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The story of a town that has made dancing and rock music illegal, sees a young man move in and shake things up. Kevin Bacon is Ren, a rebellious boy out to win the heart of Ariel (Lori Singer),the preacher’s daughter, and bring back dancing by any means necessary, even when it seems the whole town is against him. Well not the whole town. He’s got his new best friend Willard (Chris Penn) and a few others on this side. But he’s got to win over Ariel’s father first, and the Rev. Shaw Moore (John Lithgow) isn’t too keen on making a change. Will Ren get a date with Ariel? Will Willard ever learn to get the beat? Will the kids get a chance to dance? These are questions we all get the answer to. But here are 5 we don’t:
At the start of the film we learn that Ariel is a bit of rebel herself. Lying to her dad that she’s going out for a soda pop with the girls (gasp! on a school night), she instead goes for a joy ride on a backroad. They are joined by Chuck (Jim Youngs), a redneck bully type that Ariel kinda sorta has a thing going on with. He pulls up in his antler-adorned pickup and teases the girls, who race along side. Suddenly, Ariel climbs out of the window and wriggles her way between the vehicles and stands up with one foot inside the window of both cars. See that truck coming at them? Yeah. He doesn’t stop. Not even slows down. Just barrels on in and drives right through them just before Ariel dives into the pick-up. Guess he heard about this crazy town and their whacky laws and figured, better to just blow through as fast as possible.
Okay, Chuck is not a good guy. He’s a grade-A bully and then some. It’s implied heavily that he’s having sex with Ariel and that he’s the jealous type. However, when Ariel loses interest in him (because of dreamy Ren), he’s naturally a little upset but goes a little overboard when he accuses her of only wanting to have sex with the new guy, insulting her reputation and skinny legs as she tries to flee. She turns and slaps him. Set off, he gives it right back, smacking her so hard in the face she hits the ground bleeding from her nose and one eye. Furious, she takes a metal rod to his beloved pick-up truck and that sends him over the edge. He straight up tackles her, pounds her arms, tosses her to the dirt and bashes her face one more time before driving off, leaving her beat up on the side of the road. Damn. I know we’re supposed to hate this guy, but this is felony assault and battery (thanks, Google!).
What’s worse, in the very next scene, she tells Ren what happend while she applies make-up to hide the bruises and open wounds. His reply? A petty smile and: “I think you’ll pull through.” Huh? When he’s not allowed to dance, he goes nuts and flips out in three minute dance attack at the mill. When a girl gets punched in the face? Meh. She’ll be okay. But much, much worse, Ariel’s own father had already taken a swing at her. Woo, 80s movies were rough on girls.
Okay, so that’s not technically a question. However, in a town that is obsessed with preventing sin and the ruination of their youth, they sure are lax with a whole lot of other stuff the kids are getting into. Yes, young people will find a way, but Ren is seen drinking beers and smoking a cigarette just before his big dance number in the mill. Others are seen drinking, and everyone has weed. At one point, a teacher actually catches one boy trying to give a rolled joint to Ren in a classroom. Sure, Ren flushes it, but the teacher just wags a finger at him. The girls at the start of the movie talk about a fellow classmate who just had a baby. Seems like the town might want to focus a little less on the dancing thing.
But let’s dig a little deeper. First, a quick history lesson. In July, 1984, the United States government passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 (23 U.S.C. § 158). It raised the purchase and possession age of alcohol from 18 or 19 (depending on the state) to 21. Okay, so fine. This movie predates that by five months, but still, Ariel tells the story of the “infamous Crosby Bridge accident” where a couple of drunk teens (one being her brother) played tag with cars and crashed off the bridge. She says that’s when they passed all the laws against drinking and dancing. So the town does have their own drinking laws, which implies the drinking rules are more enforced than the national standard. So who sold these kids all the beers? There’s some older brother out there making fat money on a beer-buying racquet. Speaking of fat . . .
Now before you fill the comment section with claims that I’m not being politically correct, the film credits actually list this character as Fat Cowboy. His real name is John Perryman. Bet you never thought you’d wake up today and find out the name of this, did you? Either way. At one point, Ren, Ariel, Willard and Rusty (Sarah Jessica Parker), Willard’s girl, go over the state line to a bar to drink and dance. We’ll assume they are all 18 years old and can drink. Not likely. The bar owner is off the hook. Fine. But there’s another issue. Rusty wants to dance like Ren and Ariel, who are all over the dance floor. Seriously. Throw some water on Ariel and she’d give Alex a run for her money. Willard can’t dance, so Rusty goes out alone and ends up with the Fat Cowboy:
Now sure, this guy probably came to the bar looking for a good time like all the rest. He sees a pretty girl who wants to dance, he latches on and goes for it. But look at him. What is he? 35? More? When Willard jumps onto the floor to confront the Fat Cowboy, he says to him, “Hey, I came with that girl.” The Cowboy replies, “Doesn’t look like you’re leaving with her.” Whoa! He’s literally been dancing with her for 12 seconds. Twelve. Even for 1984, that’s creepy.
The ban on dancing has been in effect for five years. That puts them at around 12 to 13-years-old when the law went into effect. Now keep in mind, there is no dancing. None. Not at the school. At a festival. At a drive-up burger joint. None. Even the music is forbidden. The Reverend actually stops a boom box playing in public. Cops literally pull Ren over for playing rock music loudly and make him pay a fine. Yet, when the kids finally (spoilers) get the chance to dance in the film’s finale, they bust out moves like they’re a professional touring dance troupe. Seriously, they start out all shy and quiet, but when Ren gives the go signal, BAM, it’s a full-on rave. Sure, Ren taught Willard how to cut a rug, but how did all the others manage to dance in perfect choreography? Not too mention the break dancers? Where did these guys come from?
Okay, so yes, Footloose is awesome. The ending is one of the all-time greatest feel-good moments in movies, and none of these questions really ruin the fun, but they sure are curious. And we didn’t even mention tractor-chicken (which somehow manages to give the film its one and only artsy shot).