Movie #36: Burlesque

I was a fan of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, so I was excited that maybe this was another movie like that. Moulin Rouge fans might appreciate the musical numbers, but Burlesque is not nearly as imaginative or interesting as the Nicole Kidman classic. This is largely a vanity project for Christina Aguilera (with a little vanity for Cher thrown in). The story of a small-town Iowa girl (why are they always from Iowa?) leaving behind her crappy life to make it big in L.A. is absolutely nothing new. I guess what is new this time is she stumbles upon a cabaret-style club called the Burlesque Lounge, run by a former dancer named Tess (played by Cher). Here the ladies strut their stuff on stage while lip-syncing to 20s and 30s classics. Once Ali (that’s Aguilera’s character) steps into the club, she is mesmerized and is determined to become one of the best dancers in the place. While there might have been the possibility for some gritty hard luck tale of Ali’s struggle (as well as Tess’s struggle with possibly losing the club to creditors) this is not that kind of movie. There is very little that is realistic about it when every scene looks and sounds like a music video. This is completely a movie-musical, including some fantasy musical sequences, and lots of staged numbers that are slick and polished. The lighting is also made for camera. You’d think there was a power-shortage in L.A. the way every room seems dimly lit, except for that window or lamp which casts a glow around every woman’s hair (especially Aguilera’s). Between each number, the dramatic scenes are barely there (also what you’d expect from a musical), so there’s not much on which to really build a story of much complexity. Ali gets a job as a dancer in the club, and immediately gets on the bad side of resident diva Nikki (played by Kristen Bell — Why, Kristen, are you playing these vapid, two-dimensional roles? You were so great in Veronica Mars. We know you’ve got much more in you, so if we acknowledge that you’re sexy, can you get back to playing smart and substantial?). As part of the storyline, there’s also a romance (roll your eyes if you’ve seen this before). Ali bonds with handsome bartender Jack (played by a surprisingly charming Cam Gigandet) over their small town backgrounds (he’s from Kentucky), and when Ali’s place is ransacked (no reason is ever given, but whatever) she moves in with Jack. Two hot roomies + dim lighting and walking around half-naked? You do the math. This little detour into romantic comedy territory is actually not as bad as it sounds. There’s a pretty charming scene between the two after they get slightly drunk at a friend’s wedding reception. Unfortunately, it leads right into a gauzy torch song montage that takes us back into our music video. When Nikki tries to sabotage Ali, she unwittingly provides the opportunity for Ali/Aguilera to feature her voice and “mutant lungs” as Nikki calls them. From that point on, all the musical numbers become even less a part of the movie and merely Aguilera performing. Similarly, there’s one number where Cher is supposedly practicing and she sings a song in its entirety which doesn’t sound like anything they would put in the show. So what is she rehearsing it for? By the finale scene, they perform such a big full-blown number that they clearly drop any pretense altogether. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help being sucked into the world of this club and its somewhat shallow characters. The musical performances were good and Aguilera surprised me by being pretty likeable as Ali. Maybe it was more of a vehicle for Aguilera’s career, or to sell albums, but I guess a girl’s gotta eat, right? (4 out of 5)

36 down, 14 to go!

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