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Friday, 10 February 2017

Retro Review: Flashdance (1983)

Cast: Jennifer Beals, Michael Nouri, Lilia Skala, Sunny Johnson, Kyle T. Heffner 
Genre: Romantic Drama
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $201 million 

Plot:  Alex Owens is a Pittsburgh steel-mill welder by day and bar dancer by night. Harbouring dreams of a career in ballet, she is given financial support in this endeavour by her boss, Nick Hurley and moral support by demanding yet big-hearted instructor, Hanna Long

'What A Feeling...Of Disappointment'

Right from the moment when that anthemic 'What A Feeling!' is belted out by Irene Cara during the film's opening with the original score done by Giorgio Moroder, one expected a timely classic. Flashdance was a film from the 1980s slated by critics and loved by fans and general movie-goers that still, somehow, through its nostalgia factor stands the test of time today- and arguably and perhaps more so than say other dance-based flicks. 

The film itself was penned by Joe Esterhaz, who later on went to do Showgirls, Basic Instinct, created by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer of Pirates of the Carribean, Top Gun and directed by Adrian Lyne of 9 and a Half Weeks, Fatal Attraction - fame. That, for me, sounds like quite a trio of movie talent on show; well not quite, as Esterhaz has a habit of churning out hackneyed and bad scripts, i.e. Showgirls & Nowhere To Run. Flashdance has sort of more in common with Showgirls than it does with those remaining films, with the plucky dancer -to-be, who dreams of becoming a fully fledged dancer, but trying to earn her living performing in clubs, bars. Alex is a young woman, who wants to make it as a ballet dancer. That is her main goal. The other one is falling in love and getting the man of her dreams, who turns out to be a construction worker. So it is part- romantic drama also, yet this is also contrived. 

When it got to the dance sequences, I couldn't help but get caught up and be embroiled by it all, just as I did with Footloose; watching Jennifer Beals dance, I felt like I wanted to shake my groove thing as well. The film is more famous for its soundtrack and dance sequences than the performances, given that none of the actors in this film went on to sustain a bigger acting career beyond this offering. And that is probably its actual downfall and watching this, it shows as the characters have no personality, whatsoever: that it is famous and well-known as a film and has somewhat built up quite a following over the decades, but other than that, it didn't make a huge impact on Jennifer Beals career. Beals herself was okay - yet her dancing is what people will remember, as opposed to her acting performance. Though as she plays a dancer, surely there was no need for her character to have a lit cigarette in her hand. But the remaining cast and their characters are virtually unrecognisable and unmemorable. None of their performances really stood out in this film. 

Dance-based films have different expectations from other genres of films, such as comedy, action, rom-com, sci-fi etc, but also, unfortunately so many of them have great choreography and dance scenes, but not so great script and performances to go with it. Only Footloose, thanks to Kevin Bacon, elevates it further on, and that film carved out a star in Bacon, who oozed charisma, not just a pair of good comfortable dancing shoes - or be it sneakers. On the other hand, this can't really be said for Jennifer Beals and this film.

I tuned in to see whether or not Flashdance had more to offer than just the choreography and dance routines, which were entertaining and crowd-pleasing; suffice to say, I was actually underwhelmed and I expected more out of the performances. The plot and idea sounded promising on paper, though its execution was below mediocre. If you strip away the performances and everything else but the choreography and dance routines, you'd be left with just a music video. That is what Flashdance is: it is a music video with acting and dancing all tacked on with a banal script & almost nothing plot that lacks real urgency and depth. By far my favourite scene from the film, however, was the audition part where Alex dances her ass off in lycra to 'What A Feeling'. And yes that scene had the stunt double, which is a bit off. I even felt slightly cheated after seeing that scene in full. 

The success of this film has more to do with the original soundtrack featuring Maniac by Michael Sembello and Irene Cara's Flashdance, Giorgio Moroder's score & the dancing than everything else. Though seeing its continued reverence and popularity today, it's a little surprising to see that Hollywood hasn't revamped this offering by remaking it. Then again, they did that exact thing with Fame in 2010 - and that film wasn't so well-received by the public and critics. 

Flashdance is lacking in substance and the story just wasn't that entertaining to endure.

Final Verdict:

It would have been better for the sake of the authenticity of this film had it had an actress who could dance fully well, as well as act and by doing so, there wouldn't be a need for a stunt double doing pirouettes during a dance sequence. The acting all-round was unconvincing and didn't blow me away and there was really not one standout performance, which is a bit of a shame, especially given the reputation this film has. 

Not that surprisingly, Flashdance won a Razzie award for worst screenplay and it is a film that it is more famous for the soundtrack and in launching the careers of Joe Esterhaz, Don Simpson, Jerry Bruckheimer and Adrian Lyne, more known for their work behind the camera, far more than for the actors who appeared in front of it, through the likes of Jennifer Beals and Michael Nouri.

This gets one mark for the musical score and an extra mark for the dance choreography from me, - and had they not been as good, I would have awarded Flashdance an even lower score. 

For all it was worth and the hype surrounding this film at the time of its release in the early 1980s, I wanted more and expected more out of it. Flashdance is on par with say the original Fame, yet it doesn't come close to Footloose, despite its high nostalgia factor, catchy and engaging score and some impressive choreography and dance routines. Alas, this was a wasted opportunity. 

Even with its cult status, this was still a complete letdown.


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