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CONNIE AND CARLA (article first published : 2005-03-20)

After the huge fun and great success that was My Big Fat Greek Wedding, that film's star and writer, Nia Vardalos, has been on a downward slide, beginning with her flop television spinoff of the hit comedy. Now we see her plummeting to a new depth of mediocrity with a film that liberally borrows ideas from Some Like It Hot and Victor/Victoria. It's the camp Connie and Carla which, while glossy and good-natured enough, and flecked with some genuinely amusing moments, is just too derivative, undisciplined and silly to warrant any special attention.

The film, under the direction of Michael Lembeck, has Vardalos teamed with Aussie actress Toni Collette. They play the title characters, small-town singers whose dreams of stardom never materialise because, for one thing, they seemingly haven't changed their musical comedy routine, a salute to show tunes, since they were 12. So they don their sparkly costumes and silly wigs to sing their hearts out to disinterested, tired people in airport lounges and the like. Then, one day, they find themselves witness to a murder that results in them having to hotfoot it from the hoods responsible, who are now baying for their blood.

They travel to Los Angeles, stumble into a gay bar then decide to pose as drag queens to escape their assailants. With their knowledge of show tunes, and posing as men who can sing, rather than lip-sync, as is the way with most female impersonators, Connie and Carla become the new darlings of the gay scene, a huge hit.

But will their newfound fame help to lead the mobsters to them? And will Connie ever be able to hit it off with a straight hunk (David Duchovny) who starts to befriend her while trying to get to know his gay barman brother better?

Penned by Vardalos, the film is not without its fun moments, a particularly nice touch being a running gag showing a rough gangster's growing interest in and knowledge of stage musicals as he is forced to visit the country's supper clubs in search of our mincing madams.

Much enjoyment is also milked from the stage routines performed by the twinkling twosome, who lower their voices, exaggerate their movements and go all gaudy with the make-up, to better convince as drag queens.

The problem, though, is that the director allows far too many stage routines, so that they become a bit much after a while. And, what's worse, he allows them at the expense of any real character development. His biggest sin, though, is to make light and surround with endless slapstick the interesting relationship that blossoms between Vardalos and Duchovny.

Duchovny's character clearly starts to have a straight eye for the queer guy with the false eyelashes, who becomes his chat buddy after literally bumping into him three times. But it's all played for laughs, when it could have served some good food for thought.

Connie and Carla is also let down by many of its characters being caricatures and the comic timing is often off, resulting in it all becoming, well, a bit of a drag. It gets a rating of 6/10. Billy Suter




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