IMDb; Paramount; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Wikipedia
This came out in 1984, but somehow, against all odds, I didn't see it until 2017 (33 years later). It's something I've always kind of wanted to see, not so much because I thought I'd like it, as just because it's kind of iconic. And watching it now, I thought it was one of the most 1980s things I've ever seen. Also, I've gotta say I ended up liking it more than I expected to.
So, there's this teenager named Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon), who moves with his mother from Chicago to the small town of Bomont, to live with his aunt and uncle. He meets a girl named Ariel Moore, and it's immediately obvious that sooner or later she'll become his love interest, though for now she's dating a guy named Chuck Cranston. Ren also meets a guy named Willard Hewitt, and in their first scene together, it seemed to me like they were going to become enemies, but then suddenly they're friends, instead. So I thought that was kind of neat. Anyway, Ren soon learns from Willard that dancing was outlawed in Bomont several years ago, which Ren finds unbelievable. And of course, rock & roll music is highly frowned upon in town, as well. As are certain books (the only one that was specifically mentioned was "Slaughterhouse Five," though I have to assume others had been banned in town). And more understandably, drugs and alcohol are also frowned upon, though I don't recall whether alcohol was made illegal (except, obviously, for anyone who's underage). Anyway, the driving force behind all this seems to be Ariel's father, Reverend Shaw Moore (John Lithgow). Before I even saw the movie, I kind of expected him to be the story's "villain," even if his motives weren't necessarily bad. And that expectation was reinforced at the very start of the movie, when we see him delivering a passionate sermon in church, which I'd almost call "fire & brimstone," though I think it stopped a bit short of actually using such words. However, as the movie progressed, it became increasingly hard for me to really see him as a bad guy at all. Especially when we learn the reason (which I'm not going to reveal) for the anti-dancing law. I mean, that part of it still seems kind of ridiculous, but it did make me feel more sympathetic to him. Also, there are other people- or at least one guy, whose name and position in the town I never caught- who seem more intensely censorial, or whatever, than Shaw. I think partly he eventually comes around by seeing others taking things too far along the path that he, perhaps, had set them on. But mostly he comes around thanks to conversations with his wife, Vi (Dianne Wiest).
Well. I am leaving out a lot of details. I should say that Ariel has a few friends, though the only one of any real importance is Rusty (Sarah Jessica Parker). And of course Ren and Ariel eventually end up together. Though I gotta say, Ariel does some incredibly reckless things in this movie, which she's damned lucky never got her or anyone else seriously hurt or killed. In fact I'd almost say she had a mild death wish, and there's a good reason that could be the case, which I think the movie would have done well to actually explore. Instead, her behavior seems to be presented less like a disturbing response to the same traumatic event that had caused her father to denounce dancing and rock music, and more like she's just some kind of wild child/free spirit/rebel... in fact, in a quirkier movie I suspect she could have veered into full-on "manic pixie dream girl" mode. I just got the sense that her recklessness was meant to be part of her romantic appeal, when in fact I took it more as a sign that she would be better off getting some therapy.
Anyway, eventually Ren plans a dance, and has to appear before the town council (including Shaw) to try and get permission for it. And Ariel provided a key bit of help with that. It's kind of interesting to me that they did that, instead of just trying to pull off the dance without permission, which I thought would have been much more typical of this kind of movie. But... they don't get permission, and do hold the dance anyway... outside of the town limits, so I suppose it doesn't even matter, it's not like the council would have had jurisdiction there. Although I kind of thought that was where they were planning on having the dance even before the council meeting. Maybe I was wrong about that, because if that was the case, I'm not sure what the point would have been. But whatever.
So, the movie... wasn't quite what I expected. In some ways, it was better, like in terms of some of the characters and motivations and whatnot. In other ways, eh, it was kind of less than entirely coherent. I suppose it was still mostly what I expected, having known the basic premise for decades before I ever saw it. And of course it had lots of good 80s music. Anyway, I'm really glad to have finally seen it, even if I kind of doubt I'll ever feel the need to see it again.
Also I should say there was a remake in 2011, which I can't imagine I'll ever feel the need to see, even once.