After his parents' divorce, Ren (played by Kevin Bacon) moves with his mother from Chicago to a small town in middle America. While he finds many of the town's backwards ways frustrating, there is one inexplicable rule that really catches his attention: Rock music and dancing are illegal. He soon makes it his mission to try and reform the law before senior prom, but Ren faces some stiff adversaries. His main opposition comes in the form of the extremely conservative Reverend Shaw Moore (John Lithgow), who is certain that if rock music is allowed in the town, then all the young people will end up pregnant cocaine-addicts.
Regardless, Ren and his new friends—including the beautiful Ariel, who happens to be Reverend Moore's daughter—set out on their quest to give the town's teenagers sex, drugs and rock n' roll.
Well... rock 'n' roll, at least.
A stage musical was made in 1998. It won two Tony Awards and ran for 709 performances. A film remake was released in October 2011.
Not to be confused with the webcomic of the same name.
This film provides examples of:
- '80s Hair: Oh yeah!
- Abandoned Warehouse: Great place for doing an Angry Dance.
- Accidental Hero: Ren is challenged to a Game of Chicken in a tractor, and finds himself the accidental victor as his shoelaces get stuck in the gearing, preventing him from bailing out.
- Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Ren's mother is dead in the remake.
- Adaptational Heroism: Wes is much more supportive of Ren in the remake. When Reverend Shaw tries to get him to make see that Ariel is too good for Ren, Wes replies that it's most likely the other way around. He also explains how Ren spent his mother's last years taking care of her, after his father left.
- Adapted Out: Ariel's friends Wendy Jo and Edna/Urleen, supporting characters in the original movie and the play, get cut out of the remake to focus more on her friendship with Rusty.
- The Aggressive Drug Dealer: Subverted. The "dealer" just wants Ren to get caught with contraband.
- All There in the Manual: The novelization reveals that Principal Dunbar lost his daughter in the accident on the bridge, which explains why he supports the ban so much.
- AM/FM Characterization: The contrast between Ren and Rev. Moore is underpinned by the music they like.
- Angry Dance: To the max in the warehouse.
- As the Good Book Says...: Ren quotes Biblical scripture to support the value of dance to the town council. It doesn't work, but Rev. Moore personally appreciates the gesture.
- Banned in China: In-Universe - Rock and dancing are banned in Bomont.
- Beta Couple: Rusty (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Willard (Chris Penn).
- Be Yourself: The moral of the story: don't conform to what your parents want you to be.
- Big Bad: Reverend Shaw Moore is the one behind the outlawing of dancing and rock music, a measure that protagonist Ren McCormack opposes.
- The Big Guy: Woody. Class 2 with some signs of Class 5: between keeping Chuck's thugs off his smaller friends' backs, he explains to Ren how the town government works in Bomont.
- Blithe Spirit: Fits Ren like a glove. Or some sort of dance shoe.
- Book Burning: Townspeople start doing this, making the reverend realize things had gone too far.
- Broken-Window Warning: Ren tries to start a movement to repeal his town's "no dancing" law... and late at night, he gets a brick through a window of his home for his troubles.
- Christianity Is Catholic: Zig-zagged. Reverend Moore is clearly a Protestant (he's married, wears no Roman collar, and is referred to as a Reverend, not a Father), but at one point Ariel makes an impassioned speech about "confessing her sins to her preacher in the church," a very Catholic ideology.
- The City vs. the Country: The fact that he's from Chicago nets Ren Hate at First Sight from most of the townsfolk, instantly labeling him a rebellious never-do-well. And it only gets worse when he starts to actually rebel.
- The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: Reverend Moore is a great motivational speaker, but he cannot reach his daughter. As said by his wife:Vi: You're a wonderful preacher. You can lift a congregation up so high ... they have to look down to see heaven. But it's the one-to-one where you need a little work.
- Corrupt Hick: Downplayed with Reverend Moore, who genuinely thinks he's doing the right thing. He is also willing to listen to Ren's argument, and stops a group of people burning "unseemly" books from the library. Principal Dunbar is a straighter example; his fundamentalism, up to and including Book Burning, creeps out the Reverend.
