Before watching the movie:
This is another notable classic that I never got around to seeing before. I’ve been a fan of the title song ever since it was used in a 90s commercial for half a dozen Paramount movies at once, but that’s not necessarily enough to expect the others to live up to.
On the other hand, the classic status, notability of Kevin Bacon, and possibly the fact that they remade it (if it’s as good as they say it shouldn’t have needed to be remade, but that’s not an argument producers hear).
After watching the movie:
Ren McCormack moves from Chicago to a small town shepherded by an ultraconservative preacher where dancing, rock music, and alcohol have been outlawed as immoral. He immediately starts running into trouble, mostly because the townfolk don’t trust him, and on multiple occasions cause the trouble he gets into. He decides the only way to win acceptance from his peers is to fight to get permission for his class to have a Senior Prom, but if he’s going to convince anyone, he has to convince the preacher.
This movie is always sold as an upbeat dance movie, and by nature of the story, the dancing has to be exceptional, but it’s really not so much the point of the plot as the Macguffin. Early on, it seemed to be the 80s answer to Grease, but the scenes with Reverend Moore’s struggle of parenting the town were startlingly and arrestingly full of dramatic purpose, and completely took my interest from the petty problems the teens were having. Thus I was mostly pleased when the narrative of the third act was taken over nearly entirely by Moore. Until then I was thinking I’d like to see the movie entirely from his side. As a proof of how much it’s actually the Reverend’s movie, the teens’ final fight at the end isn’t just anticlimactic, it’s random, out of place, improbably won, and seems tacked on.
To continue being sidetracked by the supposed villain, I was at first shocked to discover that John Lithgow was cast as the “fire and brimstone preacher keeping the town pure”, but that’s not a very apt description. I found Lithgow being more serious than I’m used to of course, but sincere. He’s not keeping the kids from having fun because he’s a crusty old meanie who’s just out to kill fun in the name of Righteousness, he’s a sincerely misguided man trying to do what he believes is right. A large chunk of the movie is about him realizing that while his beliefs may or may not be right, his actions aren’t. Nobody in this film grows like he does. I thought I heard Lithgow doing a bit of a southern drawl at first, but that was only in his first sermon.
When the music can edge in around the Reverend, it’s pretty fun. Nothing really lives up to the catchiness of “Footloose” itself, but if the movie stuck to them, it’d still be enjoyable. Still, there’s only two or three full-on musical numbers, which I wouldn’t really say is enough to call it an actual musical. Ren’s theatrical Dance of Frustration is amazing, and I’d really like to have seen a couple more like it, but on the other hand, “Holding out for a Hero” did not go well at all with the boys playing chicken with tractors that don’t seem to be able to do more than 20 mph.
This was two or three good movies fighting for dominance. The ultimate winner was my favorite, but they all lost out for having to fight for it. I still want to see a heavy standalone drama about the preacher learning to let his flock grow up.
Watch this movie: with the expectation that the stories inside are a little incongruous, and the most interesting one won’t have all the screen time.
Don’t watch this movie: just for teen drama.