(1984, Romance/Drama/Teen, color)
Janet Varney and Cole Stratton
Screw it, can I just dance or something?
In a Nutshell:
Kevin Bacon teaches an intolerant town to dance.
Troubled teen Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon) and his mother move from Chicago to a small town after the divorce. They seem to arrive directly at the local church, where they meet the preacher Reverend Moore (John Lithgow) and his hot daughter Ariel (Lori Singer). Ren gets in trouble almost instantly when he tries to chat up the local zealots about literature (Twain is okay but Vonnegut is sinful), while Ariel slips off to perform dangerous and stupid stunts on speeding cars.
Eventually we get the backstory, as follows: The Moore family suffered a tragedy a few years ago when the oldest son got drunk after a dance and drowned during an admittedly stupid stunt on a bridge. Now Reverend Moore rules the town with an iron fist, using his influence in the community to outlaw dancing, rock and roll and all other forms of youthful entertainment. His daughter Ariel rebels—dancing, drinking and sleeping around as much as possible to drown her grief and her disillusionment with her father.
Ariel takes a shine to Ren, who’s been floundering in his archconservative new town. She tries to seduce him after catching him doing some gymnastic anger dancing in an abandoned warehouse. He rebuffs her, allowing their relationship to build slowly. When the town refuses to accept him, he decides to stop trying to fit in and starts crusading to get the dancing law repealed. The buildup to the big town meeting includes Ariel escaping her abusive boyfriend, Ren teaching his redneck friend to dance, and a lot of soul searching on the part of the Reverend. Ren gives an impassioned speech at the meeting, quoting the bible at several points. His request is denied anyway.
Next day, Ren’s sympathetic boss points out that you have to drive over the county line to get to the factory where they work, and offers to let him use it as a dance hall. Ren organizes a dance and then asks the Reverend to let Ariel go to it with him. Reverend Moore softens his stance, and in church that Sunday he offers a prayer that amounts to tacit approval.
The big night arrives. Ariel’s intolerant ex-boyfriend does his best to break it up, but a few acrobatic fisticuffs later, the dance is in full Kenny Loggins-drenched swing.
Ah, the age-old “generation gap” movie, in which the hip teens of today come into conflict with their oppressive, hidebound seniors. Usually this kind of film tries to make the teens right by emphasizing youthful pleasure while glossing over consequences. Footloose takes a higher road than most by making the teens right for real, but when you depict your adults as book-burning zealots and your teens as church-going Kenny Loggins fans, I can’t help but notice that you’ve stacked the deck just a tiny bit in your favor.
Most of the time it stays pretty close to the requirements of its genre, but I was impressed by the relationship between our main protagonist and antagonist. Ren is not a saint by any means, and Reverend Moore is not a villain. In their own minds, they are both right and the film does itself a great service by not proving either of them completely wrong. In the midst of this clash between youth and adults, Ren stands up to several of the darker elements of youth culture while the Reverend stands up to the darker elements of his often overzealous congregation. In the end, neither is converted to the other’s cause, but they learn to get along anyway.
Could have used more dancing, though. For a supposed dance movie, there was surprisingly little of it.
Cole Stratton and Janet Varney have several Rifftrax Presents titles under their belt now, and they get a little better with each one. A few of my favorite comments: When the abusive boyfriend shows up in his massive truck, Cole calls it, “The Ford F1 Douchebag.” When Ren shows up at his incredibly large and stylish small town high school, Janet wants to know, “Where’s he going to school, in a Jordache commercial?” When Ren and the abusive boyfriend play chicken with tractors, Cole calls it, “The Farm and the Furious.” My DVD kept sliding out of sync with the commentary for some reason and, while this may have marred my enjoyment of it somewhat, the fact that it still entertained me is telling. It’s worth looking at.
(1984, Romance/Drama/Teen, color)