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Home » Culture and Criticism

Cultural Blind Spots: Footloose and Lost in Translation

Submitted by on July 19, 2011 – 1:36 PM26 Comments

Owned the soundtrack on LP as a kid; still love the soundtrack, despite the sticky synth and the portentous Kenny Loggins; never saw Footloose before. It's a pleasant surprise. The premise is utterly contrived, and it leads to inappropriately ominous dialogue about "trouble" and "my fight," not to mention myriad clich├ęs about small-town closed-mindedness and piety unchecked — but Kevin Bacon is the perfect antidote for all of that. The Ren character isn't written very deeply, but he's likeable enough, and Bacon is too, charismatic, dressed kinda indie-rock so he doesn't look too dated when you watch it now, intense but not self-absorbed.

John Lithgow is also impressive in a trying role as the reverend who's basically responsible for the town's ban on dancing; he goes for quiet sincerity over bombast, the choice many other actors would have made, and it works. He comes off like a mostly decent man who means well and just has this one thing totally wrong.

Bacon and Lithgow do a lot with not much, cancelling out the overage of montages and the poor editing towards the end. They even manage to force a couple of breaths of air into their scenes with Lori Singer, which is about as much as you can expect from them. Singer, overmatched yet again, is tall and coltish and can wear a pair of painted-on Sassoons with the best of them, and she's actually marginally better than usual in Footloose — i.e., you see her teeth a few times — but Ariel is a stifled teenage girl who wants that elusive More from her life and only knows a couple of unsatisfying ways to get it. Singer gives us bitchface on Benadryl. It's not like she ruins the movie, mostly because it's hard to ruin a fight-the-man-by-numbers plot, but the suspension of disbelief sags noticeably whenever she comes onscreen.

I liked it. I don't need to see it again; I certainly don't need to see a remake.

I've enjoyed the work I've seen from Sofia Coppola (behind the camera, anyway). I've heard her movies called affected, or clinical, but I don't agree, or at least those qualities aren't bothersome to me; I do see a certain dispassion, but in the service of testing what narrative can do and be, especially in The Virgin Suicides.

LiT is more controlled and formal with its what-ifs, but I liked it; I liked the people. Well, I liked Charlotte and Bob; the script takes cheap shots at almost everyone else, with Anna Faris and Michael Showalter having to color in condescending sketches. The Lydia character is demonized to an unrealistic point. Coppola doesn't ease up soon enough on the "Japanese culture as alienation personified" throttle, and the music is ham-handed. Still, I felt a fondness for the heroes and wanted to see what became of them, what they made of the situation. Bill Murray got an Oscar nod for LiT, I believe, and it's a solid performance, although frankly I don't see a whole lot that he hadn't already showed us in Rushmore. ScarJo is great, though; she's not everyone's thing, but I've dug her since Ghost World, and her last scene is lovely work.

I get the reception the film initially received; I get the backlash, too; nearly a decade on, I think it's a solid story that fetishizes parts of itself and neglects others, but gets away with it thanks to strong acting and cinematography.

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  • SarahW says:

    One thing I can never get around with LiT is that Scarlett was only 18 when they filmed it. Like she had juuust turned 18. It's not to say that women that young never get married, but it just sort of weirded me out, knowing that.

    I know the character's relationship with Bob wasn't sexual…but you can argue it was a romance. And I know her extreme youth was part of what drew him to her…but I don't know. Something about it just drags me out of the film in a way that it wouldn't have if she were say, 22 when they had filmed it. I don't know why.

    And no mention of the young Carrie Bradshaw in Footloose? I love a young SJP sighting!

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Footloose was one of the first "adult" (i.e., not Disney or Star Wars) movies I ever saw on the cusp of pubescence, and thus it is enshrined far more then it deserves in my heart. I can't believe this remake crap, with a bunch of nine year olds fresh off the Nickelodeon back lot-pah! Whoever the Ariel character is played by, you know she's going to make Lori Singer seem like Meryl Streep.

    I know people bitch a lot about the Twenty Two Year Olds Playing Teens, but really, when I was a youngling and watching Footloose for the first time, the fact that the "kids" seemed older kind of–what, legitimized?–the story for me. I find it hard to believe that Justin Bieber or whoever would give a rat's ass about some town ban, let alone cross lines to dance in a bar or throw a prom in a grain storage warehouse, y'know?

  • Cathy in Canada says:

    My husband and I started watching Lost in Translation when it came out on pay-per-view. We got halfway through, and the satellite dish went out for some reason. We gave it a shoulder shrug, and I had no inclination to continue watching or to find out how the movie ended. I would have finished watching if the movie had kept playing, but I wasn't put out in the least when it stopped.

    Footloose was the first cassette that I bought for myself. I was 13, and shopping with my friend Kathy, upstairs at Eatons.

  • Leigh in CO says:

    I did, do, and always will love Footloose (the sweatshirt-n-jeans dance sequence cemented my love for Kevin Bacon foreverandeverandeveramen); tolerating Lori "I'll sing of bodies intertwined" Singer only gets more amusing as the decades roll on. The red boots, the continuity-challenged prom dress, the awesome Chris Penn…so much love in my heart.

