After his mother and father break up, Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon) moves with his mother from Chicago to a quiet, Godfearing smalltown to live with his relatives. The moral leader of the town is the Reverend Moore (John Lithgow), who has banned the young people from dancing, believing it will lead to sexual promiscuity, but his teenage daughter Ariel (Lori Singer) has a rebellious streak, as her friends witness when she plays her own version of "Chicken" while straddling two cars as a truck bears down on her. Rock music-loving Ren, meanwhile, is not going to find small town life easy, especially as he can't dance to vent his frustrations - but he will find a way.
Written by Dean Pitchford, Footloose was essentially an update to the eighties of all those rock 'n' roll films of the fifties where the kids were berated by the adults for their love of the music, but went ahead and showed those old fogeys a thing or two about having fun. It was also one of those musicals that emerged after Saturday Night Fever that didn't feature its cast singing the songs, and instead had them dancing to records on the soundtrack instead, so the musical numbers take the form of someone pressing play on their stereo and whatever cast members are present dancing away - not one band or singer is seen performing.
There's a Rebel Without a Cause dynamic going on in the town of Beaumont once Ren arrives (no sign of Stimpy, mind you), as he finds himself not only set against the stuffy, conservative adults, but some of the younger folks as well. He secures the friendship of Willard (Chris Penn) after bumping into him in the school corridor, and Ariel takes a liking to him, bringing down the wrath of her jealous boyfriend. As in Rebel, this leads to a game of "Chicken" (another one) involving Ren and the boyfriend driving tractors at each other to the hard rockin' strains of, erm, Bonnie Tyler, and Ren comes out on top, but even less popular than before.
Not with Ariel and her best friend Rusty (Sarah Jessica Parker), however, who are delighted to accompany him to a bar in a different smalltown for serious dancing. Unfortunately Willard can't dance, and is forced to grumpily sit and watch, then get into a fight with one man who is getting too close to Rusty. On the way back, Ariel tells Ren that the reason dancing has been banned in Beaumont is because her brother died in a rock-related incident, adding a surprising (but corny) depth to the Rev. Moore's objections. Lithgow doesn't play him as a fire and brimstone preacher, but instead as as understandably worried father who doesn't want to see his daughter, or anyone else's kids, on the same path of self-destruction his son was, earning him unexpected sympathy. He doesn't endorse book burning either, as the other townsfolk do.
But, like Ren, we got some dancing to do, and he makes up his mind to hold a Terpsichorean celebration and change the town's mind. First up, he has a workout on his own in a deserted warehouse, just to channel the energies bullt up by his ill treatment. Then, he teaches Willard some moves, all to the sound of "Let's Hear It for the Boy" by Deniece Williams - it has to be said the mild music doesn't really back up the spirit of revolution. After that, it's a matter of persuading the town council that a school prom would be good idea. If there's a problem with Footloose, it's that it takes itself mightily seriously, and could have easily lightened up on the earnestness without sacrificing the energy of the musical numbers. Still, Bacon is a likeable outsider in a town of inhibited conformists, and it certainly gave Kenny Loggins a claim to movie fame. Music by Miles Goodman.