Liz Smith: Ignore the Critics: ‘Burlesque’ is Tassel-Twirling Fun!

Burlesque

Liz welcomes the one and only Cher back to the screen

“I’M NOT gonna be upstaged by some slut with mutant lungs!”

And that is one of many quotable, over-the-top lines in the new Cher/Christina Aguilera sequin and pastie epic, “Burlesque.”

***

WHILE SITTING in a hospital bed, waiting to be sent home for Thanksgiving, what should arrive by Very Special Messenger? A gent from Screen Gems with a DVD. He assumed, rightly, I already had a DVD-ready laptop. “Here,” he said. “This is ‘Burlesque.’ Watch it but you must give it back.” Before he left, he added, darkly, “Please don’t share it. I’ll be right outside.” It was very “Mission Impossible.”

And so I settled in, and I watched “Burlesque.” Critics have already had a field day – in fact, there was an especially unpleasant “open letter” to Cher in one of the New York papers shortly before the movie hit theaters.

So what am I here to tell you? “Burlesque,” directed by Steve Antin, is totally derivative of … “Showgirls”“Glitter” “Cabaret”“42nd Street” … and every other sweet-thing-making-it-to-the-top-despite-the-odds movie you can think of. Mr. Antin brings not one fresh idea or concept to this project.

But … surprise! He didn’t have to. The performances of Cher, Miss Aguilera, Stanley Tucci, Kristen Bell, Eric Dane, Cam Gigandet, and a get-up-and-dance soundtrack lift this movie into the hugely entertaining category. (The wonderful Alan Cumming is wasted in a role clearly meant to echo Joel Grey‘s master of ceremonies in “Cabaret.” It’s good to see him, anyway.) “Burlesque” is nonstop fun, a great big camp that doesn’t attempt to take itself seriously. It is 2010′s ultimate guilty pleasure. Be a snob and dislike it – nobody will believe you. Pish. Tosh and nertz to those who worship “serious cinema.” As Redford said to Barbra in “The Way We Were” – “Everything is too serious to be so serious.”

***

“BURLESQUE” IS a riot of clichés, but everybody acts like it’s Eugene O’Neill – except for Cher, who looks like she’s on the verge of busting a gut every time she rolls some insane bit of dialogue off her tongue.

Cher is charming in a role – owner of the club where Christina becomes an overnight sensation – that doesn’t stretch her talents as an actress one millimeter. So what? She wasn’t bucking for an Oscar, just having fun. And despite some cruel notices, her face does move. Since when was Cher Anna Magnani anyway? I never remember her as being especially expressive; she always did more with her voice and her “attitude.”

Cher has two big numbers. She opens the movie with a juicy “Welcome to Burlesque” and has an autobiographical power ballad toward the end (“You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me”). This latter number is extremely well-sung but badly staged. Cher should have led director Antin off the set by his ear and made him shoot it properly. After all, she knew him when he was her ex-lover David Geffen‘s lover. She is adorable in all she does and has a nice chemistry with Stanley Tucci, who plays the club’s stage manager. (Except that he wears bad clothes in “Burlesque,” it is a role quite reminiscent of his assistant to Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada.”)

Look – it’s Cher. In a movie. That is enough for me.

***

MISS AGUILERA? Meryl Streep has nothing to worry about. Hell, Jennifer Aniston has nothing to worry about. But within the confines of her time-worn role – little girl comes to big city to seek fame and fortune – she is not bad. She has the proper amount of moxie and innocence to be reasonably believable. (Her best bit of acting comes when Cher has to teach fledging showgirl Christina how to apply eyeliner with a properly excessive hand. Miss Aguilera, in real-life, is one of the most heavily made-up young stars. She is always camera ready – for cameras in the balcony of a theater in China.)

Of course, like Judy Garland belting out “The Man That Got Away” at some seedy dive in “A Star Is Born,” one must suspend disbelief in the matter of “discovery.” The moment Christina opens her mouth to sing, the idea she ever had to struggle for a break is laughable. (Or that she isn’t instantly snapped up by scouts for “American Idol.”)

Christina’s numbers are sensational, especially her cover of Etta James‘s “Something’s Got A Hold On Me” and a sexed-up, re-vamped version of Mae West‘s naughty ditty, “A Guy What Takes His Time.”

Visually, it’s all “Chicago”/“Moulin Rouge”/“Dreamgirls” – you’ve seen every bump, grind, and fast MTV-style edit. (Today’s editing process relieves actors the chore of actually learning to dance.) But familiarity does not breed contempt or boredom. There are worse ways to spend your time than watching beautiful people shake everything the Lord gave them. “Burlesque” is a good time. Honest.

