'Connie and Carla': Corny Chuckles
Friday, April 16, 2004
LIKE AN EXTRA large pizza, "Connie and Carla" is broad and cheesy, yet it is not utterly without a kind of junk-food appeal. Exactly how broad is this "Some Like It Hot"-inspired comedy about a pair of second-rate singers (Nia Vardalos and Toni Collette) who pose as male drag queens in order to hide from a mobster named Rudy (Robert John Burke)? "I Love Lucy" broad. "Laverne & Shirley" broad.
Put it this way. When Connie (Vardalos) and Carla (Collette) first see men kissing in West Hollywood, where they have fled after witnessing a drug shooting back home in the Midwest, you can practically hear their jaws bounce off the floor. I guess in the small burg they hail from, there are no homosexuals, just cocaine dealers, which is strange, considering how easily the two take to what another character calls the "drag code of conduct," camping it up with heavy makeup and a love of over-the-top show tunes.
See, there are two kinds of people in the world who still love musicals, at least according to Vardalos's energetic if overly obvious script: elderly hicks and gay men. (Three, if you count Rudy's "Mame"-loving Slavic henchman, Tibor, played by Boris McGiver, whom his boss sends off to scour the dinner theaters of the American hinterlands in search of the fugitives.) Then there's Connie and Carla themselves, gotta-sing naifs who go from the obscurity of belting out Broadway standards to unappreciative strangers in the airport travelers' lounge back home to being the toast of gay Los Angeles when their self-titled revue becomes a smash.
That's because, unlike many drag acts, they don't lip-sync. What's more, they look really "authentic." As a further example of the film's high comedic standards, one sight gag involves a quartet of drag queens feeling up Connie's ample and very real chest, in an impromptu inspection of the quality of her "falsies."
But that's not the bit I laughed out loud at. That came when David Duchovny, who plays Jeff, the straight brother of one of Connie and Carla's drag pals (Stephen Spinella), introduces his homophobic girlfriend. "Her name is Mary?" asks a drag queen, in a shocked, sotto voce aside over the fact that the appellation might be more than a generic nom de guerre for the members of the cross-dressing demimonde. Okay, so I prefer understated to hammer-over-the-head yuks.
But the film's generally sitcom-calibre comedy is not its only problem. Take the premise, for instance. Considering Connie and Carla's willingness to go underground at the first sign of trouble, it hardly seems likely that they would pose much of a legal threat to Rudy. But then there's that kilo of cocaine that the women inadvertently took from him. A kilo, it should be noted, that Connie and Carla don't even have anymore, given that they dumped the contents in their wood-paneled station wagon on the way out to L.A. And anyway, considering how much Tibor has been spending on theater tickets, especially during a stopover in Manhattan, can the hunt for our heroines really be cost effective?
All the same, Vardalos and Collette make believable drag queens. And Duchovny, as Connie's uptight and unattainable love interest, has a goofy, low-key likability. Lastly, the film's none-too-subliminal message that you should be yourself, no matter what that looks like, is hard to argue with.
It may not be subtle, but, like drag itself, "Connie and Carla" affords a few corny, if artless, pleasures.