In the grand scheme of female movies there’s nothing new about Burlesque. The film debut of singer Christina Aguilera the film borrows heavily from popular female dance films such as Coyote Ugly, Cabaret and a dash of Showgirls (only far, far superior in quality and with a distinct absence of nudity). Burlesque is a great movie for a girls on a Saturday night or any fans of the dance genre or musical category just don’t expect high art from the story or its leading lady.
Ali (Aguilera) is a small-town waitress from Iowa who dreams of stardom. On a whim she heads to Los Angeles and secures a job as a waitress at a downtrodden burlesque lounge that’s due to be seized by the bank. Led by the tough-as-nails Tess (Cher), Ali is seen as merely a wannabe with no talent until she’s hired as a replacement for another dancer. During her first big night on stage its revealed Ali has a set of pipes that gains everyone’s attention and as Ali rises to become the star of the club she’ll meet those trying to take advantage of her and try to find a way to save the failing club.
As mentioned above any fans of films like Coyote Ugly or Step Up will adore Burlesque. The movie’s focal point is the musical numbers led by Aguilera as well as Kristen Bell and Dancing with the Stars’ Julianne Hough. The sets are gorgeous, the costumes elaborate and each song is filled to the brim with jazz and sexuality. When Aguilera sings she dominates and while the story is a typical “small town girl makes good” you can’t help but find yourself tapping your toes to the music. The story is also relatively engaging as it not only follows Ali’s rise to stardom but follows Tess, a once great burlesque star who finds her club in peril from developers. It never goes too far into it but the film does try to focus on how the small thins about Los Angeles, the dive bars that offer something more, are at risk of being destroyed for more condos. The love story is solid and the rivalry between Ali and Nikki (Bell) is focused on just enough to make you wish it was more prominent in the film. The songs are all fantastic and worth checking out the soundtrack mainly the two songs featured in the commercials, “Express” and “Show Me How You Burlesque.”
The majority of the cast is fantastic and elevates the movie above its formulaic means. Cher and Stanley Tucci are the best as Tess and her lovably gay sidekick Sean. Their chemistry is hilarious as they’re each other’s best friends and they both love the club with their heart and soul. Cher has two fantastic songs, one a rather stirring ballad that shows she hasn’t lost her edge. Bell is also wonderful as the drunken star that’s kicked off her pedestal in favor of Ali. She doesn’t comprise a large part of the movie and has a rather weak wrap-up to her story but she’s enjoyable and seems to be relishing playing a bad girl. Alan Cumming is hilarious in a small role as the ticket-taker and Cam Gigandet continues to prep himself for stardom as the charming love interest that every girl will be gushing over.
As wonderful as the song and dance numbers are when the movie shifts completely into Ali’s rise to stardom and her relationship with evil developer Marcus (Eric Dane) the movie suffers, mainly because of the two weak actors. Aguilera is sweet and can sing but she isn’t quite there in terms of acting quality. She tries too hard to convey surprise by opening her doe eyes wide or being angry by raising her voice. At times she seems to be playing Ali as a caricature of a small-town girl, never giving herself over to the role or making you feel she’s acting like herself. Dane is also the typical mustache twirling villain and here their relationship is seen so briefly you can’t even understand why Ali likes him aside from his wealth which she maintains isn’t the reason she’s with him. The loss of the songs in favor of the story makes the last third fall flat and by the end the club is saved with a cheap “hand of God” moment that feels rushed. Also Cher’s ballad “Last of Me” is so hopelessly shoehorned into the movie it never feels like anything more than a reason to show Cher can still sing. It’s a good song but not at all in the right tone of the movie.
There’s a few missteps in story, it’s incredibly formulaic, and Aguilera isn’t at all up to snuff but there’s just something about Burlesque that’s enjoyable. The majority of the cast is delightful and it seems a lot of time was spent with the songs, dance routines, sets and costumes. It’s a delightful film that will gain the fans that enjoy the genre but if you aren’t into girly song and dance films it’s best to skip it.