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Flashdance (1983)


1983 was a sleepy year in the midst of the first Reagan administration, but it was also the year of Flashdance. What America needed was a healthy dose of off-the-shoulder sweatshirts, leg warmers, and tight butts and inviting crotches gyrating in extreme close up. Barbara Bush and Al Haig must have been plotzing.

Flashdance is an exercise in Cinderellaesque teenage female wish fulfillment so preposterous that it shoots right over the top and is ultimately richly entertaining in spite of its ridiculousness. All you have to do it get past the main message, which is that finding success in life is not just about your talent. It’s about your talent plus your ability to snag a rich and powerful boyfriend and put out. With production values courtesy of the legendary Simpson and Bruckheimer and a screenplay co-written by the polymorphously perverse Joe Eszterhas, you know you’re in for quite a ride.

Cue the famous theme song as we watch Alex (a very appealing and energetic Jennifer Beals), the most bodacious 18-year-old welder in Pittsburgh, finish up another long shift. She’s in a hurry because she has to get home, change, and get down to Mawby’s, a corner bar that for some reason puts on Vegas-quality PG-rated strip shows in which the girls dance their hearts out but no one really strips. Alex may be a welder and a glorified go-go girl, but her dream is to dance ballet. In Pittsburgh.

How will the welder/stripper with the heart of gold overcome an insurmountable class divide? By finding a powerful sugar daddy, natch. Alex reels in Nick (Michael Nouri), her day-job boss, and soon she’s scooting around town with him in his Porsche and enjoying decadent lobster dinners in fancy restaurants. In Pittsburgh.

Along the way the movie gets sidetracked by subplots involving Alex’s kindly old dance mentor (Lilia Skala) as well as her sister Jeanie (Sunny Johnson), whose equally Disneyesque dream is to win a figure skating competition. In Pittsburgh.

Eventually, though, the movie always returns to Alex’s sweaty dancing or her even sweatier workout sessions (‘She’s a maniac, maniac, on the floor!!!!’), captured in detail by leering director Adrian Lyne, who clearly has a thing for intense cardiovascular exercise.

In the film’s famous climax, Alex stumbles in her big audition (an audition arranged behind the scenes by her boyfriend, by the way) and recovers by pulling out all the stops for a gravity defying hip-hoppity number that leaves the snooty judges dazzled. (Any woman who was 16 years old in 1983 will probably tell you that watching this scene was one of the most important moments of her life.) It looks like Alex can finally drop her welding torch for good.

Flashdance gets zero stars for its absurd plot, but I’ll give it some props for its influence on fashion (one could argue that ’80s style began on the day it was released) and for its Giorgio Moroder-heavy soundtrack, still one of the fastest sellers of all time. If only Irene Cara could have followed up that Oscar-winning theme song with something… anything.

Flashdance: ‘what a feeling’ indeed.

The new special edition DVD includes the expected retrospective featurettes (with focus on music and that inimitable choreography), plus you get a tepid, six-song mini-soundtrack on a separate CD.