If I should describe Burlesque in three words it would be “Showgirls for teens”. The story line is basically copied but instead of tits we get songs, songs sung by either Christina Aguilera or Cher who both have lead roles. It’s funny that the whole set up of a young small town country girl who goes to the big city to make it in showbiz but ends up in a night club was taken from what is regarded of being one of the worst movies ever. Though I am very fond of that movie which is simply a dreaded piece of camp, I can understand why it is so revolted. And let’s face it; the breasts of Elizabeth Berkely were simply a miracle of nature.
But sadly no nude Aguilera a she does not perform in a strip club, which is made perfectly clear by overtly gay doorman Alan Cumming who, together with co-star Stanley Tucci, seems to be the go-to straight guys to perform homosexual roles. Is this this generation’s blackface? If so it’s probably only a matter of time for a gay coalition to protest this and make sure the gay parts go to the gay people.
No this is a Burlesque club, where sexy ladies in classy underwear lip-sync to classic songs like “Diamonds are a girls best friend”. As in all movies there is a pecking order and in true Showgirls fashion the newcomer pisses of the alpha female, resulting in some rivalry but actually no real bitch fights and actions. One calling the other a drag queen, it does’t get spicier than that.
Which brings me to the core of the problem this movie has. Aguilera might be clear the protagonist, but there is no real antagonist and as a classic movie rule goes: a hero is only as good as its villain and with a villain lacking Aguilera becomes just a bland character who doesn’t have to overcome anything actually. The lack of a villain could be overseen if there were other problems she had to face but very little happens to her. The movie shies away from every opportunity it gets to have Aguilera face a challenger a real problem. The alpha female Nikky for instance accepts to a certain degree that she has been replaced, no revenge plots or anything other than just some words with Cher. There is another villainous character in the movie; real estate developer Marcus who woes Aguilera’s character Ali with his smooth talk. He wants to buy the club and reveals he wants to build an office building there. But this is not an evil plot and he actually doesn’t do anything illegal or forces Cher’s Tess, owner of Burlesque, to sell. He actually doubles his price halfway through, go figure. Everybody warns Ali not to let herself get involved with him, but she does anyway and actually the only reason she regrets it is because she finds out he wants to build office buildings where the club is.
Then there’s the love interest who is unavailable because he’s already engaged to a woman who is living 3000 miles away and working on her career. His biggest evil act is that he tells Ali he broke off the marriage while he actually did not. Shocker!
Other than the club being in financial troubles there is real development in terms of character or story here. In Showgirls at least Nomi saw the downside of the fame and the glory in Vegas, in Burlesque it all is smooth sailing for Ali as she enters Burlesque, gets a job and when they discover her talent for singing she gets put center stage and that’s it, and then we’re only 45 minutes underway in a movie that is almost 2 hours long. It should come to no surprise to you that a lot of it consists of musical numbers.
It’s also quite surprising how the character of Ali is almost a saint. She wants to become a successful singer and dancer but doesn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. Her male roommate, whom she finds very attractive, is engaged so she doesn’t do anything with her urges and instead lets herself get involved with Marcus, but it’s never implied that they even have sex despite him buying her expensive shoes. Marcus doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to just hold hands with a girl.
Burlesque is a movie that will mostly appeal to teen girls and will give them a ideological world where the worst thing that can happen is a bank no willing to lend your nightclub that doesn’t turn a profit a loan. In the midst of a financial crisis banks are now the actual villains.