This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Flashdance.”
The Movie: “Flashdance” (1983)
Starring: Jennifer Beals, Michael Nouri, Lilia Skala
Director: Adrian Lyne
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A Pittsburgh woman with two jobs as a welder and an exotic dancer wants to get into ballet school.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 33 percent
Brown: Welcome to the first edition of the JOE-DOWN of 2017, where I get to continue the tradition of finding a movie that makes Froemming regret me being his best man.
This time: “Flashdance.”
And really, as much as I know this movie selection made Froemming mad, I thought the title is very apropos of what the movie is: A bunch of dancing with a flash of plot. But people didn’t care about that in the ‘80s because there was leg warmers and a woman taking her bra off under her shirt. The ‘80s was way into it, considering this movie made $200 million over a $7 million budget.
So, your anger has been stewing, Froemming. Dish out a bowl before we get into this movie.
Froemming: While not the worst movie we have watched here at the JOE-DOWN, this certainly wasn’t one of the best. And this film is a paint-by-numbers of the underdog films that were so popular at the time. Films like “Rocky” and “The Karate Kid” come to mind, but because this was the 80s and sexism was the norm, they made a Rocky movie about dancing for a female lead.
We have the underdog in Alex, who wants to be a professional dancer. We have the insane amount of montages that I swear Stallone saw this and said “(REDACTED) that! I’ll show them with ‘Rocky IV!’” We have the very 80s soundtrack. What is missing? A (REDACTED) plot that holds together. But hey, this film inspired generations of hipster clothing because irony. Brown, get us started on this before I go into a rage-fueled dance montage myself.
Brown: I really don’t want to start now. I want this Froemming dance montage to happen.
Well, considering you’re across the state from me, I’ll get started with the credits. And I start here for two reasons.
First, I thought I picked the wrong movie on Amazon Prime when I saw a bunch of red texts and synth music that sounded and looked eerily like “Scarface.” Turns out, there’s a reason for that: Giorgio Moroder made the score for this movie. And what movie did he do the score for later in 1983? “Scarface.”
Second, I got very, very excited when I saw that the producers of this movie were Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. Then we went through this whole movie without an explosion and I was profoundly sad.
It’s here that we meet our steel-town girl on a Saturday night lookin’ for the fight of her life.
Froemming: Well, let’s establish our hero Alex, whom we see riding her bike to work. This was a thing poor people did in Pittsburgh in the 80s, but because hipsters ruin everything, they made not only Alex’s wardrobe an ironic fashion choice, but her bicycle an ironic choice for transportation as well.
Alex works at what I can only assume is a sparks factory, and she welds random stuff together (I don’t recall what this business was supposed to be making other than sparks).
But she truly shines after work as a dancer. A dancer who performs high-concept socio-political routines at the local blue-collar watering hole. Because when I think of the working man, I think Springsteen, draft beer and Kabuki-inspired dancing with a wild strobe light in the middle of a dive bar.
Brown: I think it’s a steel factory, but you’re right… they really don’t care about her actual job that she has as an 18-year-old. All I could think of is Ron Swanson from “Parks and Recreation” talking about how child labor laws are ruining this country.
But welding isn’t Alex’s passion (which is a damn shame), she works at a cabaret bar that would not survive that close to a steel mill. But hey, it’s kind of fun to watch (until Alex spills water everywhere and causes what I assume is a total tripping hazard). And here, we see a man interested in Alex. When he (we find out his name is Nick) asks for info on Alex, the guy with him reads off her social security number by memory and explains she’s an employee at the steel mill that Nick just so happens to be the boss of.
OK, if someone reads off someone else’s social by memory, I’m calling a cop. Because clearly this man is either stalking her or committing identity theft!
Froemming: Recently our company, Forum Communications, began cracking down on visitors to the Bemidji Pioneer office. I thought it was ridiculous at first to have people sign in and be watched at all times while here because credit card numbers could be stolen. Then I saw that old, perverted weirdo ramble off Alex’s SS number from memory and I realized they were totally correct on that call. We don’t need drunks telling strangers at bars our private information.
During this wild night of dancing that looks like a strip club, but isn’t, we meet our comic relief in Richie, whose whole routine is making fun of Polish people. Look, I enjoy comedy as much as everyone else, but for crying out loud Richie needs to expand his routine beyond Depression-era humor.
Brown: Who doesn’t enjoy a stand-up comedian sound like their racist grandfather? I get it, ‘80s. But I don’t like it.
Now we see Alex return to her home which is a former warehouse that no 18-year-old welder could ever afford, even in the ‘80s. And we meet the real star of the film: Grunt, Alex’s pit bull. I really, really want to hug Grunt.
Then, we get to one of the signature moments of this movie: The “Maniac” dance scene. I have questions, like why is she so wet? How high is Alex’s heating bills when you’re living in an abandoned warehouse in dreary Pittsburgh? How do you live in a warehouse that is zoned for industrial use?
But let’s be totally honest with ourselves: This whole scene was Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer sexualizing Jennifer Beals. Simpson/Bruckheimer should only be in charge of music videos, not 90-minute films.
