Anyone who knows me or reads my reviews knows I would move heaven and earth to see Cher, no exceptions. I’ve flown to Vegas three times to see the ultimate Diva in concert. That’s either dedication or just plain nuts; maybe a little of both. That being said I am obviously a huge fan. Though her new film “Burlesque,” is touted as another ‘comeback,’ for me that is a confusing concept. How can you have a comeback when you haven’t gone anywhere? She’s been on the Vegas stage at Caesar’s Palace for the past three years packing the house with sold-out shows every night. Maybe a ‘comeback’ in the sense of the silver screen? Okay that I buy. Her last film “Stuck On You,” a Farrelly Brothers project (starring Matt Damon and Greg Kinear in 2003) was less than stellar. Sure it was funny and her performance playing herself was very good. I mean, who else could play CHER accept Cher. It wasn’t exactly a box office blockbuster. Her film projects have had their share of hits and misses. Let’s not forget she is an Oscar Winner (Best Actress for Moonstruck.) She’s always been a good actress either in the dramatic or comedic fields but for me and probably most of her fans a musical was always going to be the perfect vehicle for the Diva that could. And thankfully “Burlesque,’ is just that project we have been waiting for.
The storyline of the film is not a new one: small town girl with an incredible talent (singing) escapes a dead end life in search for something better and her ultimate dream in L.A. Isn’t that where all dreams come true? For Ali (played by Christina Aguilera) one would think so. She happens upon The Burlesque Lounge, a theater that is home to a musical revue that will knock your socks off – and little else. Sorry folks, if you’re looking or hoping for nudity in this flick you’ll be disappointed. This is burlesque not a peep show. Ali lands a job as a cocktail waitress in a roundabout way from proprietor and headliner Tess (Cher). The sheer spectacle of the lounge and over-the-top costumes captures Ali who one day hopes to become a feature performer. Tess is less than skeptical.
Ali becomes friends with a featured dancer (Julianne Hough) and as these stories usually go also finds an enemy in a jealous troubled woman (Kristen Bell). I mean there has to be drama added to any good story. If all these films were happy-go-lucky throughout without the struggle what would be the point? We have to pull for the underdog no matter what. Of course add in the love interest of Jack (Cam Gigandet), the bartender and fellow musician and you’ve got real tension. Stanley Tucci as the stage manager is excellent in this role. I always enjoy his performances. Alan Cummings is the host of the show. Cummings is never boring in any film and this is no exception. I’m not going to play spoiler but I will say he’s quite the androgynous character. Aguilera’s huge voice bounces her from the bar to the stage. Her presence and performance puts the Lounge back on the map and restores it to its former glory days. But wait, that’s not the end of our happy ending. Enter Eric Dane with the inevitable life changing proposal…. Like I said no spoiler here.
“Burlesque’s,” musical numbers are top notch. There are two quintessential solo performances by Cher and Christina. The first comes from Ms. Diva Cher in the song “You Haven’t Seen The Last Of Me.” It is of course the ultimate ‘survivor’ song (and I’m not referring to the TV show). It is pure Cher through and through. Sung on a bare stage with just one spotlight Cher radiates her undeniable presence. Though I am admittedly not a director I would have ended the segment in a different way. Instead of making the entire performance a ‘rehearsal’ of the following night’s show I would have added a bit of dramatic irony. The last few bars of the song, the camera pans around Cher to find the lounge filled with the audience rather than an empty club (ex. Tim Curry in the Rocky Horror Picture Show performing “I’m Going Home”). Okay, so I’m not Spielberg and it may not be the most original idea in the world but I have to say that was what I was anticipating as the spotlight faded out and Cher exited the stage. The entire soundtrack highlights Aguilera’s powerhouse vocal but the show stopping tune for me is “Bound To You.” The only problem I have with this performance is its interweaving of the film with the actual singing performance. It takes a bit away from the intensity of the lyrics and the poinyentcy of the moment when adding in dialogue between characters. That being said it truly is a showstopper thanks to Christina’s voice and a wonderfully touching lyric.
Steve Antin’s direction is right on target. He doesn’t steer this film in an off the road trip. There is a ‘Chicago,’ ‘Moulin Rouge,’ feeling to the film but that’s to be expected. It is a musical after all. The performers are cast exceptionally well and are given the space to showcase their talents. The set design is lush with texture, beauty and just a touch of grit. The choreography is, as a friend of mine would say, “Off the chain.” Yes, that’s a good thing. The show girl’s performances are all a wonder to watch. They really have it down to an art and make it all look like a walk in the park. For Christina’s film debut I don’t believe she could have found a better vehicle; and with Cher at her side she couldn’t have scored any higher. Aguilera’s voice is a true wonder. She got pipes people. Cher only has a couple of numbers but in true Cher fashion when she’s on she owns the screen and is fun to watch. Her acting is believable and not forced. She’s not over the top or a caricature of herself or Tess. The dialogue isn’t brain surgery but isn’t nonsensical either. In short, “Burlesque,” is a great musical and whole lot of fun. It is rated PG-13; basically for suggestive dance numbers and a few colorful metaphors thrown in now and again. So if you’re looking for something a little different to see in the theaters this time around that isn’t overly melodramatic or things aren’t getting blown up “Burlesque,” is the film for you. I will definitely be visiting the Burlesque Lounge again.