The messenger from Screen Gems appeared again. “I’m here for ‘Burlesque’,” he said, in a manner that made me feel he’d come to collect something else. He was wearing a hoodie. And was that a scythe in his hand? Wait! Wait! It’s just a hip fracture!

I gave it back. “You didn’t share it, did you?” he said. I promised I hadn’t and assured him I’d made no copies –while in my hospital bed. After he left, a friend called. I said I’d just seen “Burlesque.” He said, “Oh, I went to a screening last night. The audience loved it. They were whistling and applauding and talking back to the screen!”

By the time this column appears, the weekend box office will have told its tale. I hope “Burlesque” does well. But even if not, this is the sort of movie that will have a long profitable life on DVD – a camp cult classic. That’s entertainment!

10 comments so far.

  1. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    I love camp. I love stories about the girl making it big against all odds. And I love Cher. I was thinking of skipping this movie because I’m too old to appreciate Christina, Ke$ha, Lady Gaga (who only reminds me that Madonnaa (of whom I was never a fan) did everything she is doing 30 years ago and better) Britney, Jessica et al. Although, Katy Perry sort of cracks me up whenever I see her…I sort of like her. Or maybe I just don’t like their songs. I will definitely check this out if not at the theatre…on DVD.

  2. avatar Laura Ward says:

    I saw this movie with my boyfriend and he loved it although he usually hates musicals. He liked the flash and strong women. There is implausibility, of course, like a club like that could never make enough money to support itself. The club’s too small and the shows are too big, but we loved the production numbers!

  3. avatar rick gould says:

    This movie is total escapism. Nobody involved with this movie said otherwise.
    The only thing more over the top than this movie was some of the vicious criticism lobbed at it.
    Especially by male critics who seem to have it in for Cher. But what else is new?
    A lot of the negative comments toward both women seemed VERY personal.

    The audience I saw it with seemed to enjoy it, and even applauded at the end.
    Oh, and Cinemascore, derived from moviegoers, gave it an A-
    As Cher would say, take that you bitches!
    And yes, I mean you Rex Reed, Roger Ebert and Peter Travers!

  4. Liz Smith: Ignore the Critics: 'Burlesque' is Tassel-Twirling Fun ……

    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

  5. avatar Sue Fawcett says:

    I couldn’t agree more with your review of “Burlesque,” Liz. I saw it yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a good time at the movies, and the movie itself does not try to be more than an enjoyable experience. Aguilera is sensational; I wasn’t familiar with her work before seeing this movie, and I think she will garner a new generation of fans after seeing her brilliant singing. I overheard a couple of other older people in the audience say “who is she?” upon seeing her performance of “Something’s Got a Hold of Me”, which would bring down the house, anywhere. Cher is fine in her somewhat tongue-in-cheek role, and it was wonderful to see her on screen again. The weakest point of the movie (in my view) was the casting of Cher’s ex-husband (Peter Gallagher?) which was simply not believable. At any rate, I enjoyed “Burlesque” and I would recommend it for an enjoyable experience at the movies.

  6. avatar Deirdre Cerasa says:

    I have been looking forward to seeing Burlesque since the ads started. Thanks Liz for the review. I don’t expect Shakespeare, it is supposed to be fun! I think I’ll be running to the theater later today to see it.
    Hope the hip is doing better.

  7. avatar Eldebbo C says:

    First time on in a while and seeing the new look.

  8. avatar chersgroupie says:

    Thanks again Liz for being so smart & experienced & HONEST!!  Burlesque is a fabulous “feel good” movie with great music.  I know tons of people taking your advice to ignore the negative critiques & they all loved it.  Get well soon :)

  9. avatar Vicki Sarris says:

    Isn’t it fun to spot a good movie – even if the critics can’t?  Will be sure to see this new Cher film.  We all need a little levity and a few laughs - Shakespeare aside.  Let’s be “tickled” and have some fun with  Cher.  Love it!

  10. avatar Elizabeth Bennett says:

    Loved the film.  I was wondering why it took so long for it to occur to someone to put Cher in a musical.  She was terrific, and I loved the chemistry with Tucci.  She also had chemistry with Christina Aguilera; it almost seemed mother/daughter at times.   I also noticed that they had a couple of my favorite tv actors in there–Dianna Agron who plays Quinn in Glee and Eric Dane who is McSteamy on Gray’s Anatomy.  There were more actors I recognized from various tv shows.  Anyway, I don’t understand the critics on this one.  It was pure joy at the movie theatre.