Froemming: Before I add my thoughts here, I want to add how disturbed I was when Alex asked Grunt if he got laid that day. Just, no. That was not cool or funny. It was creepy and something the Son of Sam would have asked his talking dog that told him to murder people.
Yeah, we get the “Maniac” montage not even 15-minutes into this film. I, too, was wondering about how Alex lives in an abandoned factory and pays the bills. Here is my guess: She earned squatters rights! She snuck in there at 17, lived there for a year and now legally owns it. I will not venture into the heat, electricity and property taxes because then I would be offering this film way more thought than the screenwriters did. Hell, we already topped them at this point.
Now, Alex wants to chase her dream of attending the Pittsburgh Conservatory of Dance and Repertory. And like many people I went to college with who majored in art, I will tell Alex what I told them: Go to school for something that will help you get employed in an area you are interested in, not to chase a hobby. There are only so many security jobs offered at art museums and dance theaters…
Brown: She’s 18, I won’t take digs at Alex for wanting to chase a dream before adult life sets in.
What I WILL take digs at Alex for is not having the fortitude to do paperwork. A huge problem I had with this movie/extended music video is that the main conflict of why Alex hasn’t achieved her dream is because she won’t fill out the paperwork at the Repertory. Yes, she gets intimidated by the other dancers but come on, dance like nobody’s watching or whatever high-school girls put on their Facebook accounts.
Let’s get into another problem in this movie: Nick is constantly committing sexual harassment. He starts asking out Alex at every turn. Where is HR in all of this? She’s said no, repeatedly. Give it up, dude. And don’t fake fire her as a joke between the obscene amounts of dance scenes. Can someone reprimand Nick?!
Froemming: It’s like “Mad Men,” but with perms, 80s music and minus the dynamic acting and interesting story.
We also meet someone I assume was supposed to be the antagonist in Johnny C. and his buddy/employee/??? Cecil. Johnnie runs a strip club and wants dancers….I think. This whole subplot was baffling. One moment he’s just a snot. Next moment he is a borderline rapist. Next moment an abusive boyfriend. And he looks like a bloated version of Gary Oldman’s Sid Vicious in “Sid and Nancy.” Frankly, you could cut Johnnie C. out of this film and it wouldn’t be much different.
But Johnnie C. is in his parked car one night waiting for Alex to get off work. As she is enduring the hellish experience of listening to Richie’s non-stop Polish jokes, Johnnie and Cecil pop out of the car and approach them. This is when Johnnie is in full-blown rapist mode, and Richie gets his nose broken for trying to be funny. Good thing Nick is also just sitting in his car waiting for Alex to get off work, because he scares our perverts off.
Let’s just think about this: We have two men sitting in parking lots at 2 a.m. waiting for Alex to get off work. Remember, Alex has not asked either of them to wait for her, they are just looming in the shadows. I think Nick is just as creepy as Johnnie C. here.
Brown: The whole thing with Johnnie C. and his club is to have like some sort of evil dancing, where instead of the art, it’s all about the money. It’s like the movie “Twister” where the villains are evil meteorologists. So basically, fake drama.
And you’re not wrong, Nick is even more creepy than Johnnie C. After he “breaks up” the parking lot fight, he drives behind Alex as she bikes home. Your Porsche is not discreet, you dummy.
So, Alex lets Nick into her warehouse home and after spending the entire movie up to this point shooting down his advances, she finally falls for him. And they make love. Wait, what?
Really, the biggest problem with this movie is how it felt like so much of it was left on a cutting room floor. It clearly wasn’t for time purposes when I counted 11 dance scenes/montages. You can’t cut out kabuki TV dance or Alex and Nick’s first date at a steel mill, but you cut the part that shows how they really started to fall in love?
Damn you, movie. You are so frustrating.
Froemming: Now, Alex has a champion for her dance dream with Hannah, whom I didn’t understand the connection between the two. I still don’t, was she a relative? Whatever. She is encouraging Alex’s dream and Alex keeps lying about not applying to the Repertory. I want to introduce this here, because it explains something down the road.
Alex’s friend and Richie’s improbable girlfriend, Jeanie, is an ice skater. And she has a competition she has been training for for years, despite her father telling her she eats like a pig and belittles her dreams. So, we see her going for her big break, and she falls and loses. Instead of getting the old Batman line of “Why do we fall, Bruce” inspiration, we get her crusty dad having a change of heart suddenly and is there for his daughter in her hour of darkness. Ummm, what? This change of character was pretty damn jarring. I get he is her father, but I didn’t buy this at all. Dude was a huge (REDACTED) just the day before.
Brown: I actually thought that was a little heartwarming to see Jeanie’s dad comfort his daughter. Even if he doesn’t approve of what she does, you don’t (REDACTED) on your kid’s dream after they’ve failed.
And… then with her dream dead and her boyfriend leaving for LA, Jeanie becomes a stripper at Johnnie C.’s club. Alex saves the day because she won’t let the sanctity of dance be ruined by the human body… or something?
