Sunday, March 23, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Footloose (1984) ***

R, 107 min.
Director: Herbert Ross
Writer Dean Pitchford
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer, John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest, Christopher Penn, Sarah Jessica Parker, John Laughlin, Elizabeth Gorcey, Frances Lee McCain

So, Friday was the 30th anniversary of the theatrical release of the 80s classic “Footloose”. I’m sure anyone who cares has already seen Kevin Bacon’s reenactment entrance on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon from Friday’s broadcast. Here’s the thing. Although I watched the Tonight Show Friday, and knew what they were doing, I’d never seen the original context they were honoring. Gasps abound. A child of the 80s who never saw “Footloose”? Heaven forbid!

Up until late Friday evening, I’d never seen “Footloose”.  The Tonight Show appearance made me decide to look it up on Netflix Instant and finally give it a whirl. What really surprised me is that it wasn’t half bad. I finally got around to watching “Flashdance” last fall, and that was awful. While I wouldn’t categorize “Footloose” as a great film—and it certainly has its share of goofiness and silly melodrama—it actually has something to say and thirty years after the fact still holds a great deal of relevance to our society.

Telling the tale of a boy in high school who moves from Chicago to a small Midwestern town (I’d swear in the film there was a reference to it taking place in Colorado, but I can’t seem to confirm that with my research), he has a hard time fitting into the new community, which is strictly ruled by the religious beliefs of the local preacher and an overprotective city council. I remember thinking at the time of its release that its story was preposterous, that no town in that day and age would prohibit dancing or even be burning books, although the story was supposedly based on a real case in Oklahoma in 1979. It seemed like a plot that should’ve been set in the 50s or early 60s to me.

Its premise somehow seems more believable to me today, however. It holds an important message about tolerance that seems to be something our country needs to be reminded of again. I don’t suppose the 2011 remake had much impact there, nor held much necessity since the original already existed and it doesn’t really matter when the story takes place in terms of its message of the dangers of allowing personal beliefs affect others through politics.

While the film concentrates most of its energy on the kids and their rather silly histrionics, it seems to me the key role is really the preacher, played by John Lithgow. Lithgow is a great choice for the part. He can play a scene chewing bad guy who is totally absurd, but here his “villain” has a brain and is never really a villain. He’s a man trying to do the right thing through his beliefs. It’s important that his character opposes some of the rather extreme ideas of other city council members, such as the book burning. He and Dianne Wiest do a good job of conveying an older generation struggling to understand a newer one and trying to do right by them. The dancing may be dated, but the ideological debate is not.

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