When Craig Brewer was announced to direct the Footloose remake, there were a more than a few heads being scratched. The director behind the fantastic Hustle & Flow as well as the excellent fable Black Snake Moan taking on material which is considered by most to be cheesy was a surface-level surprise. But once you dig deep into the original, there are more than a few themes that tie to Brewer’s work — expressing yourself through art, family issues, sexuality, etc. There are some mature themes in the original.

Themes that didn’t quite hit their mark.

However, Brewer managed to make those themes fly. The 1984 film had major tonal issues. After witnessing Chris Penn have a five-minute dance montage, you see Ariel (now played by Julianne Hough) get beaten by her boyfriend. Dance montages and girlfriend beatings usually don’t go hand in hand, tonally speaking. This time around, there’s a real care for tone.

Footloose is a movie that has its cake and eats it too. Apologies for that dreadful expression, but it’s true. It strives for a seriousness, which is earned. Brewer also aims to make a great crowd-pleaser, and that’s where the film exceeds wonderfully. As someone who despises not only High School kids, but also dancing, I never thought I’d say, “That’s cool,” when the two joined forces.

Somehow, the regional filmmaker made me express that unimaginable sentiment. Perhaps it’s because Brewer managed to ground the dances by not making every character deliver expert moves and having each dance beat contain a narrative and emotional importance for Ren (a charismatic, never mopey, semi-rebel played by Kenny Wormald) and Ariel. Most importantly, Brewer has actual kids partaking in the impressively choreographed dances.

This must be one of the few films set in a High School which isn’t populated by all white kids, super models, and every other teen cliche once can think of. The leads are real, the extras are real, the eclectic music they listen to is real — it’s all real. All of that realism Brewer captures perfectly contrasts the core fantastical concept. The idea of banning dancing is inherently ridiculous, but since nearly all the performances and emotions are so earnest and genuine, it’s easy to buy into. Plus, the motive behind the ban adds a layer of understanding and sympathy for the adults’ actions. They’re not portrayed as being squares, which is proven greatly by Dennis Quaid‘s performance as Reverend Shaw Moore.

Cynics who scoff at the concept of a town outlawing dancing, such as myself, will be won over by the film’s loud emotions and the heart the Brewer & Co. proudly wears on their sleeves. The aesthetically and emotionally gritty filmmaker’s fourth feature film is less powerful and raw than his previous two features, but Brewer’s voice never feels watered down, and he still delivers a movie full of energy and liveliness. In 20 years, this will be the definitive Footloose.

The Upside: The love story between Ren and Ariel is genuine, not fluffy; High School kids dancing is more fun than it’s ever been and ever should be; Dennis Quaid shows chops he hasn’t shown in years; and it’s far superior to the original.

The Downside: However, like the original, the end fight is an unnecessary narrative pitstop; Ariel’s abusive, trashy boyfriend is a bit of a caricature; and the bus race scene comes dangerously close to being ridiculous.

On The Side: Music from the 1984 film was remixed for this version, and it doesn’t come off as pathetic fan pandering.


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