In the good old days of Technicolor® musicals, Judy and Mickey would decide to put on a show in their parents barn. Because of everyones high spirits and some ultra professional production values, the farm or the mill or whatever was in peril of foreclosure would be saved and there would be a triumphant finale full of dazzling songs and dances that would send the audience home with a smile on their collective lips and a song in their collective hearts. Alas, not even Judy and Mickey could save CONNIE AND CARLA, even if they brought Liza, Barbra, and Dietrich in tow in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. For reasons not adequately explained, it is left to Debbie Reynolds to leap into the breach. This dreary little misfire is as stale as the cabaret routines that it tries to both make sport of and to glamorize.
Written and co-produced by Nia Vardalos, who scored big on all counts with MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING, it purports to be a screwball comedy about two less that bright bulbs, the eponymous duo (Vardalos and Toni Collette), on the run from gangsters who have killed once and arent afraid to kill again. The reason the script gives is that our gals have witnessed a murder, but one can be forgiven if they think that the hit is out on them because of the quick-change pastiche of show tunes that they perform nightly at an airport lounge in Chicago. Connie and Carla decide to go undercover, using their real names for some reason, as drag queens doing a cabaret act West Hollywood. Of course, theyre a hit and of course they get semi-famous locally, and of course one of them falls for hunky straight guy, Jeff (David Duchovny), and cant let on that shes a real woman instead of a gender illusionist twice over.
The jokes are recycled, badly, from among others, VICTOR/VICTORIA, but without the sly wit, SOME LIKE IT HOT, but without the pizzazz, and LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, but without the sparkle, though Lord knows there are several cubic feet of both sequins and glitter up there on screen. The sight gag of seeing the women in the extreme drag makeup is funny the first time for about a half-second, and then is just irksome. The proceedings go from silly to stupid to tiresome, at which point there is still over an hour to go before the end credits roll. In order to cover all bases, it also takes time out to deliver a public service message against Botox® and eating disorders. As if all that werent bad enough, the script lurches through a subplot involving Jeff and his estranged drag queen brother that is like nothing so much as the Queer Eye® version of an afterschool special. Perhaps we are supposed to puddle up as the film screeches into pathos gear just before lobbing another low-rent burlesque-style cliche at us. Its a waste of a perfectly lovely performance by Stephen Spinella (LOVE! VALOR! COMPASSION!), who as the brother isnt given any new ground to cover in this clumsily derivative script, but does infuse some genuine dignity into his character and more class than the rest of the flick in toto.
Vardalos spends the movie jumping and screaming, whether in joy or in fear with a fixed stunned look on her overcosmeticized face. Its usually an effective expression no matter how much eye shadow shes sporting and entirely in keeping with the one-joke nature of the film. Collette is much the same, and here is much of a philosophical nature to ponder when one sees an actress of her caliber doing schtick. Because she is a goddess, she achieves an atoms worth of depth but with such thin material, even she is left hanging by a thread with nowhere to go but down until she and the audience have reached the slough of despond. A decidedly subdued Duchovny plays his part as though he were trying to be invisible.
CONNIE AND CARLA has a thrown together feel to it, much like those interminable musical numbers the ladies perform constantly used as filler to make the proceedings feature in length, and the stupefyingly out of synch conversation about whether non-vets can call Vietnam just Nam. Granted, Vardalos was under a fair amount of pressure having to follow up a blockbuster of an indie film that took everyone by surprise with its success with something that would establish her as more than a fluke. Creative juices dont always flow on demand and theres only so much time a person can ride on past success in Tinsel Town. If CONNIE AND CARLA serves no other purpose, and it doesnt, let it be as an object lesson in putting speed over content.