Burlesque is rather hit-and-miss in regards to decent women characters. Though to be fair, the ‘misses’ are largely to do with the cardboard-cutout characters and a storyline that was ripped of Coyote Ugly (which was hardly original itself). Basically, Ali (Christina Aguilera) comes from Small Town, Iowa, to Los Angeles. She wants to be a dancer, except the closest job she can find is as a barmaid in a burlesque club named, just in case the subtlety was a bit too much for you, Burlesque. Soon enough she impresses owner Tess (Cher) and becomes first a line dancer and then the lead act when the stock “Bitch Who Comes Good“ character, Nikki (Kristen Bell) is unprofessional one too many times. Along the way, she gets involved between two guys, almost chooses the wrong one, naturally ends up with the right one, and helps Tess save the club. (Thanks to an idea she got from Wrong Guy, no less.)
See, whole plot in about a hundred words.
Yes, it is terribly cliched. Not to mention very vanilla – the pregnant dancer whose place Ali takes gets respectably married and appears to remain part of the club despite Tess having no use for her. And Maria Bello and Bridget Moynahan from Coyote could totally kick the asses of Tess and Nikki respectively. But for all that, it passes the Bechdel test damn well, with most of the dialogue taking place between the women – namely, Ali, Tess and Nikki – about business; the way the shows are performed, who gets top billing etc.
Something I really didn’t like was Natalie, the fiancee of Jack, the Right Guy that Ali ends up with. We never see Natalie until after they’ve broken up – she’s conveniently stashed away in New York, selfishly pursuing her career – so you know from the beginning that she gets dispatched off-screen. (I was actually surprise at Dianna Argon’s minuscule cameo after they broke up on the phone.) I realise I’m griping about sloppy writing in a movie that appears to be ripped off a movie that was utterly unoriginal in the first place, but I really hated the way they used a conveniently absent fiancee to justify Unrequited Infatuation. At least on Jack’s part; to the movie’s credit, Ali doesn’t appear to think of him as anything beyond a friend once she realises he’s engaged.
So all in all, very hit and miss. I never thought I’d say this, but I think Coyote Ugly is the better movie of the two. Despite that, I did like that most of the dialogue was between women in a professional context (in fact, I don’t believe there was a single exchange of any significance between two men in the entire movie) and that Ali never thinks of Jack romantically until after he breaks up with Natalie. Is it a particularly good movie? No. But if it’s your thing, then it’s fun, and there are far worse examples of its genre when it comes to female characters.