18 October 2011

Footloose (2011)

In what could prove to be my most important piece of work yet during my dance movie review series, I'm here to compare the old Footloose with the new Footloose, which I rushed to see opening weekend. Warning, many spoilers ahead. In short, if you didn't plan on watching the new Footloose, you should, because it's actually pretty good. Note: All category scores are for the remake because no number can reflect how fantastic the original is.

Tagline: After some Googling, it looks like the original had quite a few taglines: (1) "He’s a big-city kid in a small town. They said he’d never win. He knew he had to." (2) "All he wanted to do was dance." (3) "One kid. One town. One chance." (4) "The music is on his side." None of them are real winners but the remake has "Cut Loose" and "This Is Our Time" as the taglines so it didn't exactly try to up the ante. EDGE: None

1. Plot (7) They changed a few things in the remake but surprisingly, most of the plot points are the same. Directors love to mix things up but Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow, Black Snack Moan) did a great job of not messing with a good thing. Everything he did change, I fully support, as they made sense or enhanced the drama.

In the new version, Ren is from Boston instead of Chicago and moves to Bomont after his mother's death instead of with her. Good choice as this gives Ren more depth and eliminates a totally unnecessary character. Ren's uncle is given a lot more to do in the remake and adds an extra dose of humor. The biggest change Brewer made was probably showing us the five seniors partying and then getting killed. Wise move as this made for a much more exciting opening.

Also, changing Bomont's location to Georgia allowed for the inclusion of minorities. A point which we'll come back to later. The original Footloose had no people of color in it, not one. Unless you count Sarah Jessica Parker, who was glowing rainbows. Overall the remake just makes a lot more sense from every angle, including the reasoning behind the dance ban. EDGE: Remake

2. Can the lead characters dance? (9) After watching his audition tape on the Footloose Deluxe DVD, I can tell you that Kevin Bacon was a pretty good dancer. Also, he did most of his own dance scenes in the movie, except the warehouse acrobatics. Not bad. Of course, since Kenny Wormald is a professional dancer who already starred in Center Stage: Turn It Up, it's hard not to give him the edge here. I did hate his strange spinning arms move and didn't think he was actually amazing amazing, but he used to dance backup for Justin Timberlake so what do I know.

The Lori Singer versus Julianne Hough matchup is similarly stacked. Hough was a former Dancing With the Stars pro (as well as a best selling country singer) and co-starred in Burlesque. Her parents met as as teammates on their college's ballroom dancing team. While Singer always wanted to be a dancer, she instead became a cello prodigy and actress. Her mom and dad are a concert pianist and a symphony conductor -- her brother is Marc Singer, of Beastmaster and V fame. Some people get all the talent. I'll give the edge here to Hough, even though Singer was probably very talented as a dancer too.

Oh Willard. Chris Penn didn't even know there was dancing involved when he signed up for Footloose. After putting in many hours of work, he proved to be the perfect mix of awkward and endearing. I thought he couldn't be topped but Miles Teller is just as good. In theory, Teller has to be a dancer than Penn but it really doesn't matter because Willard's job is to make us laugh. In that category, both Penn and Teller are equally fantastic. EDGE: Remake

3. How're the dance scenes? (8) You can't top the dance scenes in the original. Or wait, can you? For a dance movie, there were very few dancing scenes in Footloose. The opening shoes montage, the warehouse scene, going out in the big city, the teaching montage, and then the prom. That's it.

The remake adds two additional dance scenes but quantity doesn't improve things. For example, the new warehouse scene is awful. Yes it's hard to redo such an iconic scene but the song they picked was terrible. I felt no thrill watching Wormald bounce around and venting his emotions. I'd have preferred them just splicing the original Bacon part into the remake.

Also, the prom dance wasn't nearly as thrilling. Yes the original had weird camera obscuring color blotches superimposed on everything but it also featured more frantic excitement. That was a party I would have wanted to go to. The remake's prom didn't seem quite as fun.

Let's now talk about how popular dancing has evolved in the twenty five years since the original Footloose. This will only take one word: b-boying. While I love break dancing and all that, seeing it in Footloose threw me off. I missed seeing exuberant 80's dancing with arms akimbo and lots of jumping around. I don't need to see crunking in my nostalgia movie, not for one second. But I guess the remake has to evolve with the times. I would have preferred more stuff like the new country dancing scene, which is modern yet not jarringly out of place. Or something like what Wormald and Hough performed on DWTS. EDGE: Original

4. How's the love story? (6) Who cares, this is about the love of dance! At least we can understand why Ren and Ariel are attracted to each other, which is a big step up from most dance movies. There's no explanation for Willard and Rusty in either version though, and I would have enjoyed watching Willard awkwardly flirt.

5. Rate the sidekicks (9) We've already discussed Penn and Teller as Willard. Now let's compare the other support staff. Ariel's best friend, Rusty, has inexplicably been transformed into a Puerto Rican. That's fine but when the entire rest of the cast is white or black, I'm wondering where the other minorities are. Assuming this is set in the present day, there's only one non-white/black family in town? Really? I don't need a complete palette swap in small town Georgia but this weak concession to diversity is ridiculous. (I had to look up what ethnicity actress Ziah Colon was because as her bio states, her agent saw "[Colon's] ethnic ambiguity as an advantage.")

