'Footloose' at 40: Revisiting the Movie That Made Kevin Bacon a Superstar

The film celebrates its 40th anniversary this week

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Paramount Pictures

Retrospectives are always very fun for me—especially when I get to review a film that either came out before I was born, or didn't get to see because I was too young/don't remember. For the Herbert Ross-directed Footloose it's the former, which means that I had the opportunity to watch it with a fresh set of eyes. When looking back on films of a different era I try to make sure I do two things—I try to keep in mind the era those respective films came out in (and how the world was, what was popular at time, current events etc.), and then I try to bring a current 2020s perspective in my recap to showcase the film in a different way than what viewers and reviewers might have seen at that time of the film's release. At first, the concept of Footloose seemed a little "1980s corny" to me—a town where dancing and rock/pop music is illegal? Come on now. I gave it a shot, however, and I found myself enjoying this movie way more than I originally anticipated.

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The Storyline

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Paramount Pictures

The storyline of Footloose is simple—Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon) moves from the vibrant music loving city of Chicago to a small midwestern town named Bomont that prohibits dancing of any kind, and anything labeled as rock/pop music. McCormack is instantly an outcast in this off-the-grid town from the way he dresses, to his personality, and the general fact that he loves to dance. Of course he attracts some bullies/enemies as is this case with a lot newcomers that don't fit in at certain places, but he also meets the rebellious daughter of a Reverend (Lori Singer) that he falls for (and vice versa), and a nice crew who desires the change McCormack instantly starts trying to bring as soon as he gets there pretty much.

Along the way there's some roadblocks, and needless to say the Reverend isn't very fond of McCormack at all (and definitely doesn't want him dating his daughter that he so desperately wants to believe is the "innocent girl" that's been following "all of the rules"). However, the obstacles don't stop McCormack from going after what he wants—which is change. There's also a deeper reason behind the Reverend's ban that gives things a slightly different perspective—the ban was initiated due to the Reverend's son (Ariel's brother) being killed after a wild night of partying and alcohol. That revelation gives different meaning to the ban, but there's still the question in regards to the fairness of everybody else being prevented from enjoying themselves and their youth.

Was 'Footloose' Based on a True Story

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Paramount Pictures

According to the BBC, the concept of Footloose was loosely based on the true story of Elmore City, Oklahoma whose solution to the heavy drinking in their town was to put an end to dancing. In the minds of the lawmakers behind the decision—a night of dancing meant a night of drinking as well, and if you put a stop to the dancing, that meant the drinking would be reduced (in their eyes at least). Did it work? Well, there isn't really much data to suggest whether or not the law did work. Alcohol itself was still legal, so as long as that was legal, people were going to find a way to drink (even if they did it at home). Whatever the statistics might have been, the law ended in 1979—five years before the release of Footloose.

The Film Transformed Kevin Bacon Into a Superstar

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Paramount Pictures

Prior to Footloose, Kevin Bacon was gaining traction as a young rising actor with roles such as his 1978 debut in National Lampoon's Animal House and a critically acclaimed performance in 1982's Diner, but he hadn't quite had his breakout moment yet. That breakout moment came with Footloose where he gained a huge fanbase and earned great reviews from critics. "Fortunately, Kevin Bacon is a very likable actor, especially when he finally frees himself from the sullenness that is one of Ren's affectations. Mr. Bacon endures a lot here, including a ''Flashdance''-inspired solo dance number (would anyone really prance around a lot of farm equipment in what he believed to be a private moment?) and a scene in which the kids at the drive-in burst spontaneously into musical motion. He's even credible in a scene in which, after he supposedly dances strenuously in an out-of-town club, his white T-shirt is miraculously sweat-free," reads a February 1984 review from the New York Times, who was impressed by his performance.

Who Else Starred in 'Footloose?'

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Paramount Pictures

Aside from Bacon, Footloose featured a number of other young ascending actors among the likes of Lori Stringer, Sarah Jessica Parker (yes that Sarah Jessica Parker), and Chris Penn along with several others. Their performances were commended as well.

What Did the Trailer Look Like?

The 'Footloose' Soundtrack

My Review

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Paramount Pictures

I give Footloose an 8/10.

My biggest problem with 80s films is that sometimes they way of not to getting directly to the point. However, in the decade of the 2020s where three hour movies are seemingly becoming the norm more than ever, I'm not sure its fair to complain by the element in particular. I found young Kevin Bacon to be charming, and the chemistry between him and Lori Stringer was believable. The music and fashion are also smaller details that really enhance the film as well. Great music makes a great scene ten times better, and you see that multiple times within Footloose. I also thought the overall story was an interesting one, and you do gain a different perspective once you realize it's loosely based on a true story. All-in-all—Footloose is the epitome of a 1980s movie—and it's an enjoyable one to watch.

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