As someone who has never seen the original “Footloose,” probably never would have even thought of watching it if not for this remake, doesn’t think too many people under the age of 25 (me included) worship that movie as much as everyone assumes we might be inclined to, I have to say:
This remake charmed the hell out of me! I didn’t think I wanted to see it, but all week the iPod shuffle in mind kept playing “Oh-waoh-oh-oh! *pause*… Footloose! Footloose! Kick off your Sunday shoes!” I couldn’t shut the damn song off. So, they did a good job marketing the film…
Yesterday, it popped into my head while I was getting a drink from the kitchen, and before I knew what I was saying, I had turned to my roommate and asked, “Kaitlyn, do you want to go see ‘Footloose’ tonight?” Brainwashing, I tell you…
I don’t regret my brain being washed one bit though. I smiled the whole way through this “Footloose” like a damn fool – little smirks, hearty guffaws, wry little nods of agreement, and a big ol’ beaming Cheshire Cat grin as I left the theater. I don’t think it was a perfect movie, but I’m not going undercut it with my typical “far from it.” No, this movie isn’t perfect, but it is – in its own charming, dance-like-you-mean-it way – great.
Which brings me to my point – what’s inherently wrong with a remake? Nothing. I’ve watched two remakes this month that were freaking master-classes on great, innovative filmmaking. (John Carpenter’s “The Thing” and David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” which I still have to write about). There are any myriad number of things wrong with a remake done poorly – a shoddy rip-off, a blemish on a great movie’s legacy, an attempt to cash in on a good name. But there’s not much more that’s right about a really bad “original” property – the only thing that is marginally better is that the filmmakers put their own name out their to tarnish rather then someone else’s.
I’m not saying anything new here. The anti-remake/anti-sequel fervor comes and goes in waves, and in times of peace and happiness in the fair kingdom of Hollywood, critics are some of the first people to acknowledge that sometimes we need to get off our high horse and understand that reinvention or reinterpretation by another talented eye can be exactly what a semi-classic property like “Footloose” – which is beloved for its imperfections as much as for its perfection – needs. Give it to the right team of people, that text can take on new life and then – no crime here – there are two texts out there, both living off of each other, meaning different things to different people depending totally on context.
Perhaps that story – the story of a town with a ban on dancing and the one kid brave enough to stand up to that ban – reimagined, can mean as much to our generation of young Millennials as it once meant to a bunch of teenage Generation Xers (they weren’t called that then) in the mid-‘80s. The message can still ring true if it is recontextualized. Some have argued that this remake was hardly recontextualized, that it is the same movie, an homage that can’t seem to distance itself from the original, and, in failing to do so, can only seem to do a disservice both to the original and to the moviegoer.
To that I say: I have never seen the original. I could if I wanted to, some would say I should, and for all I know I may. But I saw this movie. And this is not a bad movie. It is a movie that makes some smart choices that ring true in 2011 for exactly the person who is going to relate to it – someone who is between the ages of, say 13 and 24; who feels overprotected and sheltered by their parents and elders, maybe misunderstood, but not abandoned; who is struggling with the impulse to be a good little paragon of Millennial cooperation and, at the same time, a rebellious individual who can do bad if they want to; who is growing up in a time of both privilege and also some hurt and gauging how they should forge their life’s direction – shiver – based on those mixed signals.
In some ways these are the trials of every teenager, but I think they ring especially true for young people today. The movie in some ways tries to have it both ways. The Reverend loves his daughter so much that he overprotects her and all of her peers. He also can’t show love and makes his daughter feel neglected rather then overloved. It is this second part which I think rings false today (granted, that relationship is one relationship defined by those characters own specific pasts, but in film you read that one father-daughter dynamic as an urtext that speaks for how we can view all such dynamics). I think it is a remnant of Gen-X angst. But I understand that – the original Kevin Bacon film was sort of a defining text in its own right of Gen X angst. A middle finger to authority told through dance. Some remnants of that are bound to be left over.
But not every character can be the same. Nor should they be. This film should stand on its own, and I think it does. Ariel is a good example.
I listened to the Filmspotting podcast last night. I was kind of hoping to hear the guys at Filmspotting reaffirm my opinions of this film (never a good idea, looking for affirmation from critics after the fact – you’ll always find one that makes you feel bad for looking for such affirmation).
They pretty much hated it thoroughly and completely, and, more than that, they bashed it in comparison to the original they grew up with. They were very honest about how much the original Footloose meant to them as ten year olds back in the ‘80s. It honestly surprised me how raw their passion for the original seemed to be. And they raised some very good points. For instance, Andie MacDowell (the preacher’s wife)… criminally underused in this remake. She barely needed to exist. I noticed that while I was watching, but they highlighted what a bad filmic choice that was through their engaging criticism.
One thing I disagreed on, though, was the characterization of Ariel, the “rebel child” who Ren McCormick falls for hesitantly. The original Ariel is apparently more of a rebel – she’s not a goody-two-shoes acting out to get attention like Julianne Hough’s Ariel is here. The original Ariel really is that rebel the new Ariel is pretending to be. That Ariel is softened somewhat by Kevin Bacon’s Ren by the end of the film, but Ren, when he looks at that Ariel, isn’t seeing through an attention-getting act – he is seeing a genuinely rebellious individual trying to push boundaries. That courage makes his conviction to repeal the no-dancing law stronger. She saves him, not the other way around. I imagine, as a narrative arc, that that worked like gangbusters in 1984.
