Format: Amazon Watch Party
Viewing: Kind of first/ Kind of second
Director: Steve Antin
I had never seen the beginning or end of Burlesque (2010). A few years back I had a barber/ stylist who had set up a salon in her house, and instead of the mirror in front of you, she had a television. And one time I went in and watched a huge chunk of Burlesque, because she'd get distracted by the movie or TV show she was watching, and what should have been a 20 minute haircut (my hair is so boring, I call the style "The Continental"), turned into a nearly 90 minute journey every time.
Anyway - she was into the movie, and I know lots of people are. But I come bearing bad news. Burlesque is a super terrible film that has so much money and star power thrown at it, it looks like it should be good and people kind of accept that maybe it is. But it isn't.
It does not help that the star is Christina Aguilera, who America adores as a singer, but I tend to think of as someone with a very good voice who constantly sounds like she's imitating someone with actual innate talent and nuance, as been cast as our lead. Aguilera just leans into every damn thing like it's her time to shine in the high school choral concert, but there's nothing behind what she's doing. It's weirdly performative.
She is also not a trained actor. Not that she's awful in this movie, but the whole thing operates on such a CW-soap level, that's the note she hits and that's where she stays for the 2 (TWO) hour run time of the film. So it's an odd choice unless you really just love Christina Aguilera-shaped celebrities to cast her - especially as she doesn't *really* do much singing. She spends her time yelling at people until they listen to and then agree with her.
It's impossible not to mention writer/ director Steve Antin - because one gets the feeling that this movie was him firing his one shot, his remaining reflected goodwill in Hollywood with the notion he was the next Bob Fosse. Antin's IMDB credits are mostly from his young-man days when he was an actor. It is also notable that he was, in the 1980's, the boyfriend of music mega mogul David Geffen in an era where Geffen was one of the most powerful people in entertainment (I knew who he was when I was maybe 13, and was aware he was powerful enough to be out and it not be a ding on him, which was considerable in that era).
Directly prior to this film, Antin had been one of the masterminds behind the way-overthought girl group project, The Pussycat Dolls. Riding on the tail of things like Aguilera's "Dirty" and the trend of talking early 20-something former teen singers into becoming very, very sexy by someone's definition, the Pussycat Dolls had been a cartoon of a girl group that no one ever actually signed up for. I remember being generally embarrassed for everyone involved. While Antin had spent decades acting, the Pussycat Dolls were his one stab at producing and directing their videos, I guess. Those videos, btw, are the legal definition of "trying too hard".
And that's one of many, many problems with Burlesque.
It so wants to be sexy, but has no idea what that is other than trying to lift from Chicago, Sweet Charity and absolutely Cabaret with the choreography, but then not having any memorable songs or choreography that doesn't seem... basic. The songs are treated as incidental stops along the way in what's a very, very talky movie (not that anyone has anything but the same 3 conversations to have over and over),
But the movie cost money! It looks like the budget, minus marketing, was $55 million. Which is remarkable for a movie with essentially four locations, no FX, and no obvious expenses other than a cast of high dollar but questionable box office draws. Cher is the headliner other than Aguilera, and she does... okay with what she has. But it isn't much. She has to play someone who refuses to understand math and reality and maybe walk away rich but seems to refuse to want to do THAT for reasons. Stanley Tucci is having the time of his life as the wardrobe guy and stage mother to our mostly interchangeable and unimportant other dancers. He gets to just be nice and say funny things and hang out with Cher. I'd love that part.
I'll go ahead and say Kristin Bell is miscast in the part lifted badly from Gina Gershon's role in Showgirls. The role is so underwritten and poorly conceived, it's kinda wild to watch her aimlessly wander around the movie being mad at Aguilera and Cher and not, like, leaving. She seems genuinely psychotic. That a knife never appears in her hand is a missed opportunity. But Bell's malice is a shadow compared to Gershon's cattily machiavellian character. She just seems like a spoiled child.
But, honestly, so does Aguilera's character. We're supposed to believe in her because the script says every idea and thought she has is correct, and she shouts at people to listen to her in scenes that go on way, waaaaaay too long. Antin has mistaken people screaming "listen to me" for drama. There is literally nothing sympathetic about Aguilera - or her boyfriend shaped love interest.
The drama for Cher's character centers around the fact the Burlesque she runs is failing, and someone wants to give her millions of dollars for the club. Which. Doesn't actually seem like a problem. Like, go rent a new space with your millions. Instead, she just stomps around yelling at Peter Gallagher who is in this movie for some reason (so is Alan Cumming, which I cannot figure out).
But it's never treated as a genuine problem. It's an existential threat for the boss-lady, not for Aguilera who is seen in a series of increasingly blurry song and dance numbers which are in no way plot motivated. You may vaguely remember her wearing shiny stuff and shimmying a bit in a dizzying array of wigs (including the hair they try to sell as her actual hair. I mean, I am sure she paid for it, so it's hers, but...). The romantic subplot is... nothing. No one cares. There's absolutely nothing to it. It feels like parts of other romantic subplots frankenstein'd together, but you never have a reason to care about either party.
There's also a few other dancers, including the now-famous Julianne Hough (who I like as much as I can like a Roomstore spokesperson) and the one poor Black girl they named CocoaPuff. Like, fuck you, movie. The movie has the gall to suggest we should be involved in Hough's issues with an accidental pregnancy, but refuses to focus on it in favor of the worst flirtation scene in the history of movies, which includes ugly pajamas and a box of cookies.
Anyway - it's all just so half-assed, and yet someone gave Altin tens of millions of dollars. Someone called in favors from Cher, Stanley Tucci, Alan Cumming and more. The script just needed so, so much workshopping. And Altin's failure to understand the structure of a musical versus a jukebox of musical numbers just keeps adding time on to a movie that should have been 85 minutes and out.
I guess I kind of hate this movie. I hate it because it could have been good. It had a budget, it had talent in front of the camera, it has a good DP and sound. I hate it because it thinks its Fosse, and I hate it because sexiness shouldn't be this hard - but I've seen Salem Light print ads that hit those buttons better. I hate that the songs are soggy garbage, and that only Stanley Tucci and Alan Cumming are enjoyable in this movie.
It's not "wow, this is so bad it's entertaining". It's just someone with a lot of money at their disposal watching their grasp overextend their reach as a talent, and taking people with them. Give me a good ROTOR any day before something that's just exhausting by the end.
It's the sort of thing people with "Gather" signs in their kitchens in their 40's would have liked in their 20's as a saucy film experience.