By Paul Hansen

A movie with the title “Burlesque” is probably not meant to be taken too seriously. Under those parameters, the new film starring Cher is quite entertaining.

Cher must be doing something right to be such a fixture in the entertainment firmament for forty-five years and counting. It is difficult to think of many other performers who have had such prominence since the mid-60s.

From her very first appearance in the opening number “Welcome to Burlesque,” Cher is a presence.  She plays, Tess, the owner and manager of a seemingly successful club which is having difficulty paying off its mortgage  (ah, topicality!). In fact, foreclosure is being threatened unless payment is made by a certain date.    The possibility of losing the club provides the basic underlying tension of much of the plot. Anyone who has seen more than a handful of movies can probably anticipate whether  the club will in fact be lost. Nonetheless, Cher is compelling as a forceful yet compassionate business manager.  Oh yes, it is also fun to watch her sing and dance.

Enter Christina Aguilera as Ali.  She is a young singer/dancer who follows the archetypal Hollywood dream of fleeing a small rural community and heading to Tinsel Town to pursue her ambitions.   Although hoping to perform at Burlesque, Ali is initially hired at the club as a barmaid.  After much insistence, she is finally given an audition and engaged as a dancer. Then comes  “the chorus girl replaces the lead at the last minute and becomes a star” moment, and Ali is elevated to top billing status. Needless to say, Aguilera’s singing and dancing is quite vibrant, at times almost overpowering.   With her chameleon like changes of appearance during the stage numbers, her performance is reminiscent of Madonna.

Burlesque is also a reminder of the value of a strong supporting cast.   Cam Gigandet is Ali’s on-again off-again boyfriend, while Eric Dane is another potential love interest with dubious intentions.   Stanley Tucci does a memorable turn as Cher’s reassuring, resourceful business partner.

While a good deal of the plot of Burlesque is predictable, what really makes the film entertaining is the plentiful dance numbers.   The dance sequences have a colorful, carnival, almost Mardi Gras atmosphere reminiscent of the cinematic style of Baz Luhrman (Strictly Ballroom, Moulin Rouge).  Although I have never been to Paris (alas), it did seem at times that the film might have been channeling some of the exciting energy of the Folies Bergere, probably the ultimate burlesque house.

The exuberant quality of the film may be a particularly welcome relief in this rather dreary late Fall.  I am beginning to understand why dance pictures were so popular during the Depression (the first one).

Interestingly, at the screening I attended, a good portion (perhaps even a majority) of the audience appeared to be senior citizens. It was engaging to think that they might have been loyal Sonny and Cher fans from forty plus years ago.

Burlesque is colorful puff.   But puff has its place.