Cher and Christina Aguilera seem like a logical pairing for a musical. Barbra Streisand would be a much more awkward choice and Madonna would never stoop to play a "matronly" role. And Lady Gaga actually looks too similar to Aguilera. But it isn't the double threat of a gay pop enthusiast's wet dream that makes Burlesque a staggeringly entertaining movie. What makes it that way is that it is one of the first movies in a long time to acknowledge the unmitigated fulfillment of a protagonist's dream--and in what better place than the city of (broken) dreams, Los Angeles.
The film wastes no time in showing how dissatisfied our heroine, Ali Rose (Aguilera), is with living in a nothing town in Iowa (but then, aren't they all nothing towns in Iowa? Yes, even Des Moines). She quits her waitressing job (I imagine they still call it waitressing there as opposed to serving) in an annoyed fury with her deadbeat boss, who hasn't paid her in almost a month. With nothing in her way but limited funds, Ali heads to the place where all damaged goods flock: Hollywood. With somewhat limited skills (mainly serving food/drinks and dancing/singing), it's only natural that Ali finds herself at The Burlesque Lounge. This is, of course, after an extremely embarrassing sequence of Aguilera walking down Hollywood Boulevard with a copy of Backstage in her hand. In real life, she so would have been taken to a back alley, raped, and then mugged for being so blatantly naive.
When she first walks into the lounge, she is intoxicated by the allure of the costumes, music, and overall attitude of the dancers. Her stupor is interrupted by Alexis (the always enrapturing Alan Cumming. Is there no camp movie he isn't in?), who reminds her to pay the twenty dollars to get in. Hesitant to part with the last of her money, Ali soon forgets her financial woes and ends up talking her way into a job (though not as a burlesque dancer so much as a drink bringing bitch) after begging the presumably gay bartender Jack (Cam Gigandet) to let her stay. Her run-ins with the crew backstage are not quite as favorable: She makes instant enemies with Nikki (Kristen Bell), the resident lush of the burlesque dancers, and irks Sean (Stanley Tucci), the costumer, and the grande dame of the joint, Tess (Cher), to no end with her aura of pluckiness.
Granted, there is reason to believe some of the negative reviews of the movie, primarily because of some incredible feats of suspending disbelief (think air rights, bank mortgages, and real estate moguls who are deemed worthy of reverence), it serves its purpose in captivating audiences with shiny costumes and beauteous snatches of the "glamourous" version of L.A.
And, while the primary criticism for this film is that it spares us no amount of mawkish exchanges, I would like to believe there was a certain deliberateness in Steve Antin's over the top script: Musically inclined scenes of sexuality (when Ali and Jack at last admit that they like each other), Cher singing "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me," and essentially any flirtation between Ali and Marcus (played by the increasingly sleazy Eric Dane). In many ways, this movie is the Spice World (and yeah, Alan Cumming was in that too) of the 00s. Every decade needs one. And Burlesque provides the amazing musical cheesiness of a semi-pretentious gallery opening...without the wine to dull your doubts about some of the lesser artwork.