- Dance Party Ending: Of course!Ren: "Hey, I thought this was a party! LET'S DAAAAANCE!!"
- Dancing Is Serious Business: You better believe it.
- Death by Adaptation: Ren's mom, in the remake.
- Deliberately Bad Example: Principal Dunbar to Reverend Moore. Moore is a Well-Intentioned Extremist, even in his worst moments. Dunbar is borderline fascistic.
- Death Seeker: It's heavily implied that Ariel is this as a way of coping with her brother's death.
- Disappeared Dad: Ren's father abandoned him and his mom.
- Disobey This Message: In a way.
- Dystopian Edict: No Dancing!
- Diving Save: Ren pushes Ariel out of the way of the onrushing train.
- The '80s: When the movie is set.
- Establishing Character Moment: Ariel's car stunt showcases her Death Seeker attitude.
- Ren's is a bit more subtle. When members of the council speak about wanting to ban an English teacher from discussing the book Slaughterhouse-Five, Ren speaks out in support of the book. This moment both foreshadows his relationship with the town and establishes that Ren is not the outright rebel everyone assumes he is.
- Fish out of Water: Ren.
- From the Mouths of Babes : Ren's cousin Amy comments that Ren is "a total fox".
- Game of Chicken: On tractors, set to "Holding Out for a Hero" to great effect. Ren wins because his shoelace gets caught on the gas pedal.
- Genre-Busting: Comedy? Drama? Romance? Musical? Your guess is a good as any.
- Hate Sink: Both Principal Dunbar and Chuck, contrasting to Reverend Moore. Dunbar is the slimy but ultimately ineffectual sort, while Chuck is legitimately dangerous in his own right.
- HeelFace Turn: Reverend Moore starts going through this when Ren, attempting to get the ban on dancing repealed, quotes several Bible verses that are supportive of dancing. Reverend Moore is moved by Ren's speech, but the repeal fails anyway because the city council votes against him.
- High-School Dance: The film ends with the prom that the school is allowed to have after the no dancing law is overturned.
- I Can't Dance: When Willard reveals to Ren that he cannot dance, the latter challenges him to a Training Montage of dance practice.
- Informed Attractiveness: Early on, one of the town girls about Ren: Are you blind? He is gorgeous!
- I Own This Town: The no-dancing law doesn't get repealed because Reverend Moore already had enough City Council voters in his back pocket.
- Caught Coming Home Late: Ariel's father awaits her when she returns late at night while the curfew was on.
- Loophole Abuse: Although Ren couldn't overturn the dancing ban, he is able to find a place just outside of town limits where a dance can take place.
- Meaningful Name: Ariel. The spirit from The Tempest who longs for freedom. (This was five years before the more readily available use of the name.)
- Missing Mom: In the 2011 remake, Ren's mother died of cancer, resulting in Ren moving to Bomont.
- Moral Guardians: The Reverend is acting as one of these but ends up being a Culture Cop
- My God, What Have I Done?: Perhaps part of the reason Reverend Moore was willing to listen to Ren after the book-burning incident: he finally realized that the repressive trends that he'd started and approved of had gone too far. He also gets this when he slaps Ariel in anger.
- The New Rock & Roll: Dancing is forbidden and the Reverend preaches against the evils of rock music. All because of a fatal car crash that happened five years ago.
- Pac Man Fever: The music-and-dance montage at the drive-in abruptly ends when Rev. Moore presses the stop button on the blaring boombox. Everyone stops celebrating and bows their heads in shame, including the reverend's daughter, Ariel, and the sound of Pac Man dying can be heard from the arcade.
- Parental Obliviousness: Rev. Moore is very guilty of this, as he thinks that Ariel only began misbehaving when Ren came to town, somehow managing to overlook the fact that she's been acting like this ever since her brother died.
- Pet the Dog: The Reverend has several moments to show that he isn't completely close-minded. The most memorable might be when he stopped a group of citizens from burning books, or when he sits down to actually talk to Ren about their respective losses after the town meeting. The most touching is his reunion with Vi at the close.
- Playing Gertrude: Dianne Wiest (Ariel's mother Vi) is only 9 years older than Lori Singer (Ariel).
