Burlesque * ½
Directed by: Steven Antin.
Written By: Steven Antin.
Starring: Cher (Tess), Christina Aguilera (Ali), Stanley Tucci (Sean), Kristen Bell (Nikki), Eric Dane (Marcus), Cam Gigandet (Jack), Julianne Hough (Georgia), Alan Cumming (Alexis), Peter Gallagher (Vince).
As a burgeoning cinephile in my teens, the musical was the only genre I never fully embraced. I liked some sure, but for the most part, I avoided them like the plague. But in the past few years, I have ended up embracing great musicals like every other genre. I still may not be a fan of The Sound of Music or Olivier or Gigi – but I can watch anything with Astaire and Rogers or Gene Kelly or West Side Story or the films of Bob Fosse and Vincente Minnelli anytime. I bring this up at the beginning of my review of Burlesque, because I think this is precisely the film I feared as a teenage movie fan – precisely what I thought movie musicals were, and why I would hate them. I’m glad to say that in the years since then, I have learned what a great musical can be – but Burlesque brought back those memories. It is a truly awful film.
Written and directed by Steven Antin, Burlesque shows that he really doesn’t have much a feel for either job. The dialogue in the movie is horrible, and considering the acting talents of most of the cast, it makes it even worse. Only Stanley Tucci, essentially repeating his role as the wise, old gay guy from The Devil Wears Prada, seems to realize just how awful all this dialogue is, and decides to have fun with it anyway. He has a life force all his own in this movie, and it stands out from the rest of the pack. As a director, Antin basically shoots everything like a music video – which isn’t as distracting during the musical scenes, but in the dialogue scenes, it becomes an annoyance early and often.
The movie’s plot could have been in a Busby Berkley musical circa 1933 – a small town girl with a big voice named Ali (Christina Aguilera) moves to L.A. to become a star – eventually wandering into a Burlesque show in Hollywood, and falling in love. She convinces the owner Tess (Cher) to give her a chance as a waitress, and eventually works her way onto the stage. No one knows she can sing, because all the girls lip synch (they don’t come to hear them sing). But when the evil Nikki (Kristen Bell) tries to sabotage Ali’s big debut, she is stuck singing – and of course brings the house down. A star is born.
It should be said that Christina Aguilera really can sing – and she has a perfect voice for these Burlesque numbers – a lot of classics, with a few originals thrown in (probably in the hopes of landing Oscar nominations for Best Song – the most ridiculous of all Oscar categories, so they most likely have a chance). As an actress though, Aguilera leaves much to be desired. Forgetting for a moment that she is far too old for the role (shouldn’t be a teenager?), she is really a blank slate through much of her performance. True, she does better than Britney Spears did in Crossroads, but that’s setting the bar so low it doesn’t even matter. It doesn’t help her that many of her scenes are opposite Cam Gigandet, who has become an It boy because of his work in Twilight, but one who lacks all charisma and charm on screen.
Cher on the other hand can act. I may not be a big fan of Moonstruck, but she won an Oscar for it, and has been good in movies like Silkwood and Mask as well. But here, she lacks the charisma that she has had in the past. If the stories about the onset battles are true – surprisingly not between divas Cher and Christina but between the director and the producer – perhaps she just decided she didn’t care.
The movie does come alive a few times when either of these women sing. And they can sing and do it well – although the songs are largely forgettable. But overall, Burlesque is a cinematic dead zone. It’s feel much longer than it actually is, because it’s so boring, so poorly written and directed. The film reminded me of Showgirls – with less nudity. And if that isn’t an insult to the film, than I don’t know what is.