IT SHOULD BE disclosed that I have a shameful weakness for crappy dance movies. If I didn't have a firm grasp on veritable burlesque artistry, I would likely have squealed throughout Burlesque, then added it to my arsenal of flicks to count on when I'm craving mindless plot and perfectly synchronized split leaps. But to my dismay, not only is there much to be desired in Burlesque's script and concept, but also in the film's somewhat bastardized depiction of the art form whose namesake it borrows.
To be fair: Christina Aguilera's voice is goosebump inducing, the film's choreography is breathtaking (though I kept expecting Bob Fosse's apparition to appear and angrily demand royalties), and the film's cast is crammed with alluring dancers whose movements defied me to blink.
But some primary elements of burlesque—like satire, parody, and striptease—are either minimally portrayed or altogether absent. When Christina Aguilera's wannabe-burlesque-dancer/small-town-girl-for-the-win character, Ali, elects to do her research on the vixens of burlesque's past, there's a brief montage of her reading a pile of books devoted to the subject; later, her performance of Mae West's "A Guy What Takes His Time" is well done, but the legendary West isn't even mentioned, leaving viewers who are unacquainted with burlesque history possibly unaware that Christina's doing a cover. This performance aside, only minimal time is given to acts likely to be seen in an authentic burlesque show (I felt robbed when there was a shot of the ever-fabulous Alan Cumming on stage with two contortionists, which was cut impossibly short), making one wonder whether writer/director Steve Antin only skimmed the books his main character read. Meanwhile, Cher gives a watered-down performance as the club's owner, and while her two vocal interludes reveal her voice to be as angelic as ever, this movie would have you believe that instead of mocking popular entertainment, burlesque has become the very thing it aims to satirize.
Due to my overwhelming penchant for rhinestone-encrusted high kicks and my occasional desire for asinine storytelling, I'll probably add Burlesque to my instant-watch Netflix queue. But for enjoyment of real burlesque? I'll stick to the live stages across my fair city.
Rayleen Courtney is the founder of Portland burlesque company SinnSavvy Productions. If there were black belts in burlesque, she'd have like three of them.