Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough have to be the oldest ‘seventeen year old kids’ I’ve ever seen. By comparison, they make the ‘kids’ from Glee look positively pre-pubescent, and the majority of them are only half a decade away from checking into retirement homes themselves. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, allow me to clarify. Wormald (27) and Hough (23) are the ‘stars’ of Footloose, but you’d be forgiven for not knowing that. In fact, describing them as stars undermines the work of legitimately talented actors. So, as you can see, I’m not going to buck the trend and give Footloose a favorable review. I’m not one for conformity, but in this case I have to agree with masses – 2011’s remake of the 80’s classic is far from impressive.
I’m not one of those people who are against remakes. There are those who will dismiss outright that a remake will have any value or be able to live up to the original, and therefore prejudge the film before watching it. I, on the other hand, am always happy to give a film the benefit of the doubt and judge it on its own merits. And given the recent technological and artistic advances made in the film industry, I think that there is something to be said for the idea of remaking films that perhaps suffered from the lack of artistry and technical wizardry we now possess. Having said that, I do think that it is important for a remake to offer something new and to use the intervening time since the original to advance the film in some way. Now, I haven’t seen the original Footloose, but it has become such a big part of the pop-culture archives that it, like its theme-tune, is part of general knowledge. It’s a story about teen oppression, resistance and exultation. A story about freedom of expression, and the joys of youth. It’s a story about cutting loose, Footloose. Here is where the 2011 version has its first major pitfall. The youth culture of today is hardly oppressed. There is so much freedom among teenagers these days that parents have hardly any rights at all. Kids are pretty much allowed to do anything they like. So how does a film whose message is about rising up against unfair, adult-imposed sanctions, resonate with an audience who don’t know what adult-imposed sanctions are. The reason why the 1984 film spoke to its audience is because it came at a time of change for young people, when the shackles of the conservative past were just starting to be loosened, giving young people a taste of self expression for the first time. It was a strong message then. Not so now.
Despite that, there has been an undeniable explosion in the popularity of dance films in recent years, to the point where it has garnered its own genre. Gone are the days where the story was king and the dancing was an incidental part of the movie. Now, if you chuck in some backflips and crumping and call yourself a dance film, you really don’t need to rely on the story. The loud beats and cool moves, together with the curvy bods and six pack abs appease the audience enough. But here again, Footloose 2011 falls short of the mark. I was very surprised at the lack of dance in this film, in fact there really were only 3 main dance sequences and the dancing in those did not stack up against other dance flicks that I have seen. There was nothing new, nothing I hadn’t seen before and only once did I catch myself gasping in awe at the moves. This was peculiar to me because dance has come a long way since 80’s, when the original film was made, but Footloose 2011 didn’t take the opportunity to step up the dancing. Only one dance scene was a departure from the original, an attempt at hip-hop that really didn’t gel with the rest of the film or the rest of the dancing. Further more to this, it had me questioning just how it was possible for the children of a small country town who had had an embargo placed on dance and popular music, to be familiar with hip-hop and the complicated dance steps and backflips involved?
So far we’ve got a film with a story that relates to no audience in a dance film with little dance and zero innovation. But, as we’ve come to learn from the fodder Hollywood has been churning out of late, story and innovation aren’t high on the studios’ list of priorities. These sorts of clichéd, formula driven films act as vehicles for hot ‘up-n-comers’, guaranteeing an audience. Once again, however, Footloose fails to deliver. Julianne Hough, though a popular figure on America’s ‘Dancing With The Stars’, is no actress, let alone movie star. And it shows. I’ve seen worse acting (in pre-school Christmas pageants) but, with the amount of competition out there and the numbers of legitimately talented young actresses vying for an opportunity such as this to get their careers started, it is a giant slap in the face to give the role to someone like Hough.
Initially it made sense because Hough is, first and foremost, a very accomplished dancer and this is, after all, a dance film. But, as I said before, the limited amount of dance within the film questions the legitimacy of her casting. When it came to the emotional scenes, even her dancing prowess could not forgive her. Squinty eyes, a scrunched up face and a whiney voice does not equal believable sorrow. Wormald, on the other hand, fares slightly better. I still believe that there would have been more worthy actors out there, however. But neither of the two stars have that watchable charisma, that spark, that X-factor that draws you in for an entire hour and a half. Hough is attractive enough, but nothing special and Wormald just looks like your average Joe. I don’t see girls going crazy over him the way they do over Zac Efron or Taylor Lautner’s torso.The silver lining on this cloud, however, is Miles Teller, who plays Wormald’s awkward red-neck off-sider. Without him this film would have fallen to immeasurable depths. But his witty, self deprecating performance gave the film a much needed injection of character and charm. Here, finally, was an actor who could act as well as dance and I have to say that I expect to see a lot more from this guy. Rounding out the cast, bizarrely enough, are Dennis Quaid and Andie MacDowell, as Hough’s overbearing, archaic parents. These are two experienced, veteran Hollywood actors, neither of whom were given any room to shine, however, and one can’t help but wonder why they signed on to the project in the first place. A hefty paycheck, or a favor to a friend perhaps?
Throwing me into further confusion were the bizarre outfits worn by the leads. Wormald looks as if he’s just stepped off the stage from a Grease retrospective. Hough, who is meant to be the quaint daughter of the town preacher, looks closer to an 80’s hooker, and MacDowell looks like a cult leaders wife. In fact I started to question at one point if this film was indeed meant to be set in the same time period as the original film, thus giving at least a little credibility to the theme of the film as I mentioned before. However, it isn’t. It is well and truly set in the present.
Perhaps the bizarre outfits were meant to distract from the poor dialogue. Clearly a ploy that didn’t work as I found myself, along with the rest of the audience, cringing repeatedly at the ridiculous things the cast were saying, and the cliché structure of the film that seemed to sneer at the audience’s intelligence. Often you can blame poor writing for the majority of a film’s flaws. Even a brilliant director will struggle to make good out of a poor script. But in this film’s case the director and writer were the same man. Craig Brewer. When a film has a writer/director rolled into one it often denotes that the director has a strong vision as he has nurtured the film from conception. The poor quality of this film, therefore, does rest on Brewer’s shoulders and I do wonder why anyone would throw their weight behind the man whose vision, in this case, was so clearly underwhelming.
The whole film, therefore, just lacked. I don’t think anyone expected it to be a tremendous, mind-blowing cinematic achievement but there was easily room for the film to be much better than it was. I would go so far as to say that I expected it to be a bad film and, in the end, those expectations were too high. Were it not for the surprisingly enjoyable performance by Miles Teller, I would be hard pressed to find positive things to say about the film.
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