Cher, Christina Aguilera, Alan Cumming, Cam Gigandet, Kristen Bell, Julianne Hough, Eric Dane, Stanley Tucci, Peter Gallagher
Steve Antin, Keith Merryman, Susannah Grant
Director's Commentary;Alternate Opening;;The Burlesque Lounge: Alternate Full Musical Performances!;Blooper Reel
Taken in its proper context, Burlesque is a surprisingly satisfying and refreshingly carefree musical directed by Steve Antin (Inside Monkey Zetterland) starring pop star Christina Aguilera as Ali, a young woman who escapes from her humdrum Iowa life and heads off to a bigger and hopefully better life in Los Angeles where she ends up working at the Burlesque Lounge, a throwback to the old style burlesque shows headed by Tess (Cher), a larger than life character and local legend.
Aiming for a Cabaret type feeling, but more settling in between Cabaret and a less revealing Showgirls, Burlesque works precisely because co-writer and director Steve Antin has the balls to let the film be a simple, straightforward yet slightly campy musical without all the drama, politics and sub-text of recent Hollywood musicals. While Burlesque will never be mistaken as brilliant cinema and, likewise, Aguilera has a long way to go before she can be considered a serious actress, the film finds a comfort zone as an unabashed, unapologetic musical and it is when the film is settled into these musical scenes that it truly comes to life courtesy of a delightful chemistry between Aguilera and Cher and a consistency in tone between the majority of the ensemble cast.
There isn't anything particularly brilliant about Burlesque, but there really doesn't need to be. Antin seems to be trying to paint a vibrant nod to musicals and Hollywood's past, and this he accomplishes with flamboyant yet infinitely toe tapping consistency.
What little conflict exists in the film comes in the form of a bit of a rivalry between Ali and a jealous dancer (Kristen Bell) who resents Ali's growing popularity in the club and the chance she gets to be on stage when another dancer (Julianne Hough) ends up pregnant. There is, of course, the obligatory romantic spark (w/Cam Gigandet) and the even more obligatory threat to the club's closing due to declining audiences and Tess's more money-focused ex-husband (Peter Gallagher) and a greedy real estate developer (Eric Dane).
While Christina Aguilera can't quite be fancied as an actress yet, she isn't really required to be much of one here and she's certainly got the pipes and the body to pull off a burlesque style show. She's constantly interesting here and occasionally quite involving, especially when she's sharing the screen with the always captivating Cher. Cher, who supposedly retired a few years back, struts her stuff like the Cher of old here and absolutely owns the screen when she's on it.
Stanley Tucci, as Tess's gay best friend, is a hoot as usual, while Kristen Bell, Julianne Hough and the rest of the supporting players all get into the spirit of things to help make this film a heck of a lot more fun than you might think it would be.
The film's original tunes run the gamut from 50's style show tunes like "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" to "Wagon Wheel Watusi" and its 60's edge and Cher's marvelous opener "Welcome to Burlesque" and her only other tune and the film's only ballad, the Diane Warren penned "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me." The choreography by Denise Faye and Joe Pizzi is simple yet well staged and effective, while Bojan Bazelli's camera work is smooth and inspired.
Appropriately, the film is rated PG-13, a tribute to Antin's dedication to keeping the film with more of a burlesque feeling rather than a more hardcore R-rating that would have made the film edgier yet less faithful to the entire concept.
Burlesque may not be the most brilliant film you'll see this holiday season and it's sure unlikely to be up for any awards except for, perhaps, its music, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a more vibrant, energetic and musically inclined film this year. A little bit naughty, Burlesque is very, very nice.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic