Sunday, December 5, 2010

Burlesque: Rehashed Glitz for the Holidays

I wish there was more to this movie staring Christina Aquilera as an impossibly talented ingenue who comes to L.A., moves in next to a burlesque night-club (run, of course, by Cher), and connives her way into the ensemble and to eventually being headliner of the show. The movie follows tried-and-true hollywood formula (they've been telling this story ever since All About Eve: Chicago was the latest incarnation) and offers few surprises...except for the music. The music is actually much better than one might expect for a film of this type (aimed at gay men and teenyboppers) and thank god, too, as it's what gets you through the sappy storyline.

Surprisingly, Aquilera gets most of the numbers - that woman can sing. We only get two Cher numbers, but it's nice to see her vocals still resonate. One forgets that Cher is also quite an actress (does anyone remember Silkwood? Mask? Moonstruck?). Cher was an Eighties sensation and she and Stanley Tucci (as her gay manager) are the adults in the film. They liven up their scenes with lighthearted banter while the rest of the characters make somber sincerity out of their tinfoil lines.

When Aquilera's character, Ali, arrives in Los Angeles - with just $200 dollars in her pocket - my first thought was that this could be the very same opening about how women end up being hookers in L.A. But this isn't a movie about lost dreams and the hard realities of the street. In fact, just the opposite: it's a pure fairy tale where the princess comes to town in order to conquer the world, in just three easy lessons. Perhaps the most inane aspect of the movie is the romance between Ali and the bartender who first introduces her to the society of the club, Jack (played by Cam Gigandet in eye liner, three-day beard, and 1% body fat). "I thought you were gay," Ali tells Jack while sleeping over at his apartment (his girlfriend is conveniently away in Paris). No - not gay, just gay bait. The two of them slink about each other for the remainder of the movie, setting up sit-com-like reasons for not consummating their mutual lust until the absolute moment when its no longer possible to put off. The whole affair is impossible to watch except for Gigandet traipsing shirtless in order to entertain the ladies (and gay boys) in the audience. This is one of those films where anything that happens between the characters makes no sense other than as pure titillation.

Of course, the plot hinges on whether Cher's Tess will lose the club, whether Ali and Jack will ever get it on, and how all will come out right in the end. In between we're entertained with various burlesque numbers - singing and dancing - that's probably worth the $10 price of admission considering there's little else of musical note at the movies these days.

The producers of this movie are clearly trying to capture three different audiences at once: teenage girls, gay men, and women of a certain age who like the old Hollywood musicals. That gives this movie a bit of a feel of the Palm Springs Follies...though I have to say, with performances from knock-out singers like Aquilera and Cher, Burlesque certainly delivers the numbers.

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