Connie and Carla

Nia Vardalos - Queen of quirky comedy, Second City comedy alumnus, member of “Team Knight Rider” (don’t look for her pretty face - she voiced the Ford Mustang GT, Domino). She has brought to us, through brilliant writing and excellent acting, one of the most comically original movies since Office Space. It stars an ensemble cast who brings to life one of the most misunderstood communities in America today, poking gentle fun at their idiosyncrasies while endearing them to our hearts. The name of this cinematic gem? My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Then there’s Nia’s less than impressive second writing/starring effort, Connie and Carla. As Kitt would say, “I’m not sure about this, Michael”. I was excited to see this movie after being enchanted by My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Sadly enough, as I started watching Connie and Carla, the enchantment wore off pretty quick. This movie seems to be Nia’s way of saying “Hey! Don’t peg me as creative and original! I can make derivative crap like everyone else in Hollywood!”

Connie (Nia Vardalos) and Carla (Toni Collette) have dreamt of becoming singing performers since their childhood. However, their luck has relegated them to performing in venues where their talents are less than appreciated. Yawning patrons and disinterested passer-bys are the only people stopping in to see their show.

As if that weren’t bad enough, their path in life has led them to unknowingly become associated with people involved with organized crime. These associations take a deadly turn when the girls unintentionally witness a murder and are forced to flee for their lives. To save themselves they assume false identities in the last place where their pursuers would ever look for them. (Cue sound of record player scratching to a halt). Wait a minute…isn’t this the plot from Sister Act?

The eerie similarities don’t end there. As you may recall, in Sister Act Whoopi flees her world of Vegas lounge acts to take up residence in an innocent, unsuspecting, financially struggling convent. Our girls, Connie and Carla, abandon their world of Midwest show tune revues for an innocent, unsuspecting, financially struggling cross-dresser/gay bar, which is kind of like a convent, right?

Since the girls have no real skills or talents except singing, they must pretend to be men dressed up as drag queens in order to audition for a job as the lead act at said cross-dresser/gay bar, ironically run by the world’s quietest straight man, Stanley (played by Vardalos’ husband, Ian Gomez). Naturally, they’re shoe-ins to win since they’re the only ones not lip-syncing to cliché disco songs.

Just like Whoopi, the girls’ popularity grows. Who knew that show tune revues would be so popular in a West Hollywood gay bar? They pack the place out night after night, drawing in not just the faithful, but a whole new crowd who would ordinarily never set foot in a convent sanctuary…I mean, gay bar (sorry, these plot similarities are killing me). The show gets so popular that the outside world eventually takes notice and television stations begin adding coverage of the phenomenon. With all this broadcast popularity, Connie and Carla’s location quickly becomes known to their pursuers and they discover their lives are in serious danger.

The antics that ensue through to the end of the film are best left to the imagination. But if you insist on knowing it, you can pretty much take the general plot points from the end of Sister Act, substitute in Debbie Reynolds for the pope (which apparently isn’t too much of a stretch in the drag queen world) and you’ve got the general idea.

The one element in the film that distinguishes it from the singing nun movie is the awkward and lifeless love interest byline. Connie and Carla develop a friendship with another duo act comprised of two guys who call themselves Peaches (Stephen Spinella) and…wait for it…’N Cream (Alec Mapa, who frighteningly looks better in make-up than most women do). It turns out that Peaches, whose real name is Robert, has a younger brother Jeff (David Duchovny) who is trying to learn to accept Robert’s friends and lifestyle. It isn’t easy, of course, especially since Connie (who you will recall is pretending to be a man dressed as a woman) begins to fall for Jeff as he also struggles with an attraction towards her…I mean him…I mean her. Baffled yet? Don’t worry. When watching the movie you’ll be too nauseous from hearing the word “chickapow” in every other sentence that you won’t really care.

