Two Dramas from Screen Gems
Burlesque (April 9/11)
Christina Aguilera's big-screen debut, Burlesque follows small-town girl Ali (Aguilera) as she arrives in Los Angeles with dreams of making it as a singer - although, as she soon discovers, this isn't quite as easy as she might have hoped. It's clear right from the get-go that the hoary premise is hardly the most problematic element within Burlesque, as writer/director Steven Antin offers up an aggressively off-putting visual style - ie plenty of handheld camerawork - that's exacerbated by the almost comically seedy nature of the title establishment (which is, of course, where a good chunk of the movie transpires). There's little doubt, however, that the film does improve slightly as it progresses, with the increased emphasis on trashy subplots - ie Ali's rivalry with a bitchy fellow singer (Kristen Bell's Nikki) - lending the proceedings a guilty-pleasure sort of vibe that admittedly becomes more and more difficult to resist. Aguilera's personable turn as the central character certainly plays an integral role in cementing Burlesque's affable atmosphere, with the watchable vibe perpetuated by an eclectic (yet undeniably impressive) supporting cast that includes, among others, Cher, Stanley Tucci, and Peter Gallagher. It's only as the film passes the one-hour mark that one's interest begins to wane, as Antin, presumably in an effort at prolonging the running time, begins peppering the narrative with elements of a distinctly (and decidedly) needless variety (including the dreaded fake break-up). Ultimately, Burlesque wears out its welcome to an almost astonishing degree and it is, in the final analysis, crystal clear that the movie could've used a few more passes through the editing bay (ie a film like this has no business running longer than 80 or 90 minutes).
Country Strong (April 14/11)
Written and directed by Shana Feste, Country Strong follows recovering alcoholic Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow) as she embarks on a comeback tour alongside a pair of up-and-comers (Garrett Hedlund's Beau and Leighton Meester's Chiles) - with the movie subsequently detailing the characters' melodramatic exploits in both their professional and personal lives. The decidedly conventional nature of the film's setup is, at the outset, not quite as problematic as one might've suspected, as Feste does a nice job of eliciting appealing performances from the various actors (eg contrast Hedlund's charismatic work here with his stiff turn in 2010's Tron: Legacy) - with the affable vibe perpetuated by the ongoing inclusion of catchy, toe-tapping musical interludes. There's little doubt, then, that Country Strong's downfall stems from its almost egregiously deliberate pace, as the film is neither gritty nor authentic enough to justify the slow-moving nature of its episodic midsection. The presence of a few standout sequences here and there (eg a shamelessly manipulative yet admittedly engrossing scene in which Kelly entertains a young boy suffering from leukemia) ensures that the movie generally remains watchable even through its more overtly tedious stretches, while the prolonged buildup to the climactic concert is actually quite well done and surprisingly entertaining - though Feste squanders the improved atmosphere by subsequently emphasizing the concert itself to an almost unreasonable degree. It is, as a result, not surprising to note that the tearjerking finale is hardly able to pack the emotional punch that Feste is clearly aiming for, which effectively ensures that Country Strong, when everything's said and done, can't help but come off as a well-intentioned misfire.