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.
If you're a Cher junkie, Burlesque has your fix. And like me, you will have been jonesing for her since she's put out no album or movie in years. Yes, the diva still has "it" in spades and her large, luminous, glittering, soulful eyes are a joy to behold. Though she's undergone more transformations than her transgender son, Cher is still as riveting as the first time we laid eyes on her decades ago. It's also brave for a 64-year-old woman to show her ass cheek -- and I didn't catch one glimpse of her adult diapers! There's one scene in which Cher gives Christina some motherly makeup tips that will make gays and drag queens alike orgasm. The diva admitted in a New York Times interview that she has a very limited range in both singing and acting. Her character, the salty, humorous, and world-weary but spirited Tess, is well within this range. And Cher's two numbers are fine -- I can easily imagine the remix of "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me" becoming a smash with its rousing, sing-a-long chorus. The story line does feel like it just exists to glue together MTV music videos together. But at least they're entertaining videos.
That's where Christina comes in. She gets both more screen time and songs which show off her impressive voice and decent moves. Her soulful voice is perfectly suited to dramatic big band arrangements which recall the vibe of her hit "Candyman." The ballad "Bound to You" is hauntingly gorgeous with interesting chords and she sings the hell out of it. Trust me, you'll be seeing Burlesque-themed production numbers in drag pageants for years to come. But even large breasts and long blonde hair can't make Ms. Aguilera sexy. I wonder if most straight guys lust after powerhouse performers anyway? It seems like two different parts of the brain to me. An in-charge, knock-'em-dead showstopper doesn't seem to appeal to most men the way a vulnerable, I-need-your-protection-so-put-those-big-strong-arms-around-me sort of gal does. In two scenes, two different love interests snatch Christina's bags and demand that she follow their lead. Chalk it up to my drag queen's confusion about sexual roles, but I almost applauded when her guys took the upper hand with her. Try as I might, I can't see Christina as anything but a sullen bitch. A talented sullen bitch, but still. There's just something about her which screams -- even when she's attempting to portray tender moments -- "I think I'm all that." And she is all that when she's singing, which maybe she should stick to. But she couldn't make me believe that she's sweet, innocent, or anything soft. I hate to bring my preconceived notions about a performer, some of which are based on "industry hearsay" (i.e. tales from drunken, coked-up, gossipy hairdressers -- or is that redundant?) into my assessment of Christina in a totally new role. However, I just can't get around the notion that in the back of her mind she's thinking "I hope these idiots get this, unlike my last album. And by the way, Britney's a no-talent, fat, white-trash skank!"
But Ms. Aguilera does provide the one LOL moment. Before proving herself to be a dynamo onstage, Ali pays her dues as a cocktail waitress yearning to perform. Ali -- or is this the real Christina or a character written that way because the singer can't play anything else? -- is a bit shy around her boss, Tess, at first. (Although she immediately turns into a ballsy diva after her first night of success.) She respectfully tells the boss lady "Yes, ma'am" to which Tess, who frequently jokes about her age, shoots back "Don't ever call me ma'am." To the delight of those (like me!) who have enjoyed hearing gags about Cher being a drag queen and how well-hung she is, a flustered Christina then respectfully blurts out "Yes, sir." If you didn't like that joke, the comedy element's downhill from there. When Christina first enters the club, she asks if it's a strip joint. A Cabaret-ish doorman played by Alan Cumming replies "I should wash your mouth out with J'germeister." If you chuckled at that you'll like all the jokes.
Speaking of booze, Patr'n must have paid a fortune for product placement. First Christina orders it and then a Tess-in-distress barrels into work with a Patr'n bottle in hand. (The bitch stole my act!) Though somehow, Cher forgets to act bombed. Perhaps the liquor company specified that no one could appear too inebriated or no paycheck. They like to sell the hooch but gloss over the fact that it makes people drunk, though that's the only reason that we buy it! I'm not buying Patr'n or Burlesque. At least the former is undeniably intoxicating. And while gays are drawn to their divas like crows to stealing jewelry, we're also the first to scream "TIRED!" Burlesque's producers should have spent some of their huge marketing and talent budget on a script worthy of Cher's talents.
For more from Lady Bunny, visit her official website.
Send a letter to the editor about this article.