Burlesque takes place during present day, which was a shock to me, as the trailer made it seem like it was the roaring '20s. The movie employs a story that's all too familiar - Ali (Christina Aguilera) moves from middle America to Los Angeles in order to make it big and escape the confines of her small town.
While searching for a job as a singer or dancer, she stumbles upon The Burlesque Lounge, where she instantly falls in love with the idea of performing on their stage. Despite being turned down for an on-stage job, she grabs a tray and waitresses her way into a job slinging drinks. Ali lives on Bartender Jack's (Cam Gigandet) couch and through studying the girls' dance moves is able to convince the lounge owner, Tess (Cher), to give her a dancing job.
Burlesque is filled with unending amounts of glitter and lingerie, and estrogen flows through the lounge like pints of Pabst in a college town. With two of the most successful female vocalists to ever grace the airwaves, the music is undeniably good. What I found backward was that Georgia (Julianne Hough) doesn't play a larger dancing role; Ali immediately replaces her after Georgia gets knocked up. Hough is well known because of her history as a professional dancer, most recently on ABC's Dancing With the Stars. Wouldn't you want to utilize her strengths in a film about dancing?
Hough wasn't the only actor in the star-studded cast whose talents weren't used to their fullest. Kristen Bell plays Nikki, an alcoholic burlesque dancer who wants nothing to do with Ali. Bell shines as one of Hollywood's most well-rounded actresses when she makes the right film choices, but in Burlesque her glow was muffled by poor writing and a weak plot. But I guess in guilty-pleasure musicals such as this one, plot and acting talent fall second to singing and dancing abilities. The gifted Stanley Tucci plays Sean, Tess' right-hand man at the club, who, up until a dude walked out of his bedroom, I assumed was her husband. It's a shame his talents were sidelined as well.
Beyond Ali landing a job dancing at The Burlesque Lounge, the film centers on Tess trying to save her beloved club from foreclosure. When Tess realizes Ali can sing, she boosts the cover in order to try to make up some of the cash she owes the bank. Tess is too proud to ask for help and keeps the club's woes a secret from everyone except Sean and her ex-husband. Though Burlesque seems like every other musical you've ever seen, it doesn't take the road most traveled in order to save the club. I would have thought they would have banded together and used Ali's newfound publicity to throw a fundraiser, but instead they take a much more boring, though somewhat clever, approach.
Burlesque is all about performance and musicality. Cher's performance of "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me" stands out as well as Aguilera's "Guy Who Takes His Time," which was by far the truest burlesque performance of the entire film. Georgia and Nikki dance to "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend," which seemed silly to include, given that the rendition of the song performed in Moulin Rouge was much more memorable.
Overall, the film boasts worthwhile musical performances, but falls flat on story. If Burlesque had focused its attention more on Ali's rise to stardom or on saving The Burlesque Lounge, perhaps it would have been more successful. The storylines were spread too thin, but the performances were dynamic and entertaining, which is why you see musicals in the first place.
Starring Christina Aguilera, Cher, Stanley Tucci, Kristen Bell.
Written and Directed by Steve Antin.