Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere.
Helen Gurley Brown
[originally published December 17, 2010.]
Director: Steve Antin
Writer: Steve Antin
Stars: Cher, Christina Aguilera and Alan Cumming
Okay. Weak story but fabulous representation of women. This film is not about story or acting so I’m not going to discuss it. It is about singing and dancing and fabulous costumes.
The burlesque tradition has made a huge comeback. “Burlesque is a humorous theatrical entertainment involving parody and sometimes grotesque exaggeration.”
As an example of resurgence, there is a contemporary Canadian act called The Cheesecake Burlesque Revue. Promotional material says, “The Cheesecake Burlesque Revue keeps audiences coming back for more! More laughs, more tease and more body confidence. With influences from cult classics to Broadway favourites they create imaginative show-stoppers! The performers are as individual as the stars on the walk of fame – cute and geeky, rock ‘n’ roll, classic and elegant – audiences can’t help but have a favourite or two or three! They’re known for high energy acts, lavish costumes, stand out performers, comedic timing, seductiveness and girl-next door accessibility.”
Burlesque suggests sexuality but it is not stripping. It is very sexy, campy and over-the-top. Look, females can be sexy and powerful. I detested the film Nine (2009) essentially because the women’s power revolved around getting the director.
Plot: Small-town girl ventures to Los Angeles and finds her place in a neo-burlesque club run by a former dancer.
This film is a show-case for 5-time Grammy winning pop diva Christina Aguilera. Like her or not she can sing and dance. Her hottness factor makes her ideal for this role. Cher is good but sidelined. The Kristen Bell subplot is a throw-away.
In an interview Christina Aguilera said, “There have been a lot of roles and scripts that have come my way but nothing that really inspired me or intrigued me like when “Burlesque” showed up at my door. Just the whole concept of burlesque, I’ve always been fascinated with it. I’ve always collected so many books about burlesque. I’ve been intrigued by the time that it’s set in, in the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and so I knew it was a no brainer for me to be a part of once I met with the team.
I want to be very clear; this film is set in the present. While burlesque has a history, the film is like homage to the style.
Alan Cumming is usually known for his roles in, Spice World, Spy Kids and X2: X-Men United. He had great roles in smaller films like Investigating Sex, Suffering Man’s and Urbania. He played the Emcee in the Broadway revival of Cabaret (1988), for which he won a Tony and NY Drama Critics award. His association with Cabaret cannot be underestimated in this film: “they seem to have brought him in essentially to reprise his Emcee role from Cabaret, which won him a Tony in 1998. Variety describes the role as “the club’s gender-bending host and master of ceremonies…”
I believe that this film appeals to a gay and straight audience. Alan Cumming’s appearance enables a gay reading. I just want to say that I do not believe that all gay men like musicals; he is a sign, a representation. Cher is a standard gay icon. Christina Aguilera’s song ‘Beautiful’ (um, in her album called Stripped, 2002) is a gay anthem – you get the point.
“While Cher said she was fully aware that “Burlesque” is, in many ways, tailor made for a gay audience, she drew the line at the claim that this is solely for gay audiences. “I don’t think of it as a gay film but, of course, the gay guys love musicals and it’s fun. It’s just really fun and so I think that’s what appeals.” However, Cher did express much gratitude for her gay following and offered up the observation that “gay men either love you or they don’t even notice that you’re on the planet. If they do love you, they stick with you through thick and through thin and even when you’re not popular. I think they recognize kindred spirits that don’t really fit into society either. And, of course,” she added with a laugh, “there are sequins.”
Cher plays a woman who owns and runs the club. She performs as the star. Her business is spectacle. What a seamless role for her. “For the big screen musical “Burlesque”, Academy Award-winning megastar Cher ended a seven-year hiatus to take on the role of Tess, the glamorous proprietor of the dazzling Burlesque Lounge. When Ali (Christina Aguilera), a small-town girl pursuing her dreams to be a star, stumbles across the inspired musical revue, she becomes determined to prove she’s meant to be on that stage. As Ali comes into her own as a performer, Tess sees an opportunity to make use of her spectacular voice and showmanship in a way that will benefit not only both women, but the club itself.” – Collider
Most critics do not like this film but honestly, I think the focus is misguided. If the emphasis was on story or plot I’d have to pan it. The way in which the film represents women and music is good though, and that is often overlooked. Even though I find most award shows contentious, “Burlesque” scored a handful of nominations from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (Golden Globes), including a nod for Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical. Should you see this film? Well that depends. If you are interested in camp, gender, hot women and representation – yes. If you want story or plot – no. Simple.
Romy Shiller is a pop culture critic and holds a PhD in Drama from the University of Toronto. Her academic areas of concentration include film, gender performance, camp and critical thought. She lives in Montreal where she continues her writing. All books are available online.