Film reviews and more since 2009

Flashdance (1983) review

Dir. Adrian Lyne

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★

There’s a reason Flashdance‘s soundtrack has overtaken the film itself as a cultural touchstone. Boasting the Oscar-winning jam “Flashdance… What a Feeling” by Irena Cara and the infamous “Maniac” by Michael Sembello, it literally hit all the notes it needed to be etched into the fabric of the 1980s. Viewing the movie today (and I’d assume back then), you might be inclined to say it was a worthwhile experience because of the eye-catching visuals that service said soundtrack.

Yet it doesn’t take a great deal of evaluation to see through Flashdance as a choppy, derivative dance flick that’s so busy trying to be a music video, it forgets to cater to its can’t-miss underdog story.

The film is the sophomore directorial effort from Adrian Lyne, who, like his fellow British colleagues Ridley Scott and Hugh Hudson, got his start in TV commercials before parlaying his talents into film. His style makes Flashdance more engaging than most run-of-the-mill rags-to-riches stories, but it doesn’t take long to learn that’s all the film has going for it. Outside of a couple thoughtfully choreographed and well-executed dance numbers, this is a brutally boring drama that has its young lead practically begging for something more compelling to do.

That lead is Jennifer Beals, merely 20-years-old at the time of filming. She plays Alex Owens, a beautiful young woman whose welding day job isn’t nearly as satisfying as her dancing night job. She performs at local Pittsburgh dive bars in order to fulfill herself creatively, although her direction isn’t truly defined until her boss, Nick Hurley (Michael Nouri), elbows his way into her life. Hurley is attracted to her and her performing career; he does what he can to push her into applying for a dance conservatory, as it’s abundantly clear to him and everyone else that welding is not her passion. Alex, meanwhile, is too scared of failing to even try, and her wise-ass father and distant family don’t appear to guide her in any meaningful way either.

There are a few details in Flashdance I simply couldn’t get past. For one, Alex is said to be 18. Seeing as she’s not particularly motivated to pursue her true love of dancing, what motivated her to (presumably) take up welding as a trade and be the youngest person at her site by at least 10 years, not to mention the only woman? Furthermore, the bars she dances at are your unassuming hole-in-the-walls you find in literally any town in America. How are beer-and-shot bars able to afford costumes, enormous dressing rooms, and professional lighting fixtures and keep the coolers stocked?

These are admittedly trivial details in a movie like this, but it shows you how Flashdance skirts the finer mechanics of its own premise. The script — by Tom Hedley and Joe Eszterhas — feels robbed of its originality in an effort to mimic other popular genre-works of the time (Saturday Night Fever, Urban Cowboy). It lacks a voice as much as its protagonist, Alex. The writers spend so much time having Alex bike, run, or dance from place-to-place that they forget to make her the kind of movie character we remember.

The rare dramas centered around performing arts are made memorable for more than just the performance scenes themselves. Flashdance, as its title suggests, is almost all flash. It’s a lot of sizzle for what amounts to a paltry steak.

NOTE: Flashdance is available to stream on Paramount+.

OTHER REVIEWS OF ADRIAN LYNE FILMS:
My review of Deep Water
My review of Fatal Attraction
My review of Foxes
My review of Indecent Proposal
My review of Jacob’s Ladder
My review of Lolita (1997)
My review of Nine ½ Weeks
My review of Unfaithful

Starring: Jennifer Beals, Michael Nouri, Lilia Skala, and Sunny Johnson. Directed by: Adrian Lyne.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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