Burlesque (2010) Review
Starring: Christina Aguilera, Cher, Eric Dane, Cam Gigandet, Kristin Bell, Julianne Hough, Stanley Tucci
Guilty pleasure: something one enjoys and considers pleasurable despite feeling guilt for enjoying it. That, my friends, is the exact feeling I have when I think about this movie. Why, WHY do I like it so much?! It uses the same old plot clichés we have seen done a million times before! It has character archetypes like “the small town girl with big town dreams” and “the sass but wise mentor” and “the bitchy rival!” It stars Christina Aguilera and Cher for god’s sake! I should not like this! I know a lot of people didn’t like it: 36% from critics and a barely fresh average of 63% from users on Rotten Tomatoes, it didn’t even make its budget back, and it was so bad that people believe that one of its stars bribed the Hollywood Foreign Press for a couple Golden Globe nominations. It’s not even good in a campy way or in the way people find films like Moulin Rouge enjoyable (note to self, watch Moulin Rouge.) So…why do I like it? The again, people like The Green Hornet and Mirror, Mirror and I hate those films with a fiery passion so I’m not THAT weird…right? RIGHT?!
First off, the plot. The film is about Ali, a small town girl living in a lonely world, who takes a midnight train going anywhere. Sorry couldn’t resist, but it’s true! It’s like the writer listened to “Don’t Stop Believing” and thought “hey let’s make THAT the basis of the story! Except change the train to a bus and anywhere to LA since no one takes trains anymore and who doesn’t want to follow their dreams in LA?” Anyways, she heads to LA where she ends up working at a Burlesque house creatively named “The Burlesque Lounge.” There she meets an assortment of colorful characters, mainly Tess, the stern but loveable boss lady and Jack, the bartender who ends up becoming a love interest. She soon climbs her way to the top of the dancer pool with her amazing voice and both she and Tess must save the club from being shut down.
Yep it’s THAT story again. Actually scratch that, this film doesn’t have a set storyline, just a mish-mash of side plots that go no-where that form into somewhat of a vanity project for Aguilera. It isn’t a “make it to the big time” story because while she does become the star of the show, Ali does not become a star elsewhere like she planned on doing. It’s not a “save the bar” story because the conclusion to that arc is so simple that they could have just done that and their problems would have solved. It’s not a story about love because the love triangle, if that’s what you would like to call it, is shoehorned into the plot to add more conflict. It’s not a rivalry story because the rival is barely in it and the only mean things they do to each other are talk behind their back and stop the music while they are performing. Oh and say that the other’s a man. Can’t forget that! And finally, it is barely a musical because the songs are spaced out as such: 2 songs sung at the start, a bunch of lip-synced songs, Christina Aguilera doing her thing for 4 songs straight with a little bit of filler, a Cher song and another Christina song before the story kicks back in, and then a song at the very end (along with one at the end, all of which I will get to later.) To me, a musical consists of more than 2 characters singing the song so I feel that while it has songs, it’s more of a lengthy Christina Aguilera music video. So if it’s not any of those, then what is it? Well, it’s Burlesque! That’s all I really can say. It’s not a very structured film but the weirdness of it all fascinates me. It doesn’t do everything right, with some elements like the rivalry between Christina and Kristin Bell’s character hanging from the waist side, and the script is weak and gives nothing to some great actor’s, but it is an odd little journey into the world of burlesque dancers. Despite my fascination with it though, the story and script is the weakest part of the film.
Now as for the cast….well the film has a very impressive cast. Sadly the weakest link is its star. Christina Aguilera is a great singer, better than I will ever be, but when it comes to her as actress…..eh she’s ok. She’s not a putrid as fellow singers turned actresses Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears, and Taylor Swift, but for every good moment she has, there is another 3 moments that range from “that was terrible delivery” to “please never act again!” While I am not a fan of her off screen persona, being one of the many not liking the fact that she and her giant fans will be returning to The Voice, her voice is something to envy while her acting is ok, but not terrible. Cher, one of the most successful singer/actresses ever, is pretty good as Tess. She brings a lot more to the table than Aguilera, having won an Oscar and all, and she still has got the acting talent she had in the 80’s. Her singing voice and lip-synching aren’t great though. Her big solo in the middle of the film is terribly dubbed and the ending of her first song looked extremely lip-synched. The rest of the cast is impressive. Julianne Hough, as much as I hate her being pushed so far into the pop culture world (thanks for that Seacrest), actually does well in her small role. Cam Gigandet, aka James from the first Twilight, is cute and while he isn’t the best actor, he has some good moments. Eric Dane….got on my nerves but I don’t expect much from Dr. McSteamy. Alan Cumming is barely in the film and I don’t know why he is part of the top billed cast, but his little routine in the middle was funny. The best part though is Stanley Tucci. Come on its Stanley freaking Tucci! While his character is similar to the one he played in The Devil Wears Prada, he is hilarious and brings a lot of warmth to the film that if it wasn’t there, then it would be unwatchable. As for Kristen Bell, she has her moments but some of her scenes, especially her big confrontation with Cher, are just terrible. Kristen, I like you, you are making me believe in love again, but please never try to play a bitch again.
The music is the only other bit I should talk about because it is marketed as a damn musical. I like a lot of the songs, but I will begin with the ones I disliked: The Beautiful People, Guy That Takes His Time, and Something’s Got a Hold on Me. Something’s Got a Hold on Me is the very first song of the movie, a cover of the Etta James song of the same name. It felt very unnecessary to me. What did this song add to the film? Sure it introduces Aguilera’s pipes to the world but really it could have just been cut so that when Aguilera sings for the first time during Tough Lover, we to would be in awe, just like the rest of the characters. On the plus side, though, it made the sample from Good Feeling even less original. Guy That Takes His Time is a nice jazzy number in the part of the movie I like to call, “Christina Aguilera’s decides to be different performers for 20 minutes straight.” Here, she pretends to be Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, Etta James (again), and my personal favorite, Austin Powers! Yes, at the end of this song, she is completely nude but they cover her breasts and pubic region with a drum stand holding two drums and a cowbell. If you haven’t seen the second Austin Powers movie, you will have no idea why this is a reference to anything. The song is nice, that’s for sure, but is ruined by the cartoon sound effects used during the performance. It wasn’t needed and if they were gone, I would have really liked it better. And finally, my thoughts on The Beautiful People…..ugh, why?! It feels like the producers needed a song for the end credits and someone came up with the BRILLIANT idea of sampling a Marilyn Manson song. Yeah, burlesque dancers and Marilyn Manson fit PERFECTLY together……...oh right, that happened. In all seriousness though, this song does not fit into the film. A sample of a song about making it to the top or being a star would have worked better than a song that references the Will to Power. Making it a upbeat BPM version is just unnecessary. I really could have been fine without it existing. As for the rest, they range from ok to great. I found Cher’s first song, Welcome To Burlesque, fine. It was catchy but there could have been a lot more to it. Express (the Madonna portion of that 20 minute time) is also a catchy number but lacks the grandiose level of memorability that I felt But I’m A Good Girl and Show Me How You Burlesque had. It felt like a standard pop song that you would hear on the radio in between a rap and bubblegum pop song. Bound To You is a nice ballad with a good set up (even if it completely steals from Cabaret) but compared to the power that is You Haven’t Seen The Last of Me, it lacks. Finally, the most mediocre is Tough Lover, another Etta James cover, that never quite got my attention and ran with it. When you start off a song with Aguilera belting her lungs out before going into a jazzy song, it just doesn’t fit. Now for the good ones: But I’m A Good Girl, You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me, and Show Me How You Burlesque. But I’m A Good Girl, the Marilyn Monroe of the group, is a sultry number full of bounce and lightness, Aguilera’s falsetto working perfectly as she proudly states, “I am a good girl.” Show Me how You Burlesque is the showstopper and it is the song that I have listened to over and over again. It’s jazzy, it shows off Aguilera’s pipes, and the theatrics of the number are ginormous, complete with a giant sign reading “Burlesque.” But it’s You Haven’t Seen The Last of Me is the one that brings the house down. The ain in Cher’s voice is evident and as she belted the final chorus, I couldn’t help but think, “oh my god” It is the best song from the soundtrack and the film.
So, let’s see why I enjoy this movie so much. The characters are archetypes, but Cher, Hough, and Tucci are pretty good, especially the latter. Some of the songs are horrid, but the songs I love, I love with a passion. The performances are fun and I was invested with the romance until Jack turned out to be a lying jerk. And well, it’s a fun film. So why do I like it so much to give it a four? Well, all I have to say is that it is my guilty pleasure. No one knows why they like guilty pleasures, unless it’s The Room because the reason you like The Room is because it is so hilariously terrible. That’s just the thing with guilty pleasures: you feel guilty for liking them. People don’t consider movies like Leprechaun, Grease 2, Con Air, or in some cases Moulin Rouge good because they ARE good; their good in the way that makes you wonder what has lead you to this. In the words of the Nostalgia Critic’s Moulin Rouge review: guilty pleasures: everybody has a few. Sure this movie isn’t perfect, far from it. But it has a charm that just makes me like it. Does that make me a bad person? You be the judge….