Not everyone has seen the movie Burlesque, starring Christina Aguilera and Cher. It's full of great song and dance numbers, elaborate costumes and some phenomenal actors (Stanley Tucci, Alan Cumming, and Kristen Bell, to name a few). But that's not what has kept me watching it again and again. What draws me into this movie are the characters of Tess (Cher) and Ali (Christina Aguilera).
Burlesque takes a different path than the typical small-town girl pursues her dreams and finds love stories. In most of those stories, the Burlesque Lounge Club would be the low point in Ali's story, the thing she needs to be rescued from. Except in Burlesque, Ali doesn't need to be rescued at all. She works hard to get onto the stage and she loves it. She rejects people who tell her that she should be aiming higher than a small club literally buried under the Sunset Strip. It's one of the rare instances of a female character who never doubts herself, her talent, and what she wants.
Ali leaves her small town in Iowa because she "looked around and there wasn't one person whose life (she) wanted." When she arrives in Los Angeles, she goes after what she wants with determination. She tries to get onstage at the Burlesque Lounge but Tess rejects her. Rather than slinking away, Ali picks up a tray and starts waitressing at the club. She forces her way onto the stage during an audition in order to claim her space. When the established star of the show sabotages Ali's performance, Ali seizes the opportunity to show off her vocal talents and earns a place as the new star of the show. She even rescues Tess by saving her club from foreclosure by arranging for a local business owner to buy the air rights above the club, preventing a developer from demolishing the club and building a skyscraper. She's an unusually proactive and confident heroine.
Tess is another strong and confident character who has some of the best lines in the movie. ("I didn't divorce you so I could spend more time with you" makes me laugh every time.) She handles her ex-husband and the greedy developer with poise and wit. She gets angry and never hesitates to speak her mind, but also reaches out to Ali and te other dancers to give them support. She's a beautiful mixture of motherly and fierceness. She's glamorous and not afraid to be larger than life.
