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film review: Burlesque

by Leonard Maltin
November 24, 2010 5:30 AM
3 Comments
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The people behind Burlesque did at least a few things right. First, Cher has an amazing screen presence, and a way with dialogue that seems absolutely effortless. (I’ll admit, it takes some adjustment to accept her now-frozen face, but one either accepts Cher as it or not at all.) Then they hired Stanley Tucci to play her gay best friend and right-hand man, essentially reprising the role he essayed so well in The Devil Wears Prada. No matter—he brightens every scene he’s in, and delivers his lines with the panache of a true master. But these old pros have to swim up-tide against a screenplay that’s so hokey and weather-beaten you have to wonder how it got approved by a major studio.

Pop music star Christina Aguilera plays the wide-eyed girl from Iowa who comes to Los Angeles hoping to find her dream, and winds up in Cher’s Hollywood nightclub, called Burlesque. From the moment she sees the sexy women on stage, strutting their stuff, she knows that’s where she—

—belongs. She immediately makes friends with a bartender (Cam Gigandet) who recognizes a fellow hick in the big city, finagles her way into a job as bartender, and finally talks her way into an audition for Cher. One night, quite by accident, she gets her big break, etc, etc. Oh, yes—there’s also a handsome billionaire (Eric Dane) who’s trying to buy Cher’s club, but turns his attention instead to winning over the hot newcomer from the Midwest.

I hope I haven’t spoiled any of these plot points. Actually, they wouldn’t be so bothersome if the film had enough life and energy to overcome them. I found most of the production numbers flashy but routine, and once the film started focusing on solos for Aguilera I started to lose interest. I’ve never followed her career and would say she makes a good first impression, until the film shifts its emphasis to her almost exclusively and presents one solo showcase after another.

Another complaint: the wonderful Alan Cumming is in the cast, but his presumed role is now just a recurring bit part. Perhaps his presence, on top of Cher and Tucci, stole too much of the spotlight from Aguilera. In any case, it’s a shame to waste such a talent.

There’s no reason Burlesque couldn’t have been a better movie. Shortening it from two hours would have helped. If you’re going to ask us to invest in a tired storyline, at least keep things moving, but that’s a lesson that novice writer-director Steven Antin hasn’t learned. What starts out as an enjoyable piece of fluff turns tiresome, and that’s a shame.

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3 Comments

  • Joe Amato | November 29, 2010 10:49 AMReply

    Kelesy, difficult for me to disagree with your emphasis on character. Still, I didn't go to Flashdance with the expectation of seeing great acting. (And the only way we got great acting, as we know in retrospect, was for the filmmakers to split the acting/dancing duties between Jennifer Beals and a body double.) Ditto Chicago (and let me not be remiss -- Queen Latifah can sing, and Catherine Zeta Jones is a decent hoofer). So perhaps it's a matter, in part anyway, of what we're looking for in these films. I think we can both agree that Burlesque is not great cinematic art -- it's a confection. And if you don't give a whit about a character, it *is* difficult to give a whit about much else. But I'll still maintain that Aguilera's singing chops draw you in, so maybe I didn't find her acting any more off-putting than watching non-dancer/non-singer actors attempt to fake same.

  • Kelesy | November 29, 2010 5:54 AMReply

    It is true that musicals aren't typically known for having the best storylines. True that todays audiences are much less interested in that format on screen - and tend to be much more harsh regarding them. But I DISagree that flashy musical numbers and a big voice are a reason to 'forgive' a bad acting performance. I am a HUGE fan of Christina's voice (we're it not for seeing the trailers, I'd have had high hopes for her acting as she is so expressive thru her music) However, when you make that leap from music on a disc and stading behind a mic with back up dancers all around you framing you as you 'pose' your way through a live show - you are stepping into an entirely different medium, here. If there is one thing I have learned in my schooling and 10yr. + career in professional musical theatre - it's not enough to just be able to belt to the rafters. The audience will forgive you for JUST about anything - IF they are invested in your character. IF they care about your character and what happens to them. Sorry, but I'll trade Christina for ANY cast member of "Chicago" (film) any day of the week and twice on Sunday. They had one thing right - just keep her singing...the less "acting" scenes the better for her. Unfortunately, though, what we DID see of it was about as interesting as watching paint dry. She was laughable. It was hard to watch because I felt the entire audience feeling embarassed FOR her. This was poor decision making on the part of her managment. This was "Glitter" all over again... Her managment should have 1. recognized she didn't have acting talent 2. gotten her acing lessons 3. put her in a number of smaller roles with MUCH less responsibility so she could improve some before attemping to carry a tired storyline with a bad script up against oscar winners and noteable actors....Shame on them.

  • Joe Amato | November 29, 2010 2:41 AMReply

    Musicals aren't generally about story. Witness the Astaire-Rogers musicals, classics every one, with some of the silliest plots one can imagine, however archetypal they may seem today. Even a dazzler (in retrospect) like Footlight Parade could be panned by some critics in 1933 on the basis of its stale jokes. The fifties -- and later, Cabaret -- may have changed this, but Chicago certainly didn't.

    So here comes Christina Aguilera, clearly a vocalist in need of acting lessons, and no hoofer either, albeit she can shake it some. But when she opens her mouth to sing, frankly, all sins are, or should be, forgiven, unless one is chary enough (as one reviewer online has been) to question her melisma technique, which is far from fair if only b/c this woman sings with more bottom, more soul, than 99.999% of the singers out there. That is, she earns those triples on her way through the 1-2-3-4+ octaves, and she has control to spare. If only the filmmakers hadn't been so eager to have us *hear* her, waiting instead to unveil her vocal talents at the moment when she unveils same for the audience at Cher's (Tess's) club.

    I happened to be watching Garland in A Star is Born and Streisand in Funny Girl later in the evening on the very day I saw Burlesque. Sure, the latter are classic films in a way that Burlesque will never be, not that anyone associated with this film entertains such pretensions. Still, cheap thrills or no, I found that watching Burlesque was more fun than watching ace actors with so-so musical chops strut and fret their ways through Chicago.

    So: a little more attention to raw talent and a little less 21st-century cynicism and what you might be seeing is what I saw: a musical fantasy of the Flashdance variety with one hell of a lead singer, and the added pleasure of hearing an aging Cher, Botox be damned, belt one out as if to say, "I know I'm performing with a real contender, so I better hit my mark."

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