- John Lithgow (Shaw) is only 12 years older than Singer.
- Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: Willard doesn't know The Police or Men at Work.
- Posthumous Character: Ariel's brother Bobby. Averted in the remake, where the accident that kills him is in the first scene.
- The Power of Rock: Played straight.
- Preacher's Kid: Ariel's standing on moving pickup trucks and answering the train is likely far from what her father had in mind for her. To say nothing of Chuck.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: It's based on an actual 80's news story. The movie nods to this when Willard tells Ren about states with similar laws to Bomont.
- Repeat Cut: Towards the end of Ren's Angry Dance, there is a take of him jumping high up in the air which is repeated five times.
- Repeat What You Just Said: Willard jokingly suggests to start a nightclub in the church which gives Ren his "Eureka!" Moment about the dance.
- Ripped from the Headlines: See above.
- Rule-Abiding Rebel: Ren actually does try to follow the rules most of the time (as restrictive as they may be) but is still labeled a rebel simply because he's from out of town. The labeling eventually backfires on the town, because the constant ostracism by the townsfolk, Ariel's suicidal obsession with his supposed wild behavior, and the actual ne'er-do-wells of the town (that have somehow been conveniently ignored by the townsfolk, especially in favor of Ren) framing him as the bad influence the town sees him as are what actually spur Ren to finally do something about it. Had he been left alone, he would have stayed out of everybody's way like he was planning to.
- Setting Update: The remake takes place in modern times, naturally. It also introduces a tiny bit of a problem that Roger Ebert noted in his review. Namely, that while Moore, in 1984, could conceivably have grown up without rock music really being a part of his life (and thus scapegoat it), this would be practically impossible in 2011, other than his being raised to be much more of a religious fundamentalist than he is.
- Shaming the Mob: From Reverend Moore: "Satan is not in these books! He's in here! He's in your hearts. Go on home, all of you. Go and sit in judgment on yourselves."
- Soundtrack Dissonance: The opening credits of the original film play over a montage of people's feet dancing. The opening credits of the remake play over the flashback of the events that led to the car crash that killed several teens and caused the anti-music edict to be made. The song "Footloose" plays over both of them.
- Spontaneous Choreography: During the climatic High-School Dance, where everyone can dance despite being from a town where dancing is illegal.
- Strict Parents Make Sneaky Kids: Shaw with Ariel.
- Suspiciously Specific Sermon: Two of them. One early on establishing the town elders' opposition to rock 'n' roll, and the change of heart one near the end of the film.
- There Is No Higher Court: The Movie would be much less entertaining if it had been about Judicial review though.
- Too Dumb to Live: Subverted. Early on in the movie, Ariel stands in between two trucks as they speed down the highway, one foot inside each window. It's meant to paint her as wild and rebellious but looks more suicidally reckless. It's implied that it might actually be.
- Town with a Dark Secret: Ren doesn't get told immediately why dancing is outlawed and has to do some asking around to find out. Even then, he doesn't find out until much later that one of the car accident victims was Ariel's older brother. The remake actually tells us from the beginning.
- Training Montage: We are shown how Willard learns to dance under Ren's supervision.
- The Unfair Sex: Averted in the remake. Chuck might be angry at Ariel for her cheating on him with Ren, but that's no excuse to physically assault someone.
- Untrusting Community: The entire town is suspicious of Ren because he's from Chicago. Many locals go out of their way to try to prove that Ren is a troublemaker despite that he has the best of intentions. In the end, he helps the town move on from the past by setting up a dance and convincing the Reverend to lighten up.Ren: It's like something's choking everybody. Only they don't know they're choking.
- It should be noted that had he been simply left alone, Ren would not have done anything, and would have acclimated to the town, learning how to keep his city-based habits in check. By being the Untrusting Community, they basically pushed Ren far enough to do something about their way of life and thinking.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Reverend Moore.