In another ill-fated attempt to add drama, we see Alex and Hannah leaving the ballet, only to see Nick helping another woman into his Porsche, leading Alex to throw a rock into his window. The next day, he explains it was his ex-wife whom he has to go to these things with because she’s on an arts committee (calling bull on that one). And this turns into a weird scene where Alex and Nick have dinner, run into Nick’s ex and Alex is being seductive with horribly unsexy lobster slurping, some footsie and stripper tuxedo attire.
At this point, it wasn’t a question to me of if, but how much cocaine was used when making this movie.
Froemming: This really bothered me. As a divorced man, I can attest that the only good part of the experience is never having to put up with your ex again. It has been nearly a year and my ex and I have probably said three words to each other. Yet, Nick is saying he has to take his ex on a yearly date? Nope. He is either still holding a flame or is stupid. And I think it is a bit from column A and a bit from column B.
And how disgusting was that lobster slurping. I gagged a little. People shouldn’t be loud when eating seafood. All I got from this scene is Alex is suddenly a nympho, which just comes out of nowhere. I know we had the confession scene with the priest about her thinking about sex earlier, but it is one thing to think about things and another to attend a five-star restaurant in Gob Bluth’s stripper attire.
Brown: Ugg, all that lobster eating… my biggest tick is people chewing their food and having to listen to their disgusting mouths. I’m cringing typing about it. Chew with your mouths closed, people. We are humans, not goats.
The defense for Alex’s sexualized behavior is simple… she’s 18! I get she’s legally an adult and works as a welder but she’s really not an adult.
Anywho, the only reason we hear about this date and the ex-wife being on the board is so Nick can call in a favor on Alex’s behalf. When Alex FINALLY musters up the courage (because of sex with Nick, no doubt) to do application paperwork, Nick calls a friend to make sure Alex gets an audition.
Eventually, as she’s leaving work, Alex does get a letter from the Repertory, saying she’s got an audition. Well, she does read it, but only during the middle of work while she’s welding. Why would you not read the letter before work? This is your life’s dream and you’re actively trying to ignore it. Enjoy dancing in front of steel workers the rest of your life, you coward.
Froemming: Not only that, but Nick and Alex go to another fancy restaurant to celebrate! As they are driving home, Nick slips up and says he made the reservation the night before. Alex now finds out the true power of having rich and powerful friends in high places, and is she grateful? Nope. Nor, I admit, should she. She didn’t get the audition on the basis of her skills and history (because she has no real history outside the pseudo-strip club she works at), but because of someone else’s influence. I actually briefly respected Alex here. But then came the moping. Then came the complaining. And I just wanted this whole experience to end.
Brown: Like all things in life, it’s about who you know. Nick put in a word to give her a shot. What’s wrong with that? A minute ago, Alex was about to get sexy in the Porsche with Nick like she was Tawny Kitaen in Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” music video, and all of a sudden, she’s enraged because someone had the audacity to vouch for her? Whatever. She’s 18 and irrational.
Then we get some heartbreak for her as Hannah dies. And then it’s tryout time. I’m really not cutting stuff out. The movie did that!
I think somewhere in there, there was a decent movie where we see Alex hit rock bottom, only to pick herself up, decide this is her shot and she’s going to do everything she can to make Hannah proud and live her dream.
Nope, we don’t get that. We get a disjointed mess. It’s a less fun “Rocky 4” with 11 dance scenes and montages to remove silly things like character development and plot.
Froemming: But hey, she goes to the audition! And she seems to impress the board with her wild dance moves. And the best part of this whole scene: It is painfully obvious that is not Jennifer Beals dancing!
But, I will admit that this scene gave one of my favorite shows, “Stella,” one of its funniest scenes.
Look, they could have not gotten so close to the body double’s face, but that wouldn’t have helped much. Different body build and a comical black poofy wig made this unintentionally funny.
Brown: I was waiting to see someone with a mustache to be Jessica Beals’ dancing double. We didn’t get that, but it sure as (REDACTED) was not her. You can’t put a Ben Wallace wig on someone and call them Jessica Beals.
So we see Alex running out of the audition, and Nick and Grunt are there to surprise her. And because this movie won’t explain anything, we don’t know if she got accepted or not. I assume she did, but it’s weird. Film is a medium where you show and don’t tell. But here, you should probably tell, guys. Ugg, whatever. She got it. Or she tried and that makes her a winner. I don’t care.
One more thing I want to touch on, and we have to go back toward the beginning of the movie to discuss it: The workout montage.
Seriously, this bugged me more than anything in this movie. It was clearly shot by someone who has NEVER walked into a gym and shot a bunch of Duran Duran music videos. It’s a scene where women are dressed up like extras in a Jane Fonda tape and are gossiping while “working out.” It’s so painfully ‘80s and it hurts me to talk about.
Froemming: I think it is time to put on our leggings and shoulderless T-shirts and dance on over to recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: I’m conflicted. If you’re into the ‘80s, it’s a harmless movie from its time, so whatever. Watch it. But as someone objectively watching a movie, it’s (REDACTED). Considering we are 30 years past this movie’s relevance, let it gather dust on your DVD shelf.
Froemming: Eh, it is not a very good film. But it isn’t terrible either. There are a lot of plotholes and weird elements. If you really like dancing movies, then sure. If not, don’t bother.