Connie and Carla Review
By Shawn McKenzie 04/20/2004
I do rag on a lot of movies that liberally borrow from other movies, but if that movie can do it in a unique and funny (if it is a comedy) way, I can forgive it. Connie and Carla is one of those movies that managed to borrow from several movies and still be funny based on some great performances.
Connie (Nia Vardalos) and Carla (Toni Collette) are two friends who have been singing old show tunes together since they were little girls. Their dream is to have a hit dinner theater show, but the farthest that they have gotten is the waiting lounge at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. They had to borrow money from their boss, Frank (Michael Roberds), to pay for new outfits. One day while trying to find Frank, they witness a local businessman named Rudy (Robert John Burke) kill Frank (Michael Roberds) over a bad drug deal. They freak loudly, which tips Rudy off that they had seen the murder, but they get away. They leave their boyfriends, Al (Nick Sandow), whom Connie has broken up with, and Mikey (Dash Mihok), whom Carla’s still dating, to hide from Rudy. They don’t know at first that they are carrying a kilo of Rudy’s cocaine, but soon find out (in at scene slightly reminiscent of the cocaine scene in Annie Hall and just as funny.) Rudy sends his henchman, Tibor (Boris McGiver), to find them so that they can kill them because they were witnesses. Tibor looks for them in dinner theaters and Broadway musical review venues, figuring that it is where they most likely were (and finds himself strangely intrigued by the shows.) The girls also figured that they would be found in this type of place, so they decide to go to the place that they think is the least cultured in musical theater…Los Angeles. After a few unsuccessful attempts at jobs who didn’t accept their style, like a hairdressing boutique, they wander into a drag queen club called the Handlebar to get drunk. While there, they overhear that the owner of the club, Stanley (Ian Gomez), is holding auditions for new stage talent. Realizing that they are only looking for cross-dressing men, they dress up like drag queens and pretend to be men, a la Victor/Victoria. They audition with a routine from Cabaret that bores the crowd at first, until they realize that the gals are actually singing instead of lip-synching. They become an instant sensation with the crowd, and Stanley offers them a regular paying gig…something he hasn’t offered the other drag queens in the past. They start drawing in bigger and bigger crowds, making it necessary for Stanley to have to remodel the club to fit more people (and turn it into a dinner theater, based on Connie and Carla’s suggestions.) Their success makes the other drag queens, including Robert (Stephen Spinella) a.k.a. Peaches, Lee (Alec Mapa) a.k.a. N’Cream, Brian (Christopher Logan) a.k.a. Brianna, and Paul (Robert Kaiser), jealous. Instead of stewing in their jealousy, they convince Connie and Carla to include them in their show, and they become the Belles of the Balls. Eventually, Carla starts to worry that their growing fame will tip off Rudy, plus she misses Mikey, or any straight man. Connie though is distracted by her attraction for Jeff (David Duchovny), Robert’s younger brother, who hasn’t seen his drag queen brother since he left home years ago. Jeff is trying to reconnect with Robert and understand his lifestyle. He finds himself drawn to Connie, but can’t do anything about it because he thinks that she is a man, and because he is engaged to a woman named Mary (Krista Rae.) As the mobsters close in on them, Connie and Carla prepare for the opening night of their new revue at the newly renamed Stanley’s Dinner Theater, with a little help from the legendary Debbie Reynolds (appearing as herself.)
This is Vardalos’ second screenplay, behind the sleeper mega-hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding. If you saw my top 10 list for 2002, you would have seen that I thought that Wedding was the second best movie of the year. The big reason for this was that I could identify with having to deal with a girlfriend’s big family. This one didn’t have anything that I could identify with, so as a result I didn’t like it as much, but I still got some enjoyment out of it.
I couldn’t help but compare the movie to Some Like It Hot and Victor/Victoria before, during, and after watching the film, but that is okay (even the title characters themselves compare their situation to the movie Yentl.) Even though it bills itself as original, I look at it as a remake of sorts, and I’ve never had a problem with a well-written remake. I think that Vardalos is a talented comedic actress, and she had a strange chemistry with Duchovny. The heartbreaking performance of Spinella was great to watch as well. Collette actually looked like a drag queen (as opposed to Vardalos, whom I had to suspend a little disbelief), but she was criminally underused, despite the fact that her character made up one half of the title. Oh, by the way…the singing throughout was great.
There were some real drag queens at the screening I went to, and they made a good point I hadn’t even thought of before. The movie was a light, funny movie about acceptance of a different lifestyle. They said the movie would be a good one for a gay person to take a relative or friend that they would like to come out of the closet to in order to make it easier to do it.
Connie and Carla may not be very original, but it is enjoyable. While I might not be able to identify with it, I think that several people will, and it might contribute in helping them come out of the closet. I do hope that the next time Vardalos does a buddy comedy, she gives the buddy a little more screen time. Had she not hogged most of it, I think that it would have made the movie slightly better.
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