Accompanied by a chart-topping title song and a ten-million selling soundtrack, Footloose is part of a holy trinity of 80s dance movies – alongside Flashdance and Dirty Dancing – that define a certain shorthand for pop culture of the era.
It’s also completely bananas – much moreso than the squeaky-clean pop hits that it birthed might suggest. Kevin Bacon stars as the archetypical big city kid transplanted to a small bible-belt town, where he instantly makes an enemy of a tyrannical local preacher played by John Lithgow.
Lithgow also has a daughter Ariel, played by Lori Singer, who inevitably acts as the film’s love interest. When he discovers that Lithgow and the village elders have banned all forms of music and dancing from the town, Bacon inspires the local youth, including Singer and a very young Sarah Jessica Parker and Chris Penn, to fight for their right to party – literally.
So far, so rote. But there’s a weirdly dark streak to Footloose that gives it an edge most teen romances lack. Most of this comes from the Ariel character, who must be one of the darkest characters ever to appear in a teen romance. We’re introduced to her straddling two speeding cars while driving down a highway, ignoring the panicked screams of her friends.
Later, she engineers a similarly reckless stand-off with an oncoming train. Her motivation for this apparent death wish is revealed later in the movie, and suffice to say it is extremely bleak.
Lithgow also gets a surprising amount of nuance for a character who could have just been a stock villain. His pained relationship with his daughter takes up a surprising amount of screen time, and he has a bona fide emotional arc by the end of the movie. It’s quite effective, and both actors play it well, but it feels weirdly incongruous in a movie that also dedicates much of its runtime to choreographed dance numbers.
On the whole, Footloose is a clumsy, awkward but sincere emotional mess of a movie that nevertheless achieves some genuinely iconic moments. Maybe that mess is why it resonated so much with adolescents at the time, and continues to to this day. In this week’s podcast, we react to some of our favourite moments, including the world’s slowest tractor crash, simmering homoeroticism, a bewildering mid-movie recap and much more.
As usual, we’ll also brainstorm some drinking games, check in with our listeners for their reactions and pitch some sequel ideas to check in with the Footloose community three decades later. If you enjoy the show, hit subscribe to receive a new episode every Monday morning, and please consider leaving us a review as well – it really helps us to reach out to new listeners.
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Next time, we’re continuing our high-school streak with a cult LGBTQ classic from the late 90s. Until then, happy listening and remember – the devil has all the best tunes…