The 2011 character, the guys at Filmspotting make clear, is not that Ariel! This Ariel, the one I saw on the big screen yesterday, is a good kid, a sweet daddy’s girl who doesn’t have a truly mean impulse in her body, who, in the three years since her brother’s death, has begun acting out. In essence the rebellion that should define her character is nuetered because it is a symptom of outside influence – she is made sad, this goes unrecognized, and so it becomes a need to act out sexually. Rebellion is not a state of being, it is ploy on the part of a very sad, good-natured Southern girl who wants to be saved. She wants someone to stop her – it could be her father, it could be knight in shining armor like Ren. Either way, her loss of virginity, her dalliance with a bad boy, her clothes – it’s all a cry for help that the original Ariel would never had needed to make. (I am going off of what the Filmspotting guys said here, since I’ve never seen the original Ariel in action.)
The podcast hosts HATED this change. They felt it created simpering weakness where a weakness never needed to be. I disagree. I think ‘80s Ariel was exactly who she needed to be for those teenagers, and our new Ariel is exactly who she needs to be for today’s teenagers. This does not mean I think today’s teenagers are weak. I think the narratives of our respective generations are as different as the narratives surrounding each generation’s respective Ariel, and, with that being the case, our Ariel can be as meaningful to me – sitting in the theater, watching the remake, never having seen the original – as the original Ariel was to Adam Kempenar of Filmspotting (who probably never imagined another Ariel might exist) in 1984.
(This does not mean I think Julianne Hough gives a great performance. She does not. I think her character is an interesting and moving one, but I think Hough holds her back somewhat. Is she hot? Hell yes. Can she dance? Like nobody’s business. This doesn’t mean I’m nominating her for an Oscar. I do feel however that Kenny Wormwold does an exceptional job as Ren, an allowance the Filmspotting guys would not make. I also think that Miles Teller is fantastic as Willard. I loved that character despite the fact that he was a Georgia Bulldogs fan!)
I’ll put it this way: Towards the end of the film, Ren pleads with the town council to let the young men and women who they have sheltered and helicoptered into submission “make their own mistakes.” It is, I am sure, as corny and overused a line in the original as it is coming out of 2011 Ren’s mouth. What teenager or parent has said that before? But, as corny as it is, I think it means something different today then it did in 1984, and this difference is crucial – it’s what makes reinvention fun and necessary.
In 1984, Ariel is a rebel to her core. Uncle Wes doesn’t get it right away. The kids don’t understand their parents and the parents don’t understand their kids. The town’s kids feel like they already are these rebellious, independent people, and their parents, in trying and failing to impose some sort of authority on them for the first time only because a crisis has come to town, are once again failing to live up to being the authority figures they might have needed it they hadn’t figured it out on their own. And so, the law-makers are in the way. The parents are in the way. They always have been. When Ren, pounding on the table, urges them to let their children make their own mistakes, it is an announcement that they are all, like Ariel, doing this already – they will be the rebels they have already been whether they get permission or not so it is the adults’ job to accept this and move on – so the old people had better step down.
In 2011, Ariel is a sheep in wolf’s clothing. Uncle Wes understands his nephew immediately. The town is more diverse and many of the younger or non-white adults get the kids’ need to dance inherently. These are not latchkey kids. They don’t resent their parents. They want them to stop trying to overprotect them and, instead, join them on their level and have an actual conversation about what happened. These are savvy and cooperative young adults who have been rocked by a crisis, and that crisis has sent them into a perceived tailspin – they now worry that they are seen as aimless and “bad” by the adults they want so badly to just respect them because something out of their individual control went wrong (see the death of Ren’s mother and Ariel’s brother as 9/11, the recession, the war in Iraq) and now the narrative on people their age has changed from “Look how great they are” to “They could be so great if we get them out of this stage in their lives.” (This is summed up rather beautifully by Ariel who accuses her father of turning Scott her brother, in collective memory, from a straight-A student and loving son into “that kid who died in car accident,” a great example of the older generation controlling the message.)
This fear of no longer being accepted for what they are drives them to act out and seek solace in each others dancing and each others bodies, even if this is not what their parents want them to do. It’s not a decision they make with relish. It is keeping them sane. They have formed a community of their own because they work well with others and right now, the parents they once loved seem to have it all wrong. Doesn’t this sound distinctly Millennial?
And so, when Ren asks for the ability to make his own mistakes, it does not sound like a kiss-off; rather, it is a request for permission. This Ariel, this Ren, they do not want their fathers and uncles out of their way – they are begging to have things go back to the way they were when they were thirteen, back before everyone’s world was rocked. They want them there, without a doubt, they want to talk and be open, to hug and dance, they just also want a say in the conversation. An equal say. No more, no less.
I think that this wrinkle is a valid one, if you could even consider it a wrinkle at all. It is not something I would have thought about if had it not been called to my attention that these characters are not as inherently rebellious or cool or strong as their 80s counterparts. I don’t think that this makes these characters weak. I think that it makes them teenagers in 2011, and therefore I can be as moved by their story as the Filmspotting guys were back when Kevin Bacon kicked off his Sunday shoes. The plot is the same. But is the moral of the story? It’s easy to say obviously it is because this is remake. I think this thinking is false and lazy. In essence, the moral of the story becomes, in my version – the one that was aimed to capture my imagination and reflect my “pain” – why tell your parents to go screw themselves for not thinking you can handle yourself when you can patiently convince them that you are capable of handling yourself instead. I think that story means more to me. I think that it is the story of me. This is the power of movies.