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Burlesque

2011-03-04 11:56
 
Burlesque
What it's about:

Ali (played by Christina Aguilera) is a small-town girl with big dreams and an even bigger voice. She leaves her dead-end behind and heads for the city where stars are made – Los Angeles. Hoping to make it as a singer, she happens upon a burlesque club owned by Tess (Cher) - someone who has seen and heard it all before. At first reluctant to hear Ali sing, Tess gives her a waitressing job while trying to prevent the bank from repossessing her beloved club.

What we thought:

Like Moulin Rouge on welfare, or Chicago with venereal disease, Burlesque is one of those rare feats in cinema – an unspeakably terrible movie (possibly intentionally so) that's also wonderfully entertaining.

It's all those things it appears to be in the trailer – campy, a little bit trashy, plenty ridiculous – and yet has its heart in the right place. It's about, you know, a dream; the only dream that Hollywood recognises – fame, fortune and universal adoration. Bearing very little in common with the classical sense of the artform, this is 'burlesque' – a concept that writer-director Steven Antin has misappropriated to include choreography cribbed from Bob Fosse's Cabaret and tacky, titillating entertainment that falls just short of actual striptease. In fact, the most disappointing thing about Burlesque is that there isn't a stripper pole in sight. It's rather unfair that we get to see this many beautiful, limbre, half-naked women work so hard to supply PG-13 entertainment.

Like many have noted before, Burlesque has way too much in common with Paul Verhoeven's now-legendary crapfest from 1995, the unforgettable Showgirls. It took the idea of female empowerment and did some very nasty things to it, but it's hard to imagine that a film like Burlesque could ever have existed without it.

As with both movies, it places the value of cheap thrills above all else, and who better to put on a show than the double-diva whammy of Cher and Christina Aguilera, two singers who don't know the meaning of subtlety. This is Cher's first lead movie role since 1999's Tea With Mussolini and as her decades-long career proves, she is the natural choice for the role of Tess. In a many ways, she's just playing a budget version of herself. Tess is a mentor to the young women who dance and lip-sync in her club, the mother they never had and their agony aunt when life invariably lets them down. In Aguilera's Ali, Tess has the perfect protege, if only she'd let her fulfil her destiny and sing.

There's plenty of hand-wringing and nonsense commotion before that momentous event finally occurs. We learn that Tess and her ex-husband business partner Vince (Peter Gallagher) are neck-deep in debt and will lose the club if they don't sell to an unscrupulous property developer, Marcus (Grey's Anatomy star Eric Dane). Ali fails to make friends with the territorial Burlesque girls but charms the barkeep Jack (Twilight's Cam Gigandet) who invites her to move in with him when her apartment is burgled. There's a definite attraction between the two, but he has a girlfriend in New York, so Ali takes up with Marcus instead. How will these crazy kids ever make it work?

Thankfully, Antin and co-writer Diablo Cody (who won an Oscar for Juno) don't pretend that this is anything more than a bit of light, disposable entertainment. Should we really care that Burlesque is on the brink of bankruptcy? Or if Ali will get her big break? Not on your life. We already know that she is going to wow Tess with her giant voice and save the club, because, well, she's Christina Aguilera - not one of those High School Musical poppets, or, heaven forbid, Britney Spears. Her instrument has the power to make an audience collectively break out in goosebumps and, for just a moment, offer a glimpse of something worthwhile in this thankless industry. When Ali auditions for a chance to be up on the Burlesque stage, it is as close to a sincere moment as Antin is willing to venture. So don't be alarmed when it doesn't last very long before we're flung back into the razzle-dazzle, hokey-pokey madness of showbusiness.

But even as you're enjoying the many sensual delights that Burlesque has to offer, it's hard to overlook just how shoddily it's all been put together. The dim-witted dialogue goes from charming to painful in no time at all ("When you’re putting on your makeup it’s like you’re an artist, but instead of painting a canvas you’re painting your face," says Tess, with as much gravity as if she were quoting Shakepeare) and the plausibility of Tess' debt situation is stretched beyond reason, much like the skin on Cher's face.

The writing is so devoid of insight or flair, it makes a mockery of the talented cast. Stanley Tucci is merely required to phone in his gay character from The Devil Wears Prada and Kristen Bell has the thankless task of playing Burlesque's fallen star, a boozy adversary for Ali named Nikki. But the script doesn't even have the decency to make her a bitch worth believing in, or at least allow the girls the chance to settle their differences in a juicy catfight scene. I don't know what's worse: a movie rife with clichés, or one that wasn't even bothered to include the really obvious ones. Sigh.

There may be some worthy moments, which come around when the cast are required to not actually 'act' anymore and just put on an OTT costume and look fabulous for the cameras. About two-thirds through, Antin remembers that Cher is a pretty powerful singer too, and contrives a scene where she belts out a bruising ballad called "You Haven't Seen The Last of Me". Aguilera, in her debut movie role, certainly won't be winning any (coveted) awards for her performance. She's decent enough and can at least be assured that she exhibited herself a lot better than Mariah Carey did in the godawful Glitter, or even Spears in Crossroads. Also, she looks amazing throughout - the girl really knows how to light up a scene.

So while Burlesque gets one star – since it appears to have been aiming low anyway – it's a movie experience that will definitely leave a lasting impression. Give it a shot, if only to marvel at its audacity to wear its sparkly, jewel-encrusted mediocrity with so much pride. You've got to love that.

Burlesque is one of those rare feats in cinema – an unspeakably terrible movie that's also wonderfully entertaining.
Read more on:    christina aguilera  |  cher  |  review  |  movies  |  musical

bored_stiff 2011/01/21 1:57 PM
it's like you're ashamed to say you enjoyed the movie. so much positivity tainted with bits of negativity. one would think you're a closet christina fan!
Shaheema 2011/01/21 2:58 PM
For the record: I am not a closet Christina fan. I AM a Christina fan!
bored_stiff 2011/01/21 8:44 PM
haha, that's more like it Shaheema. some guts. thanks! :)
tweedle 2011/01/24 9:08 AM
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I really enjoyed the movie. The singing gave me goosebumps! I already have the soundtrack. Although there were parts in the movie where the camera seemed to move more than the cast it was enjoyable. Not a movie everyone will enjoy but least it was short and sweet and to the point!
Daryl 2011/01/24 3:10 PM
Perfectly summed up! "Burlesque is one of those rare feats in cinema – an unspeakably terrible movie that's also wonderfully entertaining." EXACTLY how I felt without knowing how to say it.
Jenny 2011/02/06 7:44 PM
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This movie was way better than you make it sound. I think you were expecting too much - it would have gone the Glitter route if they added too much drama.
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