I'm at a curious disadvantage when discussing Footloose in that I've yet to see the original. Therefore, I can't compare the original to the remake nor do I go into the 2011 Footloose prejudiced for/against it. That being said, this Footloose is knows what it is: a film about growing up where the biggest problem a teen faces is whether they can dance or not. Nothing heavy, nothing Earth-shattering, but quite delightful and entertaining.
A car accident resulting in the deaths of five teens after a night of drinking and dancing cause the town of Bomont, Georgia to outlaw dancing without it being supervised and sanctioned. The accident has taken the life of the son of the local pastor and city council member Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid).
Three years later, Bostonian Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald) has gone to live with his uncle and aunt in rural Bomont after the death of his mother. Being an outsider with his accent and his city ways raises the ire of local elders, but soon some of his fellow high schoolers take him in. Chief among them is good ol' boy Willard (Miles Teller), a lovable hayseed. His dance moves also attract that oldest of cliches: the preacher's daughter, one Ariel (Julianne Hough), who can move her money-maker as well as anyone. She's having a wild fling with rich racecar driver Chuck (Patrick John Flueger), as bad as bad boys can come.
Ren, not surprisingly, is attracted to Ariel, but this dance thing has got him upset. He loves to dance, doesn't see why dancing is seen as so dangerous. With that, along with help from Willard and the members of the football team, Ren decides to take on the ban. Preacher Moore is having problems of his own, namely his wild child who won't be tamed. Eventually Ren takes up his cause, and while he is technically defeated Shaw sees that he addressed the consequences, not the cause, of the troubles.
As I said, Footloose isn't a deep film. The characters are pretty basic (the rebellious PK-preacher's kid, the not-so-moody outsider, the sweet/dumb best buddy) but it is nice to see that care was taken not to make the protagonists cartoonish (the antagonists, well, a little). This is especially interesting since Footloose takes place in the South. It would have been easy for screenwriters Dean Pitchford and director Craig Brewer to portray both the adults and kids as yahoos, but Footloose takes care to present the ban on dancing not as a result of religious repression but as an overreaction to a terrible accident. The kids of Footloose are shown to be regular kids, with the insecurities and joy of living that accompanies those years.
Granted, perhaps the "Angry Dance" Ren does in an abandoned factory may be a curious way to release pent-up frustration (when I'm angry, I tend to just yell myself, but to each his own I suppose). I could also ask how a Yankee like Ren could so quickly pick up country line dancing, but that's just a quibble.
The performances were good. Wormwald acquits himself well as the semi-brooding Ren (and given he is from Boston, has a better accent than whenever Leonardo DiCaprio trots out his exaggerated "Aah" sound). He doesn't overact but manages to keep an even tone throughout the film: looking with a mixture of love and lust when Ariel is shaking her booty, being encouraging to get his buddy Willard to get up offa that thing, or talking about his mother's last difficult days. Quaid also did not make the preacher into the cliched raging religious intolerant lunatic but as a well-meaning man who loves his daughter but cannot let go of his paternal instinct to protect his only surviving child. Hough, like Wormald a trained dancer, got the moves, and while she's not the greatest actress she did create an emotional reaction to her rebellion being an outlet to get her father's attention.
It is Teller that runs away with Footloose. Willard is an endearing character: not dim by any sense, more innocent in certain respects but still a lusty teen. He provides the comic moments when he is trying to get his groove on (one of the subplots is his inability to dance), but Willard is presented as a fully-rounded individual, a boy growing to be a man, loyal to his friends, defending the girl he loves...all while proudly being a Georgia country boy who wears cowboy hats and overalls.
I digress to say that, minus the overalls, Willard reminds me ever-so-slightly of my brother Gabe. Perhaps that's why I thought well of his performance. I further digress to say that Ariel's best friend and Willard's girl Rusty (Ziah Colon) may not have been Anglo (Colon is Puerto Rican but Georgia-bred) but the ethnic differences between them was never raised or mentioned. Certainly a step forward.
There were a few curious points with Footloose. By the time we got to the Big Dance, we had all but forgotten the Chuck subplot, which seemed to come and go without adding much other than a chance to fight the "bad guys", and it is a shame that we were not allowed to see more of Andie MacDowell (as Viv, Ariel's mother and Shaw's wife). She's another actress that should work more, and it's unfortunate the script didn't give her a larger role.
These are minor points. On the whole, Footloose is a delight, with a great soundtrack (given I do enjoy country music, perhaps I'm a bit biased on the subject), the songs both reminding people of the original Footloose while sounding contemporary. The slow-tempo rendition of I Need A Hero works beautifully, and seeing the montage of Willard learning to dance with an update of Let's Hear It For the Boy is fun to watch. Yes, it might be just like the original, but in this case, I think there can be a joyful co-existence.
You know that joke about Baptists? You know: why are Baptists against premarital sex? It might lead to dancing. I imagine that this version of Footloose won't cause the Baptists (or any othe denomination) any fits, other than the desire to step up and hit the dance floor.