  • Jeanne says:

    I first saw Footloose when I was in college (back in the 00's), and the biggest impression I got was Oh my God Sarah Jessica Parker was adorable! I was also vaguely disturbed by the rail thin-ness of Lori Singer.

    Have not seen Lost in Translation. My loathing for Scarlett Johansson (which dates from being forced to watch The Horse Whisperer in high school) prevents me from doing so. That and I've kind of gotten tired of Bill Murray's depressed middle-aged man award bait roles. I haven't liked him in anything since The Royal Tenenbaums.

  • There's a backlash against LIT? Where? Pics or it didn't happen.

  • Dorine says:

    My best friend and I watched Footloose over and over in high school, continued to do so in college, and still refer to lines and scenes from that movie regularly now that we are mumblesomething years since graduation. My love of that movie (and the whole soundtrack — I used to listen to my cassette tape over and over and over and over. . . I still remember how excited I was to get a stereo that had an auto-tape-playback button so I could stop getting up to turn the damn thing over) cannot be destroyed.

  • Jenn says:

    "Whoever the Ariel character is played by, you know she's going to make Lori Singer seem like Meryl Streep."

    It's Julianne Hough from Dancing with the Stars. So…um.

  • MsC says:

    I remember seeing something a long time ago, maybe on Ebert's blog, about the response from theatre viewers being very positive, but DVD viewers being mystified about the hype. I can't point to numbers on that, but that matched my personal experience. As someone who only saw it on the small screen, I was baffled. I have no idea what the appeal was and found it stunningly boring.

  • Lamoshe says:

    Love, love, LOVE Footloose. The music, the "drama," the "angst" – even Lori Singer did not ruin anything for me (even though, like Jeanne mentioned above, I was a little taken aback by how very thin she looked). Chris Penn and Kevin Bacon bouncing up and down to the music in the school hallway? Ariel's crazy stunt on the trucks? Mouthing off to her daddy at the drive-in? Ren speechifying in church? All priceless! I might have to go watch my DVD right now.

    Anyone involved in this remake is

    I saw LIT just before I went to visit a friend who was working for several months in Japan, and enjoyed it a lot, while wondering if it would ring true when I finally got there. Turns out, it did. A while after we both returned to the States, we watched it again…and it still held up. The whole…atmosphere…that Coppola created, and the lead actors sustained, really captured the feeling of alien-ness – not necessarily alienation (to me, anyway), but the feeling that everything was SO very different that it made me into more of an observer than I ordinarily am. Plus, the sharing of that experience, the way ScarJo and Murray's characters sort of took it in and were variously amused & bemused by it together, mirrored my experiences with my pal. So, aside from enjoying the movie on its own merits, I love the personal associations it has for me.

  • Claire says:

    I saw LiT when it came out, when I was around 14 (and pretentious, apparently) and liked it but didn't love it. I re-watched it recently at 22 and totally fell in love with, probably because I could relate to the film a lot more. I have a feeling I'll continue to love it over the next couple of years, then have 30 years of feeling neutral about it, and then come back around to loving it when I'm Bill Murray's age.

  • Soylent says:

    I know this is Cultural Blind Spots and that you missed it the first time around is the point, but I'm quite astonished that you managed to miss Footloose. Clearly you didn't attend enough slumber parties in the 1980s.

  • Rachel says:

    I loved LiT. LOVED it like I love few films. I don't know why – I'm not a huge fan of Sofia Coppola's other work, but I really liked this one. I thought it was beautifully shot and both Bill Murray and ScarJo really nailed their parts. It doesn't hold up to obsessive repeat viewing, but the last five minutes or so are utterly perfect, IMO.

    Footloose: the first time I saw it, I was heavy into Rave culture (it was the '90s by then) and I remember a friend of mine going on and on and onnnnnnn about the parallels between what was going on with our parties (disapproval, etc) and in the movie. Um, yeah.

    Kevin Bacon was never my cup of tea, but the punchdancing he does in the barn or whatever makes me laugh every time. "I'm so angry! I gotta get it out of my system so… I'm gonna DANCE! WOOOO!!" [punch punch kick spin twirl jazz hands]

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Soylent: Right? And I went to plenty of slumber parties; I did manage to see Top Secret! and Reckless about 23 times each. I don't get it either.

    I should do the NC Double Feature for slumber-party movies. "8 Hellraiser vs. 9 Top Gun." Because we watched those two a frillion times as well.

  • Alena says:

    Who is Michael Showalter in LiT?

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    He's in it for two seconds as Faris's date at dinner who's boring Charlotte by talking about producing beats. You only see his face for a second but I'm positive it's him.

  • Georgia says:


    If you (or any readers here) have not seen episode 11 of Yacht Rock (an Internet show about the origins of terrible smooth '70s and '80s songs) that explains how Kenny Loggins' "Footloose" came about, it's definitely worth a watch. Readily available on YouTube.

