There’s a review in the print edition this week (and online) of Burlesque, but I didn’t write it because I didn’t screen the film in time. But as the film opens today I wanted to weigh in. Not because I disagree with our reviewer, but because I agree with her … and wonder how many other gay men out there do, too.
I’ve often grouped gay men not into traditional categories like top/bottom, twink/bear, daddy/boy, but rather by their favorite diva. Judy queens. Liza queens. Bette queens. Barbra queens. Celine queens. Mariah queens. Patti queens. Of late, Gaga queens.
And, of course, Cher.
Often, this is a generational thing (I may be Gaga’s oldest living fan); some youngsters don’t even know who Judy is. But Cher seems to cross ages. Maybe it’s her long career (her 2000 single “Believe” made her the oldest soloist ever to have a No. 1 pop hit). Maybe it’s her massively bad career choices (her Oscar follow-up is Mermaids?) or her trans child, Chaz. But for some reason, gay men have always given Cher a pass when it comes to reviews of her work. You can never trust how good she really is, because her fans seem to want to prevent the truth from coming out. They protect her. And sometimes she needs it.
Cher hasn’t made a feature (other than a cameo in Stuck on You) since 1999′s Tea with Mussolini, and she chooses to return to film with a Showgirls-vibed musical from a first-time director? Just how badly does she need money?
But here’s the thing: The movie succeeds. This is not to say it is a good film; it is most definitely not. But it is exactly what it sets out to be. It’s the McDonald’s french fry of cinema: Addictively enjoyable if objectively trashy. Hooray for Cher — she gave us just what we wanted.
So did the writer-director, Steve Antin. He doesn’t miss one cliche. Not the farm-girl (Christina Aguilera) from, of course, Iowa; not the creditors beating at the door, wanting to shut down the Burlesque Lounge, which seems to emerge like a ghostly haunted house from the Sunset Strip. (Here’s my notion for why the club doesn’t turn a profit: 20 dancing girls who get free drinks and big enough salaries to drive BMWs, a six-man live band and staff of bartenders big enough to man a cruise ship.)
But there’s an energy to the movie — it succeeds despite itself. Antin has fun with the musical numbers, and he lingers on the body of hot young boytoy Cam Gigandet, dressing him in a Fosse-inspired bowler with sleeveless shirt and guyliner. It’s gayrific, but straight-friendly. (Eric Dane is in it too, but not the playing the beefcake this time.) Even gayer is Stanley Tucci, perfection as the bitchy old queen with the smart-ass wisecrack, who plays off of Cher expertly. He gives her sometimes wooden acting credibility.
Acting’s one thing, but Cher’s big number — which makes no logical sense in the movie; few scenes do — is a marvel of passion and pride and survival. It makes up for all the nonsense.
Aguilera acquits herself well both as a singer (no surprise there) and as an actress. Is she this year’s Mo’Nique? Not even close. But she could become Cher. And that’s not such a bad thing.