Ever since “Hairspray” in 2007, musical lovers have been waiting in anticipation for another film to project singing, dancing, costumes and overall energy of live performance theater onto the silver screen. Steve Antin’s newest film “Burlesque,” an upbeat film starring Cher and Christina Aguilera, has renewed this collision of two entertainment venues.
For both of these divas, the film was a major opportunity. Cher achieved a major role for the first time since 2003, and though Aguilera has performed on many soundtracks in the past, including “Mulan” and “Moulin Rouge!” this was her break into Hollywood acting.
Set in a popular but run-down club in Los Angeles, Ali (Aguilera) struggles to find a job where she can expose her thundering pipes. Upon discovering the “Burlesque Lounge,” she meets Tess (Cher), the club owner, who questions her ability to perform.
To prove her enthusiasm for the club, she begins to work at the lounge as a waitress. Along the way she meets welcoming bartender Jack (Cam Gigandet, “Easy A”), comical host Alexis (Alan Cumming, “Son of the Mask”), and astute and engaging stage manager, Sean (Stanley Tucci, “The Lovely Bones”) who all assist Ali in her quest to earn a spot on stage.
A turn of events gives Ali the chance to reveal her special talents and attracts music agents from around the area, seeking to work with her. New in the spotlight, Ali struggles to find what will please her most: The spotlight at the “Burlesque Lounge,” or a bigger chance at the national stage.
The film attempts to bring back the theatrical style of Bob Fosse’s, “Cabaret,” but Aguilera is no Liza Minnelli. Although her singing is very moving and leaves audiences wanting more, her acting is weak, often with little emotion in her facial expressions.
Yet, she manages to reveal a sassy and determined character that will take any measures necessary to achieve her dream, or rather the American Dream–the possibility of achieving anything with hard work and determination. It seems as though this dream has been a common theme this film season in response to American struggles in a weak economy.
Cher takes on a motherly role not only for her dancers, but for all members of the “Burlesque” family. The chemistry between she and Tucci is surprisingly believable. Similar to the relationship formed between Meryl Streep and Tucci in “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Julie and Julia,” Tess and Sean’s strong friendship shadows a previous intimate relationship.
The screenplay of “Burlesque” is a bit weak and often predictable. Relationships are foreshadowed early on, such as Ali’s campy introduction to Jack. It also seems as though a “happily-ever-after” ending is inevitable.
However, as a musical, the film introduces an engaging soundtrack, with ten sophisticated full-length tracks. It contains two performances by Cher, but the bulk is solely performed by Aguilera, who is sure to mesmerize audiences with her talent.
Included on the soundtrack are two love ballads: Aguilera’s “Bound to You” and Cher’s performance of “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me.” However, the soundtrack is mainly compiled of foot-tapping songs such as Aguilera’s performances of “Express” and “Show Me How You Burlesque,” two songs she helped to compose.
No small part of this film was the abundance of dancers who bring out the jazzy style of Fosse with eye-catching, theatrical steps. If any part of this film is worthy of critical acclaim, it is the vibrancy of the dancers’ costumes, with sequins and bright colors, enhanced by the alluring lounge lighting.
The atmosphere of the Burlesque Lounge was everything you would expect from a song and dance night club of the yesteryear. Tables were scattered through the shadows of the lounge, in contrast to a well-lit bar with alluring and seductive men encasing the room.
Is this film going to win an Oscar? No, but still enjoyable. Expectations were not high for Aguilera in her first major role in a wide-release film. However, for something to enjoy that will provide laughs and a spectacle of performances, it is well worth the ticket price.
With the Academy Awards approaching in February, numerous studios will be launching some of the most thought-provoking films in these next few months in hopes of winning a certain gold statuette. “Burlesque” provides a break from anything so heady and reminds us why we go to the movies: To be entertained.
2.5 out of 5 stars