Friday, October 14, 2011

Footloose (2011)

MPAA (PG-13) CNS/USCCB (O) Roger Ebert (1 1/2 Stars) Fr. Dennis (2 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

Footloose (directed and screenplay and story updated by Craig Brewer) is based on the 1984 dance movie Footloose (directed by Herbert Ross, written by Dean Pitchford and starring Kevin Bacon / Lori Singer) celebrating teenage rebellion and rock and roll.   Since rock and roll has been around since the time of the grandparents of the kids involved in the 2011 update, the story becomes largely of a parable / reflection on grief than a reality based story about "accepting rock and roll."

Still, there are elements, largely gratuitous, added to the story in the update that would cause concern to many parents.  As such, the CNS/USCCB's morally offensive "O" rating is to be taken seriously especially if one considers allowing younger teens to see the film.

So what's the story about?  Responding to the tragic loss of five high school seniors driving home way too fast and inebriated from an unsupervised dance on someone's farm, a Tennessee town led by its local Presbyterian Pastor and town council member, Rev. Shaw Moore (played by Dennis Quaid) decides to ban loud music and public dancing.  To the movie's credit, the pain of Rev. Moore is quite sincerely portrayed: His own son was killed in the accident.  But is the reaction an over-reaction?  Rev. Moore has a teenage daughter, Ariel (played by Julianne Hough) who is also grieving the loss of her older brother but comes to resent her own youth being taken away from her and her friends.

Things come to a head three years after the accident when a newcomer Ren MacCormack (played by Kenny Wormald) from Boston comes to town to live with his uncle (played by Ray McKinnon) after his mother died.  Like the character played by Kevin Bacon in the 1984 version), he simply can not believe dancing (or loud music) could be banned like this.  And he carries some "grief cred" as well ... He had to watch his mother die of leukemia and move to a totally different part of the country afterwards.  Ren is also defended repeatedly by his uncle who repeatedly reminds the town-folk of the obvious: that they all used to listen to southern rock bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd growing-up and the city's ban on "loud music" and dancing simply made no sense. Still the pain of the accident remains present if diminishing.  Rev. Shaw's wife (and Ariel's mother) Vi (played by Angie MacDowell) plays an increasingly assertive role (on the side of her daughter) as the movie progresses.

All things are restored by the film's end and the town's youth are allowed to "dance happily ever after" at their Prom planned initially to be held just outside the town's city-limits but eventually receiving the town's and even the Reverend's blessing at the end.  The good/sincere Rev does, in fact, love his daughter.

What makes people frightened or over-react in face of tragedy?  Probably it's the shock.  But the movie does remind us that grief does (or ought to) pass.  Arguably, the movie could serve as a gentle reminder that the grief following even such national tragedies as 9/11, World War II, Communism, or even the Holocaust has to eventually pass, that yes, the youth growing-up years even decades after such tragedies deserve to live their lives too.

Does a "right to live" (or "to the pursuit of happiness" as the U.S. Declaration of Independence declares) include a right to be wildly reckless, promiscuous, etc?  Well the Church would of course (and rightly) say no.  But shouldn't one have a right to simply sing and dance?  Sure.  And Ren was right: Even King David danced like the uncouth shepherd's son that he was in front of the Ark of the Covenant when it was recovered and brought to Jerusalem to the embarrassment of his own wife (2 Samuel 6:1-23).  To be sure, dance can be lascivious (Mark 6:14-29).  But it also can be a sincere expression of life and of joy.

Finally, some good as well as some problematic elements present in this 2011 update to the 1984 original:

On the positive side, whereas the 1984 movie was a pretty much lily white affair, the 2011 update is far more multiracial.   Ariel's best friend is a Hispanic nicknamed Rusty (played by Ziah Colon).  The local high school and football team is fully integrated and even Ren's boss at his after school job is African American.  The contrast in this regard from the 1984 version is striking.

Much more problematic is some of Ariel's acting-out when she's rebelling against her father.  There's a scene where she's basically pole dancing at some venue.  For a more discerning viewer, I suppose the point being made would be that "in a situation where all dancing is illegal, then all kinds of dancing become equal."  But I would think that many parents would find the scene to be very disturbing.  Similarly, there's a scene in which Ariel defiantly tells to her (again, Rev) father that she no longer is a virgin (losing her virginity not to Ren, but to another character, a jerk, who she was dating at beginning of the movie).

It is for scenes such as these that the CNS/USCCB gives the movie an "O" (morally offensive) rating.  I also find these two scenes to be gratuitous, introducing needless difficulties to a movie that otherwise could have been family fare.

But a lot of teens are going to want to see the movie (and a lot of parents remembering the 1984 version may want to see it as well).  What to do?  May I suggest that parents make the movie a "teachable moment," taking the opportunity to talk to the teens about appropriate behavior ("pole dancing" ought to be "out") and even about appropriate expression of anger, above all making the point that just because one is angry doesn't give one the right to do anything, that such "acting out" often ends up hurting one in ways that one may not even imagine.  In this way, the movie could be "redeemed" for a family with younger teens, but I do wish that the film's makers had not made Ariel's character so needlessly provocative/problematic.

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