Burlesque: A Very Gay Review of a Very Gay Movie
By Lady Bunny
I really tried to enjoy this flick. I'd read bad reviews but was determined to give it a chance because of my lifelong fascination with La Cher. But the reviews were right -- the script is stale. When Christina Aguilera's character, Ali, asks her boyfriend, who wrote a song he's playing on the piano, I mouthed his response ("I did") before he does. This happens so often that by the end my mouth was working harder than a halibut that just got clubbed by Sarah Palin. Actually, I should say movie rather than film. Film is a little too fancy a word for this feel-good formulaic dud. If you're looking for fine cinema, edgy camera work, fresh plot or dialogue, skip this one.
There are moments of humor and sass. Many belong to the wisecracking gay costumer, Sean, who is warmly played by Stanley Tucci. This character also gets one of the schmaltziest subplots ever, though I suppose it presents a somewhat positive image of gays if that floats your boat. (It sunk mine.) In one scene, everyone employed at the strip joint goes to a wedding party and the handsome young DJ attracts the attention of one of the strippers right before he spins Boston's "More Than a Feeling," which I'm guessing people still dance to in L.A. Sean notices him too. Fast forward a few frames and Ali has quarreled with her beau, so she heads to her wardrobe guy's home for advice. Because gay men typically form such long-lasting relationships? The DJ hottie answers Sean's door half naked. That jaded old queen scored! The lovebirds can't remember each other's names, however, so we're given a peek at the empty promiscuity of the gay existence. But wait! Because this is a feel-good movie where everybody wins and every conflict is nicely patched up, these gay lovers don't just part ways with another notch on their belt. After Christina rushes off with renewed hopes of finding her man, Sean asks his trick if he'd like to stay for lunch. And gays suddenly aren't so sad anymore! (They must not be on crystal meth either, if they actually eat lunch.) But the filmmakers had to show Disneyfied American viewers that gay hookups were inherently tragic until this redeeming moment. That way, audiences could first disapprove, and then get an inkling of hope when their tawdry one-night love affair is prolonged to...I hear wedding bells...a lunch date! Still, the couple is gay, so prudish America could never really approve of them in the first place. Sorry! Didn't mean to rant about how dumb this country is, so I'll stick to how dumb the movie is.
Maybe dumb's not the word, but it's definitely predictable. Because of the many cliched plot twists, I regularly held my exquisitely coiffed head in my hands with embarrassment after the first half. The film's turning point (or should that be stomach-turning point?) comes when Ali is called to step in and lip-sync for the problematic lead dancer who is late to work again. To get her back, the bitchy lead heads to the sound booth and right at that moment, the sound guy conveniently vanishes. So the lead pulls the plug and the track stops, exposing Ali's vocals as fake. But then Ali saves the day by proving she can sing live and the crowd beats the walls in awe of her rafter-rattling vocal prowess. When the music starts back up for a big finish, it has magically become a backing track with no more vocals! Um, I lip-sync for a living and you would never keep an instrumental version of your act in the booth. Now there is a house band on hand but does that hint at the ludicrous notion that the cast had been lip-syncing to live music until now? I know it's Hollywood and it's supposed to contain a degree of fantasy. But shouldn't it at least make sense? For me, yes.
But not for everyone. A friend of mine summed up the movie with this Facebook post: "I loved every second of it... It has fierce songs... dance... makeup... costumes... wigs... hot men... and CHER... I could care less about the script....it's fun entertainment."
So if that's all you need for $12 and if "fun" means hackneyed, mindless glitz, Burlesque is a winner. You might not believe this from his lingo, but my friend is actually gay! And how on earth are you going to make conversation at happy hour if you didn't see Burlesque? Face it, you're gay and you're going. The movie does deliver fun tunes, showy arrangements, sizzling costumes, wigs for days, and fair choreography. Sometimes the lighting is a little cheap, but never on Cher it ain't! I can only imagine Cher's contract, though we do know that the playwright responsible for Moonstruck was tapped to doctor up her scenes. It appears that the ageless diva has kept quite a few doctors busy since her Oscar-winning 1987 performance.
There's been a huge burlesque revival in the last decade and a half, after the big drag boom of the 1990s. It almost seemed as if female performers said "Hold on! We want to wear wigs and over-the-top costumes, too!" Dita Von Teese, with her vintage styling and porcelain doll face sprang from this wave. Genius neoburlesque performers like the World Famous Bob and Dirty Martini bring down houses all over the world with a sassy new brand of striptease which incorporates classic bombshell styling with humor, political awareness, and a celebration of women's curvy shapes. Far from recognizing this trend, this film gives more of a nod to the trashy Vegas stylings of the Pussycat Dolls, whose videos director Steve Antin also directed! And despite competent staging, none of the songs leap off the screen to make you cheer.
How does a movie about women dancing naked have so little sex appeal? This brand of burlesque is highly sanitized. Perhaps a nod to the film's inevitable gay audience, Cam Gigandet (who looks like Queer as Folk's Peter Paige) removes more clothes than any of the girls do. I'd love to know if straight guys find this movie a turn-on at all. With their judgment unclouded by the gays' diva worship, straight guys are gonna give it to you, well, straight, and judge the stars on their actual sex appeal. I'm not sure how these two particular stars would add up on the erection-o-meter. I asked my married hetero recording engineer if he'd screw Cher and he hesitantly said yes, but only if he just bumped into her without knowing who she was or her true age. Like it or not, the success of a movie often hinges on this factor. Cher is all too aware of this or she wouldn't have tweaked her mug so much. At this point, she's done more tweaking than a meth-addicted bottom guzzling Red Bull in a bathhouse on payday.