Thursday, June 30, 2011

catching up with ... burlesque

A movie I missed in theaters but was intrigued to see was Burlesque. Seeing it now after watching Christina Aguilera weekly on The Voice was a bit surreal. Chistina's "persona" on The Voice is very similar to the character Cher plays in Burlesque, a mamma-hen to young performers. But Christina's styling on The Voice is so over-the-top burlesque glam. There seems to be some life/art crossover happening that Aguilera hasn't completely reconciled.

All that aside, she looks and sounds great in Burlesque, which is a also a very fun movie. The glittery eye shadow budget clearly was greater than the one set aside for the scriptwriter (actually writer and  director Steve Antin, who has also acted and is the brother of Pussycat Dolls founder Robin Antin). The plot strings together so many show-biz cliches that anyone in the audience could have written better dialogue for the actors in their sleep. But none of that really matters. Burlesque is about Cher and Aguilera getting to look fab and have fun a in a series of splashy musical numbers.

The supporting cast is amazing. Stanley Tucci plays Cher's gay factotum, and as always, is just wonderful to have around. Kristin Bell plays the resident bad girl rival for Aguilera, and for some reason looks a lot like Parker Posey — was she the original choice for the character? She gets quickly shuttled into the background, as her story and her character is never a real threat to the main plot, which is about Cher maybe losing her burlesque club and Aguilera climbing to the heights of ... singing in Cher's burlesque club.

And that is where Burlesque gets all of its goofy charm and fun. Aguilera's Iowa waitress wants to leave her boring existence and go to L.A. She pounds the big city pavement for about one afternoon and then is attracted to the bright bulbs on the flashing "Burlesque" sign. Once inside, sipping a free drink from a cute bartender (love interest Cam Gigandet), her world is rocked. She turns to look at the girls lip-synching on-stage in their glittery eye make-up and their spangly costumes and watered-down Bob Fosse choreography and she is transported. She is in heaven.

It's this twist from the typical "I'm going to Hollywood and make it big" movies that makes Burlesque a little confusing, yet endearing. This girl doesn't have big career aspirations. She's got this amazing, powerhouse voice, and there are intimations that she could quickly move on to the big-time, but she never gives any indication that she is in the least bit interested in doing so. Its kind of refreshing. She just wants to sing and take her clothes off in front of an audience. It's weird, but it's kind of empowering, too.

Aguilera's character gets to sing and dance and wear a succession of amazing outfits and wonderful wigs. She also frequently daydreams, seeing herself in extravagantly staged burlesque numbers, belting out a song. In some ways the entire movie is one long fevered daydream of a girl from Iowa who can really sing.

The musical numbers are ridiculous and ridiculously entertaining, mining moves from music videos and old movies. The only sore spot was the criminal underuse of Alan Cumming, who could have really added something — at the very least one show-stopping musical number — to the movie. This is the guy (who I was lucky enough to see) who reinvigorated Cabaret on the stage. He could have taught them all to out-Fosse Fosse. The people behind Burlesque clearly are aware of this, as they stage one risqué background number with him and two girls, but it's frankly not enough.

Cher gets a mid-movie number, "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me," which is lit beautifully, looking at times like a colorized BW clip. She has a nice rapport with both Aguilera and Tucci. The movie plot requires her to spend most of her time being pissed off about something, so her main expression is to purse her lips and then for scenes when she's really fed up, purse them some more, but she's Cher and she's fabulous and she should make more movies. But Burlesque belongs to Aguilera. Now if she could just start styling herself in her real life (or at least her role on The Voice) as she looks in this movie. One can dream.
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