Not Your Typical Dance Flick: “Footloose”

Tragedy struck at the library yesterday. Not only did they not have 9 ½ Weeks, but they didn’t have The Full Monty, either. So, I am sad to report, there will be no stripteases in this post, sexy or otherwise. But there will be dancing.

Footloose, based loosely on actual events in Elmore, OK, is one of those classic ‘80’s movies that almost everyone knows, or has, at least, heard of—after all, it is one of the youthful Kevin Bacon’s most famous roles.
(But, sadly, while he was cute in 1984, he hasn’t aged all that well.)

Bacon’s Ren McCormack is, as I described via text to a friend the other day, “a youthful city upstart” from Chicago who has recently moved to the sleepy, parochial country town of Bomont, where the most exciting activity the kids engage in is a thrilling game of Chicken, using tractors. Ren is first spotted by town belle and firecracker Ariel Moore, played by the rail-thin Lori Singer, and her group of giggly girlfriends in church. Though Ariel feigns disinterest, she is secretly intrigued by this handsome young stranger who has come to town—and who can blame her? As a preacher’s daughter, Ariel is expected to be the model child; so, of course, she rebels in all sorts of ways, which doesn’t go over too well with her father, Reverend Shaw Moore, played by John Lithgow—especially when she *gasp* listens to rock and roll music, which is, in the opinion of the town’s middle-aged and up members, the greatest sin one can commit, as it promotes “easy sexuality and relaxed morality.”

So imagine how pleased Revered Shaw is when Ariel starts hanging out with Ren, who, in everyone’s estimation, is practically the next Anti-Christ: Not only does he listen to rock ‘n roll, but he dances, and reads “blasphemous” books like The Slaughterhouse Five. Ren is not unaware of the town’s prejudice, but tries not to let it get to him. And though it’s a bit hard to ignore just about everyone, save your buddy Willard, throwing dirty, you’re-a-heathen glances your way, Ren takes out his frustrations by—you guessed it—dancing.

(Or, more accurately, pretending to be Spiderman in an abandoned barn while a hidden Ariel watches.)

Of course, it’s not long before Ren has almost every kid in town interested in this mythical thing called, “dancing.” So when Ren gets up in front of the town council—Bible in hand, literally—to preach the goodness of dancing, practically the entire eighteen and under crowd comes to show support. Problem is, the practice has been outlawed for such a long time, that no one really knows how to do it, unless they’re “rebels” like Ariel and her posse. Eh. Details. Ren makes sinners out of all of ‘em in no time.

Footloose is by no means a “good” movie, in the sense that it’s deep and meaningful. But it is “good” in the sense that it’s silly and fun, and pretty much epitomizes the dance craze that briefly swept the movie industry in the ‘80’s. Moreover, it reveals the (unfortunate) stigmas that many progressive or different ideas encounter in the face of—to put it bluntly—religion. For example, about three-fourths of the way through the movie, the more religious members of the community actually hold a book burning outside the public library. If you’re anything like me, and associate book burning with Nazis, and then realize that that shit still happens, then you’re going to feel a little freaked out. So, like I said: The movie’s not especially deep and meaningful. But the way it manages to show the uglier side of reactionary ideology, while at the same time remaining a light-hearted ‘80’s dance flick is worthy of respect.

And, strangely enough, this is not your typical some-actors-are-good, some-actors-are-awful movie. Everyone fits his or her role more or less perfectly. Singer is really good at being the token rebellious, somewhat bratty bitch of a girl (which leads me to wonder what she’s like in real life…), and her dancing isn’t too shabby, either. Bacon, of course, is good at getting in your face, and acting the tough guy. But I’d have to say, of all the actors in the movie, my favorite is (believe it or not) Sarah Jessica Parker, who plays Rusty, Ariel’s best friend. This is the Sarah Jessica Parker waaaaay before she became famous, for anything, Hocus Pocus included. Parker is anything but sexy; instead, she’s an adorable little ball of happiness and sass, which is incredibly endearing and then some. Given Rusty’s character and some of her lines, Parker certainly didn’t have to be as chipper and upbeat as she is in the film. But the fact that she is makes me think that Parker may have infused some of her real self into the character, which makes Rusty all the more realistic. And while many of the other characters were either a bit too awkward for my liking—see Chris Penn’s Willard; though, with a name like “Willard,” I’d be awkward, too—or too archetypal (see Singer), Parker comes off as a genuine high school student, and is, in fact, the most believable character in the entire film.

Now, this movie is no Dirty Dancing, which is probably the most famous dance film of the ‘80’s. But that’s really only because, aside from the stunt double’s gymnastic feats in the I’m-a-frustrated-teenager barn scene, the movie doesn’t actually focus on dancing as much as one would expect, especially given the (wonderful) opening credit sequence. However, this does not mean it should not be labeled a “dance movie,” as the main conflict actually does revolve around dance—just in a slightly different way than you might think.

All my lovin’,

Film Bitch

P.S. I have figured out how to fix the links, so the picture of Kevin Bacon works! Success!