Either way, Sarah Jessica Parker is all kinds of missed here. She was the ideal giddy sidekick and I'd say her character added a lot to the original. Sadly, in the remake Rusty is high pitched and annoying. Overwhelming edge to Parker's Rusty here.

As for Ariel's parents, it's John Lithgow and Dianne Wiest versus Dennis Quaid and Andie MacDowell. I wondered why Kevin Bacon wasn't given the dad role but Dennis Quaid is everyone's favorite cinematic father so I can understand the decision. John Lithgow seems more like a creeper than a preacher so I'd say Quaid wins here. As for Wiest versus MacDowell, it didn't really matter because a cardboard cutout could have filled MacDowell's role in the remake. Seriously, I think she had three lines total and I don't know why she even took the role. You're better than that Andie, you're better than that.

I didn't think I wanted to talk about Chuck Cranston here but there was something vaguely appealing about the remake's version. I think it was because the actor who played him, Patrick John Flueger, vaguely resembled a young Patrick Swayze. Like if Swayze had been a stock car racing, woman beating, redneck. The new Chuck was less menacing but I liked what he brought to the film. EDGE: Original, I'd rather have SJP than the upgrade from Lithgow to Quaid.

6. Best line (8) There are a lot of memorable lines from the original. From Ren's quick comebacks to Ariel's screaming at her dad, "I'm no saint you know, I'm not even a virgin!" In church no less. However, the best line is undoubtedly Willard's answer to Ren when he asks about Ariel.

Willard: People think she's a hellraiser.
Ren: Is she?
Willard: I think she's been kissed a lot.
And a variation later on:
Ariel: Do you wanna kiss me?
Ren: Someday.
Ariel: What's this "someday" shit?
Ren: Well, it's just I get the feeling you've been kissed a lot, and I'm afraid I'd suffer by comparison.
The new screenplay ports over many of the same lines but makes everyone slightly wittier and funnier. I also much enjoyed Chuck's mispronunciation of "touché," which I didn't even catch because it was comically butchered so bad. EDGE: Even, acknowledging that most of the characters' interplay and good lines came from the original.

7. Music (9) You can't mess with the songs from the original and thankfully they didn't. While the songs were given a makeover, they did work pretty well. The exception is "Holding Out for a Hero," which gets related to a slim scene instead of being used for the chicken race. That misstep is made up for by the fantastic version of "Let's Hear It For the Boy" highlighting the remake. I know I tend to liberally say things are genius but the way they incorporate Deniece Williams' classic into the new version is absoutely genius. EDGE: Original

8. Fashion (6) There is a lot of hoopla made about Ren's tie. The original film's extras revealed that Ren was supposed to not want to wear a tie to school but does so at his mother's insistence. Kevin Bacon stepped in and thought his character would want to dress up. Over two decades later, that skinny tie has made a huge style comeback and now both old Ren and new Ren are cool and contemporary. Also still great are Ariel's red boots, the similarly floufy hair for Bacon and Wormald, and Willard's cowboy hat. I was saddened that the new Ren gave up his Chucks but that's a minor point -- at least he kept his yellow Volkswagen Bug! EDGE: Original

9. Cultural Impact (1) No contest here. The original spawned a remake, duh. However I think it's impressive that the remake didn't totally suck. Only those anticipating Razzies for the new Footloose will be disappointed. In fact there's a lot that's better about the remake. It's a more streamlined film, the character motivations are better, and all the things you loved about the original are here. If not for nostalgia value and the iconic dance scenes, it could be argued that the new one could stand alone. Then again, I'd love to hear from someone who watched the remake but not the original. I'd imagine the experience is not nearly the same. EDGE: Original

10. Miscellaneous (4) There's nothing exciting behind the scenes about the remake but I'd dedicated a lot of time looking up original Footloose lore and listening to the DVD commentary. I mean, how did Madonna lose out for the role of Ariel? Early Eighties Madonna wasn't perfect for the wild preacher's daughter?! The only comparable drama for the remake is how Zac Efron pulled out. Lame. Oh and why Kevin Bacon didn't make a cameo. I read that he turned the producers down when they asked. The role I think would have made the most sense for Bacon would have been as the cop who pulls Ren over early on in the movie. That would have been a nice role reversal and nod to the original right?

Let's return to Julianne Hough for a minute. While she can't be faulted for this, she looks so much older than Kenny Wormald. She's actually quite young but her face looks so much older opposite the cherubic Wormald. Also, her resemblance to Jennifer Aniston distracts from the movie. Not to say that Hough wasn't good in the remake but I just couldn't shake the similarity.

One thing that bothered me about the original was how after Ariel gets punched by her boyfriend, absolutely nothing happens. I was real curious if the remake would keep the assault in there. In fact it does, and doesn't shy away from the dad slapping Ariel either. However, there is no retribution or even acknowledgement that Ariel got beat up. I expected a scene in the remake to address the issue, or even a line from Ren during his fight with Chuck. Nada. Oh well, I guess you can't dance or play loud music in Bomont but you can slap a girl around. Thanks for the morality lesson Footloose.

As a standalone, the remake's scores ranked right in-between Step Up and Step Up 3. It didn't approach the heights of Centerstage or You Got Served but if you loved the original, this is a must see. Some critics have even said that it improved on the 1984 version. I know, blasphemy! Now I think I need to watch the Footloose musical. I didn't even know there was one until recently. I wanna dance with somebody, don't you?