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>> Friday, December 3, 2010

Chicago? No. Moulin Rouge? No. Good movie? Well....

If you don't already know, I'm a fan of musicals. I watch Glee every week and two movies that play in my DVD player on a regular basis are Moulin Rouge (2001) and Hairspray (2007). I think what I've always enjoyed most about them is that it's clear from the first number how much work has been put into them, to get them to flow correctly so the songs don't seem out of place or forced. A song's introduction should be just as organic as the film's dialogue and so should its exit. As I mentioned in my review for the poorly done Score: A Hockey Musical, when it comes to songs in a musical, it's my belief they should exist only when the message or emotion cannot be easily or efficiently conveyed in another fashion, such as through dialogue or visuals. This is the first and most obvious key to a successful tune-filled film and while the act may be made more difficult when characters in real life need to belt out a number, it's still a feat to successfully blend songs into a film - even one such as Burlesque.

In her first leading role (perhaps movie role, at all), Christina Aguilera plays Ali, a small town girl with big town dreams. As she states to a colleague when asked why she left her hometown, Ali responds by saying that when she looked around, nobody had a life she wanted. Fair enough. So what do all young girls do who are down on their luck? They pack up their shit and they move to LA. Not the best of lessons to impose on the younger generation, but nonetheless, suspension of disbelief, right? Turns out Ali was lucky enough to snag an apartment immediately, and on her first day out on the town she floats into a seedy little whorehouse called Burlesque. Well, whorehouse may be a little extreme (especially with a PG rating), think more along the lines of a slightly riské set for American Idol.

Finally, Ali sees a life she wants. Glitz, glam and Cher as a teacher. Knowing only how to waitress (and sing and dance and show up the local snobby girl), Ali grabs a tray and gets to work until she can get the chance to audition. At this point you're aware that no matter how little she gets paid, she just wants to be closer to her dream. Now I know that we're supposed to believe that she came to LA to find just something different, hell - anything, but even I was surprised that this was the first job Ali said "I want that" to. I mean, look around, see what's out there. Unless of course Ali was thinking what I was the entire time - "The girl in Coyote Ugly did it, so why can't I?"

Low and behold persistence pays off, and Ali snags a stage job, much to the chagrin of fellow problematic dancer Nikki (Kristen Bell), who decides to screw Ali by pulling the plug on the pre-recorded vocals right in the middle of a performance. Thankfully for Ali, despite Nikki's Milli Vanilli outing attempt, Ali finally gets the chance to let her vocals shine - and goes for it! Good for her, she needed it. The rest falls into place, no doubt, and soon she's the talk of the town - all in the nick in time to save the club from closing down and going bankrupt. Ali does of course get help from her trusty sidekick Sean, played very well by Stanley Tucci - even if he does play the exact same character he played in The Devil Wears Prada (2006). Whatever, he has a thing for young girls in need - that's decent of him. Oh wait, didn't he play the pervert in The Lovely Bones (2010)? Never mind.

Interestingly enough, I started out this review thinking Burlesque deserved an open door. Then as I actually started writing my review I realized there wasn't a lot of originality here. I mean, don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it. I liked the musical numbers and despite its unoriginal premise I still fell for the "Oh my God, what's she gonna do now?" moments as much as one can. I actually had a decent time watching it, but in the end I had to let my musical-loving bias go and see Burlesque for what it was - an impressive array of music videos strung together by a stingy storyline. I'm giving it a closed door. It doesn't do anything wrong per say, but it's far from special. For the record, Christina Aguilera does a fine job acting here, and movie lighting is definitely her friend. Just a thought.

*Stills courtesy of De Line Pictures


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