Julianne Hough as Ariel Moore, the preacher’s daughter who wants to be a bad girl, also transcends her Dancing With the Stars roots and reveals great screen presence, although her sexiness still seems a bit sophisticated for a high schooler. The real strength in Footloose’s drama lies in the supporting performances. In particular, Ray McKinnon is understated but powerfully effective as Ren’s uncle who takes the teen in after the death of his mother, Miles Teller as Ren’s best friend Willard (in the role originally played so distinctively by Chris Penn) is startlingly good – and delivers something completely different than his turn in Rabbit Hole, and Ziah Colon as Ariel’s best friend makes a strong impression with her unusual beauty and natural delivery. On the other hand, Andie MacDowell and Kim Dickens are underused and allowed no more than a scene or two of dialogue.Footloose 2.0 stumbles at a couple of points (most notably, Ren releasing his anger in a solo dance-it-out sequence in an empty warehouse), but Brewer has a firm command of the material and a great sense of how to film dance sequences. Can’t wait to see what this filmmaker does next.