- Wham Shot: During the Game of Chicken Ren keeps nearly bailing out, but stopping at the last moment as everyone watches intently. then the camera shows that his shoelace is caught. He can't get out, doesn't know the tractor well enough to stop it and can't be heard over the rumbling engines as he and Chuck get closer to each other. Fortunately, Chuck panics and goes off the road first.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Amy and Sarah are in only a couple of scenes before they're completely gone for the rest of the movie.
- Who's on First?: When Ren asks Willard about his musical tastes.Ren: You like Men at Work?
Willard: Which man?
Ren: Men at Work.
Willard: Well where do they work?
Ren: No, they don't, they're a music group.
Willard: Well what do they call themselves?
Ren: Oh no! What about The Police?
Willard: What about 'em?
Ren: You ever heard them?
Willard: No, but I seen them.
Ren: Where, in concert?
Willard: No, behind you.
- Would Hit a Girl:
- Chuck is quite willing to hit Ariel.
- Reverend Moore slaps his daughter in a rage but he later reveals it to be the first time he's ever done such a thing.
The Musical contains examples of:
- Adaptation Expansion: Understandably, the musical has about twice as many songs as the movie, along with several new characters.
- And a Diet Coke: Verbatim when Wendy Jo orders food at the Burger Blast.
- Being Watched: "Somebody's Eyes" provides this in spades."If you've ever had anything to hideThink twice before you step outside."
- Canon Foreigner: Urleen (friend of Ariel, Rusty and Wendy Jo), Jeter, Garvin, and Bickle (Willard's buddies), Lyle (a second sidekick for Chuck), a couple of named characters at the dance palace, Betty Blast...
- The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: Referenced by Ren, when the Reverend comments that he's enforced a curfew for all the teenagers in town, but can't get Ariel to follow it:"Well, you know what they say, it's always the shoemaker's kids that go barefoot."
- Comically Missing the Point: given the nature of Willard's mama's advice, it's quite likely that the chorus of "Mama Says" - "once you drive up a mountain, you can't back down" - is much more literal than Willard and Ren interpret it to be.
- Crisis of Faith: Reverend Moore's song "Heaven Help Me!".
- As well as his Act Two song, "I Confess," sadly cut from the most recent revision. The chorus does sometimes appear mid way through his sermon
- Decomposite Character: The school principal, Roger Dunbar, is split into two different characters in the musical: Principal Harry Clark and Coach Roger Dunbar.
- Distinction Without a Difference: When Willard is voigin his concerns about how Rea plans to speak on behalf of dancing.Willard: Now Ren, we're not saying your speech is bad, it's just that it's no good."
- Everytown, America
- Funny Background Event: During some productions, during Mama Says after Willard sings "Mama says don't use a toaster while standing in the shower. Now who an argue with that?", one of Willard' buddies starts to raise his hand and stand up before being yanked down by another buddy.
- Greek Chorus: Rusty and her cohorts Urleen and Wendy Jo provide some observation about the town and its people in song lyrics.
- Heh Heh, You Said "X": "Party in their pants."
- I Can't Dance: Willard's big secret, remedied in "Let's Hear It For the Boy!"
- Ironic Echo: "Let the Lord hear your voices!"
- Mundane Made Awesome: The Act I closer song "I'm Free/Heaven Help Me", a take on "I'm Free (Heaven Helps The Man)" from the original soundtrack. It's such an epic song of rockin' rebellion (intercut with reporting on the said rebellion by Reverend Shaw, pleading with his God to intervene) that you kind of forget that all they want to do is have a dance party.
- Safe Driving Aesop: Averted in that the ban on dancing is because of five teenagers dying in a car accident when returning from a dance club drunk, but the message is that kids should be allowed to express themselves.
- Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: Let's face it. It was only a matter of time.
- Sidekick Song: Both Ariel's and Ren's sidekicks get songs. Rusty has "Let's Hear It For the Boy" (and to a lesser extent "Somebody's Eyes") while Willard has "Mama Says."
- Small Town Boredom: As in the film, Ariel and a lot of the other kids feel stifled in Beaumont and Ren isn't that happy to first come there from the city.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Chuck, Ariel's abusive boyfriend, beats her up off-stage halfway through Act Two and is never seen or heard from again.
- Where the Hell Is Springfield?: "Bomont? Where the hell is Bomont?"