by Coop Cooper
The current trend of remaking beloved films of past generations is often met with ire by both critics and movie goers alike. In spite of this vicious cycle, Memphian filmmaker Craig Brewer has accomplished a near impossible feat… He remade one of the most beloved pop movies from the 80’s and actually improved upon it. In short, “Footloose” (2011) is an amazingly entertaining film.
Teen orphan Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald) moves from Boston to a small town in Georgia after his mother dies of cancer. His good-hearted uncle (Ray McKinnon) takes him in and makes him feel at home, but Ren soon runs afoul of a county ordinance that bans loud music and dancing. Ren learns this law came about after a local reverend (Dennis Quaid) and several other grieving families lost their children in a tragic drunk driving accident a few years prior. Moore’s wild daughter, Ariel (Julienne Hough) defies the ban at every opportunity in an effort to spite her emotionally distant father. Ren and Ariel, feeling oppressed by their surroundings, team up to attempt to get the ban overturned so they can organize a formal school dance.
This film corrects some oversights from the first film by giving the story more of an emotional punch. While the original only alludes to the tragedy that led to the ban on dancing, the remake actually commits the tragedy to film in the opening ten minutes. This better solidifies the idea that the ban is a symbol for inconsolable grief, rather than a mean-spirited control tactic on the county’s youth. This allows the remake to turn dancing from less of a rebellious act, into a source of healing for both the adults and the teens. The remake accomplishes this sentiment more effectively than the mostly superficial “don’t trust anyone over 18” theme of the original.
Having Ren go through his own tragedy also makes him less of a rebel punk and more of a cool/good kid who can’t catch a break. His contentious, budding relationship with Ariel happens organically, especially when they learn how much they have in common. This leads up to several satisfying romantic scenes, enhanced even more by the natural chemistry between the two actors.
The performances were fantastic. Wormald probably won’t ever attain the versatility of Kevin Bacon, but he’s a likeable actor and can dance like a pro. His Boston accent clashed so audibly with the surrounding Southern accents, it threatened to detract from his scenes. Fortunately, Brewer got fine work out of Wormald and I’m curious to see if he can pull off a role that challenges his talents. Julienne Hough turned out to be quite a find. The “Dancing with the Stars” favorite has now shown she can compete with the A-list and I am sure she will soon become one of the most sought-after actresses in the biz. Dennis Quaid’s character wears his pain on his sleeve and while I usually find his high dramatic work insincere, he brings a sympathy to the character absent in John Lithgow’s original role. Another great surprise is Ray McKinnon as the level-headed uncle who not only supports the efforts of his nephew, but often shows he genuinely cares about him. McKinnon lost his wife Lisa Blount to cancer while making this film so I have no doubt he channeled a lot of his own personal experience into his worthy performance.
Now for the music. Nearly every single song from the original makes an appearance in this one, but each has been been remade with a new twist. Some slant a bit towards hip-hop and others are more rock or country, but they all do justice to the songs that made the original film famous with a few new ones thrown in for good measure. The dance numbers are also exciting, most of which are far better than the original.
I appreciated Brewer relocating the story to Georgia rather than some no-name Midwestern town. Due to his Southern roots, he made sure the actors had their accents down pat. He successfully captured the look and feel of the South in the film without resorting to any religious bashing or race-issue agendas. After this film, I wholeheartedly trust Brewer in his filmmaking decisions. I never imagined a “Footloose” remake could be done this well and I rank it among the best films of the year.
Rating: 4 ½ out of 5