Pretty blonde heroine dreams of becoming a big star.
She is drawn to the excitement and glamour of neon lights.
She has a knack for shaking her booty wearing little to no clothing.
She meets a tough-on-the-outside authority figure who ends up becoming a friend/mentor thus filling a void in her life. (She’s been alone since she was very young, don’tcha know?)
As her dreams of becoming a star come true, the bitchy brunette veteran feels threatened and becomes her arch rival.
There’s also a dastardly rich guy that falls for our heroine. He most likely has an ulterior motive, such as purchasing the place where she works.
Though sometimes the dastardly rich guy is just after some innocent hot epileptic pool sex.
Suspense. Will our star prevail? Will she save the day in the end? Will she find love with a non-dastardly, poor, but nice guy? Will she earn the respect of her bitchy brunette rival and learn that maybe she’s not so bad after all? Will there be a big glamorous number at the end?
Okay, so it’s nothing new and groundbreaking. In fact, Burlesque is pretty much exactly what one expects it to be. I even caught myself finishing the lines before the characters said them (Example: Young dancer throws up. Club owner: “Tell me you don’t have the flu.” Girl shakes her head ‘no’. Club owner: “Tell me you have the flu.” Ba-dum-crash!) Would you really want it to be anything other than what it is though.
What it is, of course, is a vehicle for Christina Aguilera who follows in the path of (but fares better than) Mariah Carey and Britney Spears in her debut starring role in which, like them, she plays…wait for it…. a singer. Within the first five minutes, she’s already melisma-ing away as she dreams about moving away from her dead-end waitressing job in Nowhere, USA to the bright lights of the big city. By the end of the song, she’s there and we’re off.
Written and directed by Troy from The Goonies (it’s true!) Burlesque is a campy, more often fun than not, forgettable musical cheesefest. It’s got a pretty impressive cast: Aguilera, Cher, Stanley Tucci, Kristen Bell, and Alan Cumming (blink and you’ll miss him) among others. It’s one of those movies where you can tell the cast had a whole lot of fun making it—at times more fun than it is for the audience to watch—but for the most part, it’s an entertaining enough way to spend one hour and 59 minutes.
Yes, I said one hour and 59 minutes, just shy of exactly one half hour too long. So you’re gonna need to pop open that second beer (or a shot of Patron— not so subtly product-placed throughout the movie) to make it through. It’s surprising how long it is since the film doesn’t waste much time getting into the action and the speed at which subplots are neatly wrapped up at the end, including Cher’s character’s dilemma about the doomed future of the Moulin—I mean, The Burlesque Lounge. Then again, most of the running time is due to the many extravagant musical numbers.
Let’s talk about those musical numbers. While the costumes are beautiful, the vocals are there, and the Fosse-inspired choreography is fun, the songs aren’t that good. Or maybe it’s that they just aren’t that memorable. In the moment they seem to work just fine, but two seconds later it’s impossible to recall anything about the actual music. And for a musical, that’s a little bit of a problem. The film is obviously going for a Chicago-vibe, so let’s use that for comparison; Say “Chicago” and most people will probably immediately think of “All That Jazz” or “He Had it Coming” or any of its other many catchy songs, even if they haven’t seen the show or film. But say “Burlesque” and the general response will most likely be “uhhhh.”
Maybe a vague memory of a performance of a classic like “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” or “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” or a possible recollection of a bizarre cover of Marilyn Manson’s “Beautiful People” (Manson’ ex-wife, Dita Von Teese, an actual burlesque performer, was not involved with the film and was reportedly concerned about how the art would be Hollywoodized. Hmm.) My point is that every good musical has at least one signature original song, hell even Repo! The Genetic Opera had “Zydrate Anatomy” (which for me was the one redeeming thing in that movie. Well, that and Paris Hilton’s face falling off).
Speaking of excessive plastic surgery, it has to be addressed. Cher is a legend. An icon. She’s a wonderful actress, a great singer, and seems like a pretty cool lady. She’s gone through a lot. She’ll be around longer than all of us. I have nothing but the utmost respect for her. Therefore, I will not take any cheap shots about her inability to move her face. No “if she could turn back time, well, she’s trying her damndest.” No, “how ironic that she starred in a film called Mask and now looks like she’s wearing one.” Nope, not gonna do it.
It’s a little distracting though.
Aw hell, just have another one. Why not? You know you want to. You’re watching Burlesque, for cryin’ out loud. One guilty pleasure deserves another. Look, she’s singing again—now’s your chance.
Burlesque doesn’t try to be anything it’s not. It’s a light, fun, extended version of Christina’s part in the “Lady Marmalade” video. And hey, it’s better than Glitter.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a drink: every time you wonder why they couldn’t get a better wig for Christina (her ‘stage wigs’ looked more natural than that sisterwife-looking thing on her head throughout the movie.)
Take a drink: whenever there is a reaction shot of someone being surprised/blown away by Ali’s (Aguilera) incredible voice.
Take a drink: whenever you see the token (and apparently mute) black member of the Burlesque troupe.
Take a shot (of PATRON!): whenever someone refuses to let Kristen Bell’s lush character have a drink (she can’t, but you can!).