November 25, 2010



I really wanted 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 asks her boyfriend who wrote a song he's playing on the piano, you mouth his response "I did" even before he does. This happens so often in this film 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 some moments of humor and sass, often belonging to the wisecracking gay wardrobe mistress warmly played by Stanley Tucci. He 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 plays Boston's More Than A Feeling, which I'm guessing people still dance to in LA. Stanley's character notices him too. Fast forward a few frames and Christina's character Ali--it's short for Alice and not a muslim name--has quarreled with her beau so she heads to Mr. Tucci's home for advice because gay men typically form such long lasting relationships. The dj hottie answers Stanley'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 do not just part ways with another notch on their belt and a few less t-cells. After Christina rushes off with renewed hopes of finding her man, Stanley asks the guy 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 film makers had to show Disneyfied American viewers that gay hook-ups 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! Even though 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 feel-good, cliched plot twists, I literally had my beautifully 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 Christina's called to step in and lip-synch for the lead dancer who's 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 Christina'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-synch for a living and you wouldn't ever keep an instrumental version of your track in the booth. I know it's Hollywood and it's not supposed to be a fantasy. But shouldn't it make sense? For me, yes.

But not for everyone. A friend of mine summed up the movie with this: "I loved every second of it...It has fierce men...and CHER...i could care less about the's fun entertainment."

So if that's all you need for $12 and if "fun" means hackneyed, mindless glitz, Burlesque succeeds. You might not believe this from his lingo, but my friend was 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, costumes, wigs for days and decent 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 Cher's scenes. It appears that the ageless diva has kept quite a few doctors busy since that 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 1990's. It almost seemed as if female performers said "Hold on! We want to perform and wear wigs and over-the-top costumes, too!" Dita Von Teese, with her vintage styling and porcelain doll looks sprang from this wave. Genius neo-burlesque 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 looks and moves with humor, political awareness and a celebration of women's real curvy shapes. Far from recognizing this trend, this film gives more of a nod to the trashy Vegas stylings of the Pussycat Dolls/Trolls whose videos director Steve Antin also directed! And despite decent 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 sexy at all. With their judgment unclouded by the gays' diva worship, straight guys are gonna give it to straight. And judge the stars on their actual sex appeal. I'm not sure how these two stars would add up on the erection-o-meter. I asked my married hetero recording engineer if he would screw Cher and he hesitantly said yes, but only if he just saw her without knowing 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 just needed a Cher fix, Burlesque will get you straight. Like me, you will have been jonesing for her since she's put out no album or movie in years. Yes, rhe diva still has "it" in spades and her large, luminous, glittering, soulful eyes are a joy to behold. It's also brave to see a 64-year old woman look showing 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. 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 it's rousing, sing-a-long chorus. The story does feel like it's just exists to glue together MTV music videos together.

That's where Christina comes in. She gets both more screen time and songs which show off her impressive voice and competent moves. Her soulful voice is perfectly suited to dramatic big band arrangements which recall the vibe of her hit Candyman. The ballad, I'm 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 wigs can't make Miss Aguilera sexy. I wonder if most guys really 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 the 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." She IS all that when she's singing, which maybe she should stick to. She couldn't make me believe that she's sweet, innocent or anything soft. I hate to bring my pre-conceived notions about a performer, some of which are based on "industry hearsay" (ie drunken, coked up, gossipy hairdressers--or is that redundant?) into my assessment of Christina in a totally new role. But 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 major 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 more the real Christina or written that way because that's how Christina really is and she can't play anything else?--is a bit shy around her boss Cher/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 is downhill from there. When Christina first enters the club, she asks if it's a strip joint. A Joel Grey in Cabaret-ish doorman played by Alan Cumming replies "I should wash your mouth out with Jaegermeister." If you laughed at that you'll like all the jokes.

Speaking of booze, Patron must have paid a fortune for product placement. First Christina orders it and then a Tess in distress barrels into work with a Patron bottle in hand. (The bitch stole my act!) Though somehow she forgets to act bombed. (So she didn't nail my act!) 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 but it. I'm not buying Patron or Burlesque. At least the former is undeniably intoxicating. And while gays are drawn to their divas like crows to stealing jewelry, we are also the first to scream out "TIRED!"