Ever since Paramount Pictures announced they would be remaking “Footloose,” the studio has been under almost constant attack from fans of the 1984 original. Their quarrel is not just with who’s involved, but with its very existence: fairly or unfairly, those longtime fans can’t understand why the movie needs updating for modern audiences, not to mention how it could possibly be improved upon. But curiously, Craig Brewer, director of the upcoming remake, initially agreed with the project’s critics.
“I was like a lot of other people when I heard that they were remaking ‘Footloose,’ ” Brewer said recently to The Playlist. “I was like, ‘Well, that’s going to suck.’ And once I got the call from Paramount and they were saying, ‘We want to rethink the way we’re doing Footloose, would you consider doing Footloose,’ I got a little defensive.”
Suffice it to say that Craig Brewer is not best known for crafting conventional crowd pleasers. Brewer’s debut feature, “Hustle & Flow,” offered a sympathetic portrait of a pimp trying to make it in the rap game. His follow-up, “Black Snake Moan,” told the tale of an embittered blues musician who finds his own redemption by helping rescue a nymphomaniac from her sinful lifestyle. But after his initial conversations with Paramount, he quickly began to discover more common ground between this would-be teen movie and the more conspicuously mature fare that he’d explored in the past. “When I challenged them back on it, they kept countering with the idea that there just hasn’t really been a movie for teenagers like ‘Footloose’ – and they weren’t even speaking specifically to the narrative,” he said.
“They were just talking about the spirit, meaning what was the last teen movie we saw that yes, had music and dancing in it, but had this special flavor of camaraderie that we got out of Willard and Ren? Or having a movie where teenagers and their parents are having conflict and they’re not really listening to each other, and teenagers are portrayed in a way where there is kids that smoke weed? There are kids that drink. There are girls that are having premarital sex, perhaps even with a guy that was years older than her – and that relationship ends with that guy beating her up. That’s something you can’t pitch to Hollywood nowadays, but it’s still something I think teenagers relate to because it’s in their life or periphery,” Brewer explained.
Brewer said it was specifically because of all of the provocative content in the original that he would be able to bring a degree of darkness and sophistication to his remake. “Because ‘Footloose’ already existed, you could make the argument that it had to be there again,” he said. “It almost fell into this like ‘Romeo and Juliet‘ category, like you can’t say don’t have teen suicide in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ — it’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’! Everybody knows that’s in there. And so to some extent the idea that it was a remake allowed me to use those narrative elements for teenagers today.”
He also indicated that watching another recent remake gave him an insight into what a “Footloose” remake could mean, if only because it reminded him what the first film meant to him when he saw it back in ’84. “One thing that kind of tipped me over was going to see ‘Karate Kid,’” he confessed. “Now, I can sit here and have a conversation with you and talk about why the original ‘Karate Kid’ may be better than the remake of ‘Karate Kid,’ but I saw it in Memphis, Tennessee with an audience of 13-year-old African-American boys and girls — and they’re cheering at the end of this movie, and loving it. And I just thought in my head, ‘Man, it’s kind of a dumb arrogant thing for me to want to turn around to these kids and say no, you’ve got to like Ralph Macchio.’”
“Because that was my time,” Brewer said, unintentionally echoing the remake’s advertising tagline. “Those movies were mine at that moment, but these kids need something as well, and I don’t think it’s as easy as telling them, ‘Just go rent it.’ So once I got that into my head, it’s like, well I’ve got to find out a way I’m going to relate to it, because I love the original.”
Perhaps predictably, Brewer tapped into his background in tales of southern strife as he began to bring his remake to life. “I don’t want this to be another ‘Step Up‘ movie where they’ve just called it ‘Footloose,’ ” he insisted. “But I think especially if you set it in a southern context, suddenly now we’re back in this blue-state, red-state divide which just all felt like I could and should do it – that maybe I was the guy to do it. That I could protect the things from the original that fans like me would be worried about, but also bring it into a contemporary context.”
Eventually, Brewer discovered that even though he wanted the movie to connect with audiences today in the way it did when he was a kid, he could actually relate to its themes just as much as an adult. In fact, it was a minor near-death experience that he survived which alerted him to the decidedly melancholy and grown-up throughline that drove both films. “I was going down to this bachelor party from Memphis to New Orleans, and I was on this really long bridge – it’s like the longest bridge in America,” he explained. “All of the bugs were hitting up against the windshield, and just feeling the trucks going by me and shaking the car, and like the way the lights would hit the windshield, I could barely see. So when I got with all of my friends and we were out drinking and walking around in New Orleans, I was thinking to myself, ‘Man, I don’t know how people can drink and drive.’ And it was like right there I realized, ‘Oh wait a minute, that’s what ‘Footloose’ is about.’”
“I think people forget about it, but it really was about a bunch of teenagers who were partying and drinking, and got in a car and got into an accident, and then this town overreacted. And now I’m a parent, and those kids changed me. And so to tackle something that’s really about a community overreacting to a tragedy, suddenly rang [true] as a very contemporary American tale,” he adds.
“Footloose” opens nationwide this weekend.