Ah, the particular joys of dinner theater. A little Oklahoma with your T-bone steak. A little South Pacific with your salad. A little Sound of Music over your cherries jubilee. It's in this often overlooked entertainment niche that best friends Connie and Carla are toiling towards stardom in the aptly titled Connie and Carla, the latest movie from Nia Vardalos of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame.
Vardalos plays Connie opposite Toni Collette's (Muriel's Wedding, The Sixth Sense) Carla in this comedy, based on Vardalos' own experience on the dinner theater circuit. Well, some of her experience. Creative license quickly kicks in and Connie and Carla witness a murder and go on the lam from the hit men.
The uber-dramatic duo decides to head to a place where no one will think to look for them, a place with "no dinner theater, no culture at all": Los Angeles. More specifically, their station wagon pulls into West Hollywood, the address of choice for LA's hip homosexuals. Connie and Carla quickly go into hiding as women pretending to be men pretending women, and get a gig singing as drag queens at a local club.
Now, I like drag queens as much as the next person, assuming of course the next person isn't a gay man with a thing for drag queens. I see a man in lipstick and heels and I want to laugh. So I was prepared to enjoy Connie and Carla, a modern twist on Some Like It Hot with a little dash of Victor/Victoria.
Julie Andrews certainly isn't looking over her shoulder.
Thinly-drawn characters and entirely predictable plot devices had me twiddling my thumbs an hour into the gender-bending farce. It's one thing to ask me to believe that Connie and Carla can pass for drag queens just by exaggerating their make-up and lowering their voices. It's another thing to ask me to care. I was willing to do the former, but the movie couldn't convince me to do the latter.
David Duchovny (X-Files) does double duty as the straight man who is both a romantic foil for Vardalos and a catalyst for the major theme of the movie—acceptance—as he struggles with whether or not to accept the drag queen lifestyle of his estranged brother, who happens to be a backup singer for Connie and Carla's cabaret act. He wanders listlessly on and off screen like he's still tired from years of investigating paranormal activity.
Acceptance of ourselves and of those who are different from us is the sermon this movie is preaching. And in addition to its "gay men are people too" message, Connie and Carla throw in a few awkward assertions that women should be comfortable with their bodies regardless of their size. The movie is uninspired on both points.
Those in the gay community are likely to roll their eyes at the gratuitous fabulousness used to portray their community—the worship of aging starlets, the innate knack for interior design, the proliferation of muscle shirts—and chaff against the fundamentally square approach the movie takes to the gender bending proclivities of its characters. Stereotypically Midwestern, Connie and Carla's jaws hit the floor when they see two men kiss.
Christians might choke on the acceptance rhetoric in the context of homosexuality. It's one thing to say that Christians need to be kind to all people, and it's not always helpful to try to hold unbelievers to biblical moral standards. But it's still pretty hard to jump on the "We're Here and We're Queer" bandwagon.
The movie does offer some genuine guffaws as it trips over itself to be all things to all people. But in my opinion the ideal audience for this movie is comprised of straight people whose only actual contact with the gay community is through Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, who hold no opinion as to the morality of a gay lifestyle, and who harbor a soft spot for campy show tunes. Judging from the laughter that filled the theater at the screening I attended, this demographic is alive and well. Vardalos might have another hit on her hands, so prepare yourself now for the re-surging popularity of dinner theater. Lasagna with a side of Jesus Christ Superstar, anyone?
Talk About ItDiscussion starters
- The drag queens in Connie and Carla have to deal with negative feedback (insults, staring, etc.) on a regular basis. Why do you think they were willing suffer ridicule in order to dress like women?
- Acceptance of homosexuals is a big theme in Connie and Carla. How should Christians treat members of the gay community? Are there any situations (AIDS research and hospice care, discrimination, etc.) in which you think Christians should support or work together with the gay community?
- David Duchovny's character was embarrassed by his brother's habit of dressing in drag. Have you ever been embarrassed by a family member with a trait or behavior you thought was embarrassing?
- Connie and Carla insisted on following their dream of performing even when others told them to give up. Have you ever had a dream that others tried to get you to abandon? Why do you think we tend to have little patience for the dreams of other people?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Given the setting, Connie and Carla is notably chaste given its setting. Despite the gaggle of gay men, the only romantic relationship featured is that between Vardalos and Duchovny. One same-sex kiss on a dance floor is the extent of physical intimacy. Vardalos gets felt up when her gay back up dancers crowd around to marvel at her excellent "falsies."
Photos © Copyright Universal Pictures
What Other Critics Are Sayingcompiled by Jeffrey Overstreet
from Film Forum, 04/22/04
In Connie and Carla, Nia Vardalos, writer and star of the sensationally popular My Big Fat Greek Wedding, dresses herself up in outrageous costumes and makeup alongside her partner in crime, Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense, About a Boy), in a comedy cousin to Victor/Victoria. The film follows two women who go on the run after witnessing a murder. They decide to go into hiding by posing as drag queens, hoping they can convince observers that they're actually men in women's clothing.
Mainstream critics are giving the film a clear thumbs-down rating. Troubled by the film's message, so are Christian critics. The movie, they say, promotes a homosexual agenda, disguising itself as a harmless comedy.
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says it "promotes an if-it-makes-you-happy-it's-acceptable kind of morality, which posits a fuzzy felicity as the barometer for gauging the rightness or wrongness of an act or lifestyle." He concludes that "the true teaching objective of the film [is not] tolerance, or even compassion, but validation."
Loren Eaton (Plugged In) says it "fails on a whole lot of levels. The two gals and their entourage of gay and straight chums are as three-dimensional as rice paper. The jokes barely elicited a single chuckle during the screening I attended. And, morally, the movie makes no bones about wearing its pro-homosexual themes on its sleeve."
Lisa Cockrel (Christianity Today Movies) says, "Thinly-drawn characters and entirely predictable plot devices had me twiddling my thumbs an hour into the gender-bending farce. It's one thing to ask me to believe that Connie and Carla can pass for drag queens just by exaggerating their makeup and lowering their voices. It's another thing to ask me to care."
"There are moments when the film shines," says Annabelle Robertson (Crosswalk), "but unfortunately, Connie and Carla's politically correct, feel-good message about cross-dressing tends to override everything else. The film perpetuates the mythical stereotype that gay men are healthy, happy, and wise. It will be a huge hit in the gay community. But, because I am aware of the devastation—physical, emotional and spiritual—that this lifestyle brings, I was more saddened than charmed."
Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says, "Where [Greek Wedding] was delightfully fresh, Connie and Carla is tired and stale. In trying to make a cross between Victor/Victoria and Some Like It Hot, Vardalos and director Michael Lembeck resort to using homosexual stereotypes—presumably for the purpose of adding humor to a threadbare plot. They needn't have bothered. The characters that populate this film don't have much substance."
Jonathan Rodriguez (Christian Spotlight) reports, "The film preaches acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle, making it seem cute and harmless, and making cross-dressing almost fun and lively. [It's] an occasionally funny movie, that borrows far too much from other, better-made films, and its own original attempts at humor frequently fall flat."
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