Essay: Why the backlash over a ‘Footloose’ remake
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
LOS ANGELES (AP) — For anyone who grew up in the 1980s, merely a mention of the movie musical “Footloose” will inspire a flood of fond memories.
You might have blasted the Kenny Loggins theme song on the radio while cruising around town on a Saturday night. You can admit it — we’re all friends here. Maybe you made up some dorky dance routine to the perky “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” or engaged in an awkward adolescent make-out session to the power duet “Almost Paradise.”
And of course, there was the discovery of a little-known Kevin Bacon, an early crush for many of us in the role that made him a superstar. He was a bad boy from the big city who was forced to move to a small town and just wanted to dance. Come on, is that so wrong? He had a cocky attitude that was exciting — look no further than the angry dance in the warehouse — but also boy-next-door good looks that made him seem accessible. The combination was irresistible.
The film and the tunes were intertwined to create a pop-culture phenomenon unlike any we’re likely to see anymore, outside of perhaps “Glee,” simply because we consume entertainment so differently 27 years later.
Still, a remake of “Footloose” is hitting theaters this weekend and the very idea of it has many children of the ‘80s appalled. The mentality is: You don’t touch any John Hughes movies, or “Better Off Dead,” and you really don’t touch “Footloose.”
Director Craig Brewer gets it. He was 12 years old when the original “Footloose” came out in 1984, and it’s the movie that inspired him to become a filmmaker himself. He loved it so much, he’s said, he didn’t want anyone else to remake it.
Not only is he keenly aware that such an endeavor is fraught with peril, he’s actually made a game out of it. Brewer has gotten pummeled on Twitter (where he’s @MyBrewTube) from haters who haven’t even seen the movie, yet are convinced it’s going to be awful and are vocal in their premature protests. He’s clearly having a little fun with comments like: “Watching Footloose. It’s really not very good but I guarantee the remake is/will be worse.” His response, for all his followers to see: “I’ll take that challenge.” Or he’ll retweet especially vitriolic or idiotic remarks in their entirety: “SO ANGRY THAT THEY REMADE FOOTLOOSE!!! #BOYCOTTNEWFOOTLOOSE.”
So why do people care so much? Why does this movie provoke such a visceral, wistful response? A totally anecdotal and unscientific poll of my friends who grew up during the era reveals that the nostalgia of “Footloose” is just too powerful. It’s part of our formative experience, and messing with it sullies the perceived sanctity of our memories from that time — regardless of whether those memories jibe with reality. Remaking “Casablanca” wouldn’t anger us so much.
Still, while Brewer has moved the location from rural Illinois to rural Georgia and set the story in the present day, he was intuitive enough to retain the crucial element that’s universal in its appeal: teenage rebellion. Sure, the first “Footloose” was a lot of fun and featured a soundtrack of catchy, radio-friendly tunes. Remember that back then, listening to music wasn’t such a splintered, specific activity; you had one Top-40 station in town, and it probably played songs from “Footloose.” More importantly, though, the film tapped into a youthful yearning to be free, to express oneself, and not to let any adults — especially your parents — tell you what you can and cannot do.
Here, the expression comes in the form of dance, whether you’re a natural (like Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough are in taking over the starring roles from Bacon and Lori Singer) or you’re nervous about stepping out onto the floor (as Miles Teller is in playing the goofy sidekick role made famous by the late Chris Penn). The idea of standing up for yourself — and having fun, and maybe even falling in love in the process — should resonate with a new generation of kids all over again.
Yes, remakes feel like one more frustrating example of Hollywood’s tendency to cash in with safe ideas. I have to admit, I was opposed to the idea of a “Footloose” remake, just as I am to the idea of the vast majority of remakes. But then . I saw the movie. And in a lot of ways, Brewer has improved on the original. It’s dirtier, grittier, steamier, sexier, and that’s all the aesthetic stamp of a man who grew up in the South and previously brought us “Hustle & Flow” and “Black Snake Moan.” Having an unknown actor in the lead role (and someone who is primarily a dancer this time) truly allows him to be the new guy in town, and allows us to project all our expectations into him.
This new “Footloose” isn’t as earnest but it’s just as crowd-pleasing. So fret not, fellow Reagan-era kids. Your childhood remains intact — at least until the “Dirty Dancing” remake comes out next year.
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