Making the Grades
It’s likely most of us recollect the music from the 1984 release of Footloose—songs such as "Let’s Hear It for the Boy", "Dancing in the Streets" and "Holding Out for a Hero". What we might not remember so well are the details of the story.
That selective memory challenge presents a problem for parents who want to introduce their kids to the movies of their youth. It may be especially troublesome with a film like Footloose where the music is so much more memorable than the depictions of underage drinking, illegal drug use, discussions of teen pregnancy, abusive teen relationships and bare buttocks. (Honestly, I don’t think I remembered half of that content when I sat down with the DVD.)
The original film stars a young Kevin Bacon as Chicago born Ren McCormack. Faced with family challenges, the teen and his mother (Frances Lee McCain) move to the small town of Bomont to live with his aunt and uncle for a while. Unfortunately for Ren, his favorite form of stress release—dancing—is a banned activity in the community thanks to the city council and the staunch Reverend Shaw Moore (John Lithgow) whose son was among a group of teens killed after a night out on the town.
From the day of Ren’s arrival, the city slicker is pegged as an outsider and his schoolmates do their best to keep him from fitting in. (One student sets up a drug deal that leaves Ren looking like the dope pusher.) From the perspective of the parents in Bomont, Ren, with his urban ideas, is trouble.
But the new kid catches the eye of at least one person—Ariel Moore (Lori Singer), the preacher’s daughter. Prone to court danger and definitely unwilling to follow the advise of her father and mother (Dianne Wiest), Ariel seeks opportunities to push the limits. And Ren’s plan to fight the local council to let the senior class hold a prom is the kind of social activism she wants to sign up for.
Sarah Jessica Parker stars as Ariel’s friend Rusty and Chris Penn plays Willard Hewitt. He is one of a few guys to befriend Ren in this musical drama based on real life events that happened in the town of Elmore City, Oklahoma. Like the movie town of Bomont, public dances were banned in Elmore City and had been for nearly 100 years before the rule was reversed in 1980.
While a school prom seems like a worthwhile project for the graduating class, some of the other content in the movie version of events may not be as family friendly. Along with a strong stereotypical depiction of small town residents, the film suggests the only entertainment options include underage drinking, playing high-risk games of chicken and fighting, usually after a few too many bottles of beer. (When a boy is dumped by his girlfriend, he beats the girl, leaving her with a bloody face and black eye.)
With an updated adaptation of Footloose releasing in October 2011, this teen rebellion tale is about to be resurrected for a new generation of prom goers. While the dance moves will likely be more sexually suggestive in the 2011 version, parents may still want to preview the original film before sharing it with their teens.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Footloose (1984).
The preacher says that he and his wife have run out of things to say to each other. What work is involved in maintaining and building a relationship? Where does the preacher choose to focus his attention —on his family or the community? What does the book-burning episode help him recognize?
How are small towns often depicted in movies? What challenges do the citizens face? What are the problems in big cities? Is it important for communities to provide positive activities for youth to participate in?