  • Tylia says:

    The only thing I want to add in regards to Footloose is that the Chris Penn Dancing Montage is filled with so much win I can not even tell you. Well, now after his death its filled with a little bit of sadness because now my dream of seeing Chris Penn do the Footloose dance IRL has been destroyed completely, but still. There's something about that moment that has and will always fill my heart with joy.

    @Lamoshe: "So, aside from enjoying the movie on its own merits, I love the personal associations it has for me." I love when people are able to connect with movies like that. I had the same experience with Dancer, Texas population 81 (which would be in my oevre for Crushfest movies. Breckin Meyer, Peter Facinelli before he became, well Peter Facinelli, Ethan Embry, and all with the fakest Texan accents ever, and yet, love!)There are moments that play out in the movie that I have seen unravel almost to the letter with my own eyes growing up in SE New Mexico. It was a perfect representation of what it was like to grow up in a small town like that. And when a movie hits home like that, its hard to forget it.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Oh, something else I loved about Footloose!

    The prom dresses/tuxes. They looked real, and what kids in a midwestern small town would wear to a dance. Not this Gossip Girl Eleventy-thousand designer minidress with Malanos and Pierre Cardin Clutch or whatever the hell that Those Kids These Days wear to something that's at best a semiformal. Get off my lawn! *throws hard candy*

  • catilin says:

    My First Real Date started out something like, "I… um… would… um… wannagoseeamovie?" We picked Footloose, liked it and each other. Dude asked me out again and we went to the same movie, since nothing else in the theater at the moment appealed to either of us.

    I think we saw it in the theater three *more* times for the same reason. High school; good times.

  • Yoshi says:

    LiT is my favourite movie ever, ever, ever. Like Rachel above, I don't love many movies, but this one went straight to my heart.

    I do believe that it was helped by seeing it in the theatre originally (something I rarely do, and I saw it 3 times, which… god): while it's still beautiful on a small screen, I think some of the overwhelming-ness of the environment that came through on the big screen gets lost. I know that's a standard complaint of watching any movie on a small screen, but I think here it's easy to miss that you're missing anything because the emphasis is so much more on the characters.

    [Hopes that made any kind of sense.]

  • Jeanne says:

    Just wanted to note, thanks to this post I've had "Let's Hear It For The Boy" going in a loop in my head for the past day and a half. So that's been awesome.

  • Angela says:

    I saw LIT when it came out and I did not get the hype. I just wanted ScarJo to put some pants on. Then maybe she would have been less depressed. I always feel perkier with pants on. :)
    That being said, given the love expressed here, maybe I should give it another shot.

  • Jaybird says:

    I actually grew up in a church that straight-up forbade dancing, and I'm including ballet and waltzes, so "Footloose" resonated with me in a way that leaves me squirming even now. There's one thing that still leaves me rolling my eyes so hard I knock pictures off the wall: The "Rebel Without A Cause"-inspired tractor chicken race. Yeah, fish out of water, Angry Young Man who'll Show Us The Way, WE GET IT. Even as a high-school sophomore, I wondered why anybody, in any universe, would want Lori Singer. For anything. At all.

    The idea of a remake makes me feel the same way as an earthquake in another country: Sad, horrified, but safe in the knowledge that it won't affect me directly.

  • Kat from Jersey says:

    LiT was… okay (and no, it's not that I didn't 'get it'). Love Bill Murray in anything (I know, he always seems to play a version of himself, but it works for him), but I'm not a huge fan of ScarJo. The slack-jawed gape and monotone worked when she played Griet in "Girl with a Pearl Earring", but I'm now convinced that that's just her personality, and it really doesn't translate to any other character. She just irks me, and I can't get past it when I watch her in any other role.

    Footloose, yay! From the opening montage of dancing feet (my friends and I always had to pick which shoes we liked best), to the confetti'd prom (where did that come from, anyway), it's totally made of win. Loved the young Sarah Jessica Parker, but I'm not surprised Lori Singer never did much after this. Kevin Bacon rocks as always.

  • Kim W. says:

    I love LiT with a consuming passion. Maybe because it kind of captures the kind of relationships I've always seemed to have — comparatively brief (the good ones never seem to last past a year and a few months), but oh, so SO deep.

    Roger Ebert said a couple of things in his review that made me jump up and point at my screen and say "YES! THAT!" when I read it; the first was that he was impressed by how Charlotte and Bob have intense and deep conversations rather than ever having sex; "they share their thoughts and feelings, which is far more intimate than sharing genitals." He also was reminded of the Japanese term "mono no aware" — which is about an appreciation of the beauty of short-lived things, because part of what makes them so beautiful is because you know they ARE short-lived. Because yeah, it is possible for someone you only know for a week or a month to make that much of an impact on you and touch you that deeply.

    Fun fact — a friend of mine was a stage manager for the play The Guys that Bill Murray was in back in 2001, and she told me that — that orange camo print shirt Bill wears in the movie was his own shirt.

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