Thursday, December 9, 2010
Burlesque: A Feminist Review
Honestly, this movie was bad enough that it doesn't merit much discussion.
As you could probably predict from the previews, the music was the highlight of the movie. The only highlight of the movie. The basic premise is this: Ally (Christina Aguilera), an overworked waitress and lonely orphan, quits her job in a run-down diner and takes off for the city, hoping for a bright future. Then she goes out looking for a job and stumbles upon Burlesque, a club whose gimmick is a group of highly skilled dancers who all dance in sheer/skimpy/nonexistant clothing, while also lip-syncing to the classics. Only Tess (Cher), the owner, actually sings. Ally wants a job on that stage, but all she can get is a job as a waitress in the club.
The other premise is that Tess and her ex husband are pretty close to losing the club because they can't pay back their loans. Her ex husband is desperate for her to sell, but she refuses. From here on out, the movie's pretty predictable. But stop here if you really want to avoid any spoilers.
Good choice. I promise, there aren't really any spoilers with such a predictable movie. My assessment of the movie is this: it presents itself as feminist-friendly, but it's driven and defined by male sexuality and the male gaze. The film is about women who willingly, deliberately, and happily choose to dance for a mostly-male audience, in what can only be described as a high class strip club. Yes, the characters say it's not a strip club, but the scene where Aguilera removes the beads she was wearing like a bikini and then dances with feathered fans in front of her breasts and vagina beg to differ.
Seriously. That's one of the scenes. And the costumes that are sheer except for the nipples and the bikini area? It's pretty easy to guess that this film feeds into the objectification of the female body. And it really doesn't help that Ally's main romantic competition is a shrill woman who neglects her man by going out of state while she focuses on her own career. Or that Ally always talks to him (and everyone else) in a breathy voice so unlike the deep, beautiful, and empowering voice she uses while she sings. Or that most of the numbers she performs are about men.
And in terms of how race is portrayed in this movie, it does the typical Hollywood "Look! There's a black character! But s/he doesn't actually factor into the plot much or get more than a couple lines. But still! Look! We're Progressive, right?" Seriously - the characters mentioned Coco all the time, but how much did she actually get to talk?
And, while Stanley Tucci was arguably as much of a highlight as the music, it was pretty ridiculous that the one gay character in the movie was notorious for preferring one night stands over commitment, a challenge he only begins to overcome toward the end of the movie.
Feminist Film Review Grade: D-
A low D-