Bright lights, big voice
There are two ways of looking at this film. You can either bemoan the deplorable script, ridden with the worst cliches pilfered from every other Girl-goes-to-big-smoke-to-make-good/dance movie ever made; the lack of character development; the predictable story arc. Or you can say “It’s a movie starring Cher and Christina Aguilera. Called Burlesque“. And you can sit back with your glass of Lindauer and just enjoy the spangles.
Either way, that about sums it up. But to give credit to Aguilera, in her first acting role (unless you count music videos – but given the comparative subtlety, it must be said she does do a good job here), and to contradict Cher’s club-owner Tess – it’s all about the singing. And of course it delivers. Before the opening titles are over, perhaps with “you’re on in five” ringing in her head, Aguilera’s Iowa farmgirl Ali has pitched up in LA, and is pushing for a dancing job in a classy dive bar. And if you’d just give her a damn chance – that girl can sing! Cher too pulls out a couple of numbers, hopefully more for nostalgic value than any intention of a career revival, but there’s still no getting past the fact that the dame looks pretty good for her age (64. OK, she’s had some work done, but still!).
Special credit must go, as always, to Stanley Tucci for rolling out his usual line in slightly camp, dryly witty and unconditionally supportive stage managers/personal assistants/liberal parents. As much as one might long to see more from him (and to be fair, we have in the past – just not lately), Tucci steals every scene, and keeps the energy fizzing backstage from one performance to the next. Alan Cumming is, by comparison, under-used which is a shame given his provenance on the musical stage. The other male characters are simply versions of the unavailable good guy and underhand bad guy, and there is no dramatic tension whatsoever in Ali’s relationships with either.
One final criticism, and a small one, is that strictly speaking this isn’t burlesque. The film should more accurately have been called Cabaret, though obviously that’s been taken. However, the spectacle is large, and at the very least one will leave the cinema with a yearning for beaded costumerie, dance lessons, and a greater appreciation for sparkly eyeshadow. Just what it says on the tin.