To say that I was disappointed with this movie would be like saying that drag-queen make up is only a little flamboyant. While it starts off strong, it reaches its comedic peak about ten minutes in with an unexpectedly hilarious bit involving a bag of cocaine that was secretly slipped in Connie’s bag. The rest is nothing more than a series of mostly predictable jokes incoherently strung together in a story that’s just painful to watch. To Nia’s credit, there were parts when I laughed at some of the more original gags. But put those together and it amounts to half an episode of Saturday Night Live, not a feature film.

Collette and Vardalos do a truly superb job with the singing and dancing sides of the their roles. Yet somehow they manage to make ‘Midwestern-dinner-theatre-singer-stuck-in-a-gay-bar-cabaret’ a boring stereotype. The rest of the cast follows suit, even poor straight man Duchovny (pun intended). Clearly they all had a lot of fun making the movie. Too bad we aren’t afforded the same experience watching it.

The movie seems to offer up some kind if a sociopolitical message too. There were moments when I think they were trying not to be funny and remind me that women should be proud of their bodies no matter how they look, and that you have to accept people for all of who they are, not just the parts you like. Or they may just have been complaining that make-up and heels are as hard on men as they are on women - It's tough to say. If there was a deep meaning in there, it got shamefully lost and the attempt to express it probably should not have been made in the first place.

If you want to see the brilliance of Nia Vardalos, go re-watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Toni Collette fans should revert to another showing of The Sixth Sense. If you’re all about David Duchovny as the interest in a love story, check out the magnificent movie Return To Me. If you want to see the three actors together in a horrible blend of Sister Act, Dumb and Dumberer and To Wong Foo: Thanks for Everything, go get your head examined. No matter how you look at it, there is no reason to waste your money on Connie and Carla. Should you feel some deep calling to rent, or heaven forbid buy, this movie, steer clear of the extras. The movie leaves you asking if there’s anything out there that could make the experience any worse. The extras answer with a resounding gong noise that sounds like a ‘yes’.

The deleted scenes are your first face to face introduction with the director, Michael Lembeck. He bears a Martin Scorsese like persona and, like Mr. M. Night, seems to have a need to personally introduce and artistically explain his cuts. This would all be great if the movie were The Godfather. But since it’s Connie and Carla, the four minute grating introductions for thirty second long deleted scenes are mind-numbing.

Just in case you didn’t get enough of the musical numbers in the movie, Mr. Lembeck has courteously included a few full length versions as well. Never fear! He is once again present to assure you that these are excellent and to explain why they were costumed, filmed, conceived, choreographed and edited the way they were (yes, I’m exaggerating, but hey, this is a movie about drag queens, right?) I would guess that these are actually pretty fun to watch if you were watching them apart from the movie itself. If you just finished watching the entire film however, it’s like having a bad acid flashback.

Up next is an all too short outtakes reel. It is the reason why the extra features are “unrated”. More of a humorous moment montage, it blends outtakes with appropriate snaps from the finished product to give it a little bit of a kick. When it's finished, you get the feeling that the movie set was more like a pajama party for Toni, Nia and fifty guys dressed up like women. It’s a lot of fun and the only extra worth watching.

Debbie Reynolds fans will find the Debbie Reynolds feature both fascinating and informative. Everyone else will find the feature’s explanation of why drag queens are so in love with Debbie Reynolds both fascinating and informative.

There is also a feature called Dressing in Drag. If you’re into the drag queen scene or theatre make up in general, you might enjoy this. While the wigs and make up are hardly subtle in this film, the amount of work that actually went into making Nia and Toni look like women who are trying to look like men who are trying to look like women is easy to underestimate. The designers and artists truly succeed in making something hard look easy.

If, by this point, you are numb to Lembeck’s droning and don’t mind further subjecting yourself to the madness, go ahead and turn on the director/writer commentary and watch the movie again. I’ll confess that I only got a few minutes in before I ran screaming from the room. I had to wait until I could hear the credits rolling before I could go back to eject the disc and whisk it back to the rental store.

There’s plenty in the disc’s extra features, but having more of a really awful thing doesn’t improve it. In this disc's case means... There’s nothing to see here folks…move along.