CONNIE AND CARLA
Connie (Nia Vardalos) and Carla (Toni Collette) are a small-time Chicago double act whose dreams of singing stardom have taken them as far as the local airport waiting lounge. When they witness their boss get snuffed by his drug dealing associates, they hit the road to escape the heavies. But where to run? Los Angeles, where they end up headlining in a drag club, singing the show tunes they - and the gay clientele - have always loved. But they have to keep up the pretence of being guys in drag. This backfires when Connie meets Jeff (David Duchovny), a real nice guy she'd really like to be a real girl with.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Connie and Carla is meant to be a comedy, and it's certainly played for laughs. And that's the problem. Good comedy is built on genuine drama, and without it, it's so much hogwash. Besides, the material is too slight for a feature film, and the best that can be said is that the film has good intentions.
The script is under-developed, with little sign of the sparkling wit a film like this needs. The one-joke premise (girls playing guys in drag) quickly wears out and the crims chasing them are unsuccessful caricatures. It's often impossible to believe that the girls are fooling a specialist gay clientele, or even worse, their fellow drag acts when they are up close and personal. Their make up is exaggerated, as if to say that's all it takes; this is simplistic and somewhat insulting to audiences. At first the patrons marvel that these 'girls' actually sing, not just mime like the others. But soon everyone on stage is singing in their own voice and no-one even comments.
There is also a dangerous tendency to treat the drag aspect as a novelty while paying lip service to drags being anything but 'freaks'. Unconvincing plot and one dimensional characters make the film laboured, despite what appears to be plenty of energy from the cast.
Toni Collette introduced the Sydney premiere saying everyone had fun making it; evidently, but it is not enough for the cast and crew to have fun unless we the audience can share in it. She is a terrific actress as we all know, and she has moments that are genuine, but neither the script nor the direction milk her potential.
Nia Vardalos suffers a similar fate, and given that her romantic interest in Jeff is meant to be part of the film's main emotional pull, it's a shame there isn't more chemistry between the actors.
Delightful old trooper Debbie Reynolds, gawd love her, is given a featured cameo, but it really does feel contrived.
The film is ultimately disappointing and often seems self indulgent, with just a handful of scenes that offer genuine engagement.
Review by Louise Keller:
Filled with zest and energetic performances, Connie and Carla is a fun romp played for laughs about two naïve songstresses who find fame, fortune and love in the guise of drag queens. The film never quite reaches the heights to which it aspires and in many ways is as old fashioned as its tunes, relying on the novelty or shock-value of cross-dressing and acceptance of the gay scene. Like Strange Bedfellows, the film would have had greater impact thirty years ago, when its themes would have been considered risqué or blatantly 'out there'. As it is, the film relies on its good humour to pull it through, rather than our belief in the relationships. And with no investment in the relationships, we are disappointed.
There's the look of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the notion of Victor Victoria, the anti-gay discrimination of The Bird Cage and the girlie-friendship of Thelma and Louise.
It's easy to believe that Toni Collette had a ball making this larger-than-life, colourful foray into the world of transvestites and cross dressers with Queen of the Greek Weddings' Nia Vardalas. But Vardalas has a lot to live up to after her smash-hit comedy grounded deep in the roots of Greek culture, and although Connie and Carla offers a wig-a-minute, extravagant face-paint, glam gowns and high camp show tunes, the laughs are shallow with limited payoff.
It's a genial comedy however, most likely to appeal to a gay or female audience, with the mainstay of its appeal in its two central characters. Both Collette and Vardalas passionately embrace their roles of hammy performers, but it's Collette who steals the show. There's real pathos in her Carla, somewhat reminiscent of her performance in Muriel's Wedding. We can't stop looking at Collette's animated face (complete with drag make-up - big hair, streamlined arched eyebrows, false lashes, bright blue shadow, shimmering glitter and exaggerated cupid-lips). Collette and Vardalas are well matched vocally - they both sing up a storm with tunes from Cabaret, Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair, Funny Girl and Mame.
Of course, we never believe for a second that Connie and Carla actually look like real drag queens, but it's more fun to suspend our disbelief and go along for the ride. After all, it's a hoot when an unexpected knock on the door prompts the girls to hurriedly conceal their faces with scrubs, masks, wigs, shower-caps and fruit-decorated robes. I laughed when one of the real drag queens feels Connie's breasts admiringly, prompting Collette's Carla to say to the rest of the bunch: 'They're really good - you should all have a feel.' The expression on Vardalas' face as each of the drag queens pinches, squeezes and massages her breasts is priceless.
The central friendship between the two girls never goes beyond the superficial, the relationship between Stephen Spinella's cross dressing Robert and his straight brother Jeff (David Duchnovy, looking bemused throughout) feels contrived, and the budding romance between Connie (in drag) and Jeff is ludicrous, albeit entertaining. I was expecting more.
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TONI COLLETTE INTERVIEW
CONNIE AND CARLA (PG)
CAST: Nia Vardalos, Toni Collette, David Duchovny, Stephen Spinella, Alec Mapa, Chris Logan, Robert Kaiser, Ian Gomez, Nick Sandow
PRODUCER: Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson
DIRECTOR: Michael Lembeck
SCRIPT: Nia Vardalos
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Richard Greatrex
EDITOR: David Finfer
MUSIC: Randy Edelman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jasna Stefanovic
RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 5, 2004
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: November 25, 2004