It would be very easy to tear into Burlesque — and many have. It’s hard to shake the feeling though that those people have missed the point. There seems to be no doubt — in its script and its performances — that everyone involved knows that it’s less a story in its own right, more a collection of clichés masquerading as a plot. As such, they embrace the campness and silliness with such enthusiasm it seems pointless to point out that it’s, well, camp and silly. It is an utterly shameless two hours of daft entertainment. Yes, the waxing budget alone could keep the British film industry afloat for a year but what would you rather see: beautiful women dancing and Aguilera singing her little socks off or another 12 films with Danny Dyer?
The “plot” is, basically, small town girl moves to LA to make it big. After a series of knockbacks, she finds success — and love — in the most unlikely of settings: seriously, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a Jerry Bruckheimer film, until it doesn’t finish with a freeze frame.
The girl is Ali (Aguilera). One night, with jobs hard to come by, this Iowa waitress stumbles upon The Burlesque Lounge and its scantily clad, lip synching song and dance revue. Unable to convince owner Tess (Cher) that she deserves a shot, Ali cajoles the barman Jack (Gigandet) to give her a job and then works her way up to “the big time”.
What else do you want in there? A gay stage manager handing out pearls of wisdom? That’s what Stanley Tucci’s there for. A plot line about how the club’s failing and what they need is a miracle to return it to former glory? Yep, present and correct. A bitter rival? But of course, let’s get Kristen Bell to bitch with aplomb. A will they / won’t they romance? Check. A wealthy admirer who holds the key to the club’s survival? You bet. There’s barely a thing here you’ve not seen before, from shoehorned-in dramatic speeches (and power ballads for the female leads) to deliciously earnest dialogue, via every emotional shortcut in the book. Rip into it if you must but that’s taking it too seriously — and when a film describes its own female lead as a “slut with mutant lungs” it seems that everyone involved is way ahead of you on the self-deprecation stakes... with the possible exception of Cher. She certainly joins in with the tongue-in-cheek delivery and sparks nicely with Tucci (exemplary, as always) but dear God, what has she done to her face? The first time she appeared I thought “Blimey, who knew Mickey Rourke could sing?” The scenes where she has to emote must have taken days to shoot or involved a team of people with bits of string pulling her face into the appropriate expression (although I couldn’t see a mention of “Cher Face Wrangler” in the credits). As for the line in her ballad about showing what she’s made of, I have no idea what that might be, but suspect 80% of it is flammable.
The film though belongs to Aguilera and, as well as showcasing her octave range — the girls’ got some serious pipes — it demonstrates that, annoyingly, she’s a pretty decent actress too. If there is a downside, it’s that the newer songs on the soundtrack show off the wailing aspects of her voice more than any decent lyrical content but never mind, this is a three star movie that has no ambitions to be anything more than the best three star movie of the year — and the biggest gay / cult DVD of 2011. Showgirls, move over. Your time is up...