Wednesday, November 24, 2010

22 Short Thoughts About Burlesque

01. It's not Showgirls. That's going to be bad news for people who were hoping for the next kitsch classic. It's nowhere near as insane, as poorly acted, as aggressively off-putting as Paul Verhoeven much embraced gilded turd.

02. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Planets really had to align for a movie as terrible as Showgirls to have become as embraced by the trash-humping masses. Trying to repeat that kind of "success" would have been a fool's errand. Instead, this is a mostly pretty-good movie if you happen to enjoy: 1) Cher, 2) Christina Aguilera, 3) Dancing, 4) Movie cliches, or 5) sparkly things.

03. Cher is Cher, and if you like that, you're golden. Yes, her face is kind of puffy and fishy, and that gets distracting at times, but that charm of hers comes shining through. She's such a relaxed, lived-in presence on the film, it's like Aunt Cher stopped by for some dress-up fun.

04. Christina Aguilera ... it depends on what your starting point is. You could point out that she doesn't bring a whole lot of idiosyncratic life to the role of "Ali," the small-town girl looking to Make It in L.A. But considering the fact that this is her first feature film role of any kind, I found myself a little impressed that she wasn't stilted or all that mannered. It's a solid debut.

05. Stanley Tucci! I mean, right? He's spent the last 5 or so years playing utterly charming supporting characters and allowing that wonderful, unforced humor of his to infuse entire movies. The depressing fact that his lone Oscar nomination was for last year's The Lovely Bones -- the fidgety, mannered exception to that rule -- has been made up for this year by ace work in both Easy A and now here.

06. Is it weird that coming out of a movie starring Cher and Christina Aguilera, my first thought was of Cam Gigandet? And not purely for shallow reasons, either! Well ... 70% for shallow reasons. That boy is rocking a torso that is here to please, and he's kind enough to sport some butt, after all. But when did he develop a personality? He's kind of ridiculously charming in his guyliner and junk-covering Famous Amos cookies. I take back all those "Hatchet Face" comments, Cam! I find your mug beguiling now.

07. Steve Antin's direction leaves a good bit to be desired. The whole movie is kind of flabby, there's no real flow from one musical number to one another. A better director with a tighter style would've kept the movie from lulling the way it does.

08. The musical numbers could have been funnier, too. I understand Christina needs her torch ballads, but this is the girl who did that dirty Andrews Sisters video for "Candyman." Or "Dirrty" for that matter. And then there's Cher! You're telling me no one could think of anything memorably hilarious?

09. Steve Antin has definitely watched Rob Marshall's Chicago at least two times. He probably also saw the Rob Marshall-directed Broadway revival of Cabaret. Which would explain why Alan Cumming's emcee character is lifted wholesale from that show and placed in the Burlesque ticket-taking booth for absolutely no Earthly reason.

10. Not that I'm here to totally bag on Steve Antin. He did write the script, which while not setting a new standard for screenwriting definitely produces a story that gives a shit about its characters in a way that lesser films (and even some better films) don't manage.

11. Antin's script also makes room for one of those perfunctory "The bank is about to foreclose on our home/farm/dance warehouse/burlesque parlor" subplots that's both dumb, unnecessary, and kind of awesome if you're in the mood to laugh at things like plot twists revolving around "air rights."

12. Here's the biggest problem in the movie, and one that I'm surprised no one else is mentioning: Cher and Christina never perform together! Didn't the concept, casting, promotion, trailer, and overall story of the movie pretty much promise that they would? I feel ever so cheated!

13. Props to So You Think You Can Dance alum Chelsea Traille for getting cast as dancing girl Coco. (You go, Glenn Coco!) Chelsea's triumph gives hope to 16th-place finishing contestants everywhere. There's still hope, Jessi Peralta!

14. Dancing with the Stars fans can also enjoy Julianne Hough as pregnant (ish?) Georgia, for whatever that's worth.

15. Blink and you'll miss Glee's Diana Agron's thankless appearance about an hour and a half into the film. It's a fine match to her thankless role on Glee. Free Quinn Fabray, people. Free Quinn Fabray.

16. If you think about it, Burlesque is really just a high-wattage retelling of Coyote Ugly. Except that movie got made when the slutty-bartenders craze was only a year or two past its prime, while the burlesque trend peaked at the latest in 2004, right?

17. Speaking of Coyote Ugly, Piper Perabo's Casio-based songstressing gets transferred not to Aguilera's character but to Gigandet's. And after a movie's worth of secretive songwriting, we get the episode-capping "Show Me How You Burlesque," a fun-as-hell, energetic number that nonetheless could have been written by Robin Antin's pet cat.

18. Speaking of the songs, how many of them had the word "burlesque" in the title? Four? Seven? All of them?

19. Kristen Bell doesn't get the most rewarding role, but she employs her bitchface to full volume and reminds me once again that no matter how much I rooted for her as Veronica Mars, her future in movies is playing hellacious bitches and nothing but.

20. One of the montage scenes was set to Madonna's "Ray of Light," an excellent song choice, and one which gave me visions of a Burlesque 2, where Cher and Xtina must deal with a rival burlesque club that moves in across the street, run by a wizened Madonna and her protégée Britney Spears. This kind of has to happen, right?

21. Eric Dane is pretty great shorthand for "sleazy opportunist." The fact that he gets no more naked than short sleeves is kind of a betrayal of the audience, though.

22. All told: B-? B+? C+ with A- tendencies? I'm not sure a letter-grade assessment does this film the right kind of justice. If you think you might enjoy it, you probably will. It's no disasterpiece, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

My sister says she's dragging me to this to make up for Scott Pilgrim which she hated, and I sort of loved. But I don't mind, I find Christina's stage presence interesting and Cher's always fun. I will say that when she brought home the soundtrack and I took a listen I was like sort of WTF when there was no duet. The poster seems to all but tell us that we were getting one.

The only thing I decidedly not looking forward to is Eric Dane. The man just bores me.

(PS. Loved your snippet review of Animal Kingdom. Who's the male best in show for you?)

Joe Reid said...

Re: Animal Kingdom, Ben Mendelsohn was freaky-scary good and will definitely be among my favorite performances of the year. But I can't argue with the people saying it's Joel Edgerton either.


great read. #20 i will obsess over from now until the end of time.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

"If you think you might enjoy it, you probably will": that's all I need to know! I can't wait to see this with my ONE FRIEND that actually wants to. I'm glad others are getting on board the Cam Gigandet train; he's serviceable in Easy A, non?

Adam807 said...

One thing I'll say for the director: He knows how to shoot dance a whole lot better than *actual choreographer* Rob Marshall, who cuts so much that he could make ME look good up there. It was nice to see a modern musical film embrace its musicalness. I wish it had done it more... Why did Cher's big ballad have to be the most contrived "rehearsal" ever instead if just letting her sing it?

As a writer though, it's clear he saw the term "air rights" somewhere and didn't bother to look up what it means...'cause that wasn't it.

For as much as they say the word, only one number in the film MIGHT qualify as actual burlesque. I guess since "Cabaret" was taken...

Robert said...

Three words:

Wagon Wheel Watusi


DuchessKitty said...

I found it to be awful and awesome in equal amounts. Aguilera's wigs were SO BAD; to the point of distraction. But Tucci and Cam's abs made up for it.
It was definitely a great way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon.