Burlesque is a performance driven film that has more in common with Step-Up and Honey than Chicago or Moulin Rogue!. This approach actually works in its favor, making Burlesque a little bit better than all four of those movies. By the way, I hated them.
The story is mostly centered on a small town girl named Ali (Christina Aguilera) who breaks from her Midwestern wasteland to become a superstar! It’s a shame there’s absolutely no setup at all for her former life. All we know is that she worked a waitress job and quit in the first scene. Within minutes, Ali makes her way to LA and discovers the “magical” burlesque club, which in no way contrasts anything.
She starts out waiting tables at the club. On the job and on her walk to work she practices the moves. In broad daylight, this makes for a funny bit of absurdity, intentional, embarrassing, or both. The Louis Vuitton wearing gentlemen next to me snicker at its campy cuteness. It’ll be hard work before Ali’s peers finally invite her to eat pizza with them. They and their rock hard bodies end every night at Luigi’s.
The burlesque club itself looks and feels a lot more like a movie set filled with actors than a living, breathing location, and there’s really no sense of space within it. There’s the stage shot, the bar shot, the dressing room shot, and the Cher’s office shot. Where these places are in relation to each other is a mystery.
We barely know there’s an audience.
Ali is sassy towards Cher.. I mean the owner, and the club’s star Nikki, played by Kristen Bell as a drugged out, drink sucking emotional mess, Christina Aguilera’s rival. Any less subtle and Bell’s character would shave her head. One-liners buy into the positive reviews Aguilera received for her appearance on Saturday Night Live, right down to her delivering practically the same joke. The sharper delivery comes courtesy of Stanley “Oscar bait” Tucci and Mcsteamy. (Yes, I know the difference between Mcsteamy and Mcdreamy. Relationships are made and broken on this.)
Against all expectation, Ali is given the opportunity to sing and dance. Her pint-sized powerhouse vocals are in stereo surround. This talent is the center of attention, and the script is at its smartest when it’s aware of that. At one point Nikki shouts “I won’t be upstaged by a small town chick with mutant lungs.”
With her impressed face half on, Cher develops a new Ali-centric act, with three songs featuring the word burlesque, and giant letters spelling out the word so that we’ll tell our friends. We never see her in a creative process. In fact, I doubt we ever see the real Cher behind that face. Her performance is impossible to respect because she can’t emote past her surgery. Similarly, I could sense the weight of Aguilera’s boob job, and it clearly throws off her choreography. Unless you’re blindly infatuated with both, it might as well be Godzilla versus Mothra.
Burlesque is the type of movie where the dancing isn’t edited creatively enough to hide weakness, and where characters are shot above the hands when playing piano. People with knowledge of its history may even be offended by the lack of reverence this film has for real burlesque. The women are definitely not of varied shapes and sizes and the comedy acts are removed. The latter choice was made despite Alan Cumming being in the cast, who would have nailed that raunch. Instead, we seem him on stage for mere seconds.
Maybe this is why the most impressive number is the least burlesque…esque segment of the film, with Ali wearing a long green dress with prom hair. I would have liked to see the credits roll there but the movie hangs for incontinent plot wrap-ups.
Psychosis above, spoilers ahead.
First, you can’t have the main character call out her boss on the fact that nobody wants to see lip syncing instead of real singers unless the movie plans to do the same. Both before the club’s change and after, every piece of the soundtrack is disconnected from the movie. It sounds like a CD playing in the AMC Loews, and it’s a half beat unaligned with the actors in Burlesque.
Second, the villain of the story reveals to Ali that he bought “air rights” above a mall to keep anyone from building a skyscraper in that location. He conveniently doesn’t buy “air rights” above her club, and then tells Ali that he plans to build a skyscraper on it. Ali then tells her boss to find someone who will buy “air rights” for her. Even if we assume this is a real thing, McSteamy has to be the dumbest self-made millionaire.
Burlesque is just a lazy film in that way. Cher’s “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” number is more transparent than when Commander Spock was given three exits at the end of the J.J. Abrams Star Trek and the romance between Ali and generic-hot-blonde-guy is lifeless. I could go on but who am I to judge? Musicals are definitely not my thing. I wouldn’t put any of these songs on an mp3 player, but I know the target audience will laugh, gasp, and applaud at the end. The rest will pretend to agree or sleep alone.
Overall Score: 5.00 – Bad. (5s are movies that either failed at reaching the goals it set out to do, or didn’t set out to do anything special and still had many flaws. Some will enjoy 5s, but unless you’re a fan of this genre, you shouldn’t see it, and might not even want to rent it.)
It’s not overtly self important and the lighting is cool, particularly when the film hits us with a strobe light. The best way I can describe Burlesque is that it delivers on what it promises. Nobody will accuse it of trying to be Flashdance, just as nobody accused Flashdance of trying to be On The Waterfront.