- Casting the plastic-faced Cher as the financially strapped proprietress of an elaborate Los Angeles burlesque club that’s saved by plucky small-town singer-dancer Christina Aguilera
- Hashing together some of the hoariest showbiz movie clichés, from “Who will save the club?” to the backstage rivalry between Aguilera and bitchy dancer Kristen Bell to, inevitably, “Will the rising star choose the callow rich guy, or the hard-working boy who believed in her when no one else would?”
- Rendering a theoretically sexy artform completely sexless
Defender: Writer-director Steven Antin
Tone of commentary: Hyper-explanatory. Antin notes every location, every piece of scenery, every overdub, and every pickup shot, to the extent that at one point, he laughs “I’m moving so fast, I lost track of where I am.” What makes Antin’s approach especially untenable is that Burlesque apparently went through the wringer in post-production, with reshoots, re-edits, and restructuring galore. For example, Antin points out that the movie’s opening scene—set in the heroine’s dusty hometown—started out as just a short intro before the filmmakers went back to pick up more footage to flesh out Aguilera’s backstory, which they then hacked down to roughly the same length as it had been before the reshoots. Burlesque also went through extensive processing and special-effects enhancements to give the film the desaturated “wonderland” look Antin wanted. At the end of one fantasy/dance sequence, Antin even had Aguilera’s arms reworked via CGI because they didn’t look right.
What went wrong: Two words: “CGI arms.” While Antin seems pleased with the little post-production tweaks and gooses, it all drives home Burlesque’s nagging artificiality, where all the bumping and grinding has nothing to do with actual human sexuality. (And though Antin surely meant well, it doesn’t help when he boasts that the racier stage performances were shot in a way “that’s not at all objectifying.”) Antin does admit that all the post-production negotiations he went through with his backers about what to leave in and what to take out led to some choppiness. He can’t help but indicate the reaction shots that were inserted from entirely different parts of the movie, saying that if we look closely, we’ll be able to see that there’s nobody actually onstage during what’s supposed to be a big musical sequence, and that people appear and disappear from the tables from shot to shot. Antin also agonizes over all the musical numbers that were drastically reduced, either because the studio wanted more story or because it didn’t feel “real” enough. “This is a fabulous number… we had to cut it down” is practically Antin’s mantra.
Comments on the cast: Antin rightfully hails the funny, confident performance by Stanley Tucci as Cher’s right-hand man, and marvels at how Cher was able to hit her marks with almost no rehearsal. (Which was the way it had to be, since Cher was doing her Vegas show and wasn’t available until right before shooting began.) Antin also praises the work of the movie’s main love interest, Cam Gigandet, who spends a good portion of Burlesque behind the club’s bar, wearing guyliner. (“Only a certain kind of guy can pull that off,” the director insists.) As for Aguilera, Antin keeps it simple: “She really believed in me and I really believed in her.”
Inevitable dash of pretension: Antin is a little too nuts-and-bolts-y in his commentary to get seriously pretentious, but he does talk some about Aguilera’s character, whose name is Alice, falling down “the rabbit hole” into a Wonderland, and he talks about how he used the mirrors and lights of the club to create the impression of “this endless world.” Given the complicated editing process for Burlesque, though, it’s probably appropriate that the most potentially pretentious moment—a speech by Cher about the history of the art form—didn’t make it into the movie. “Things got shifted around and the monologue never happened,” Antin says.
Commentary in a nutshell: “And there’s a painting, which went by so fast that you probably don’t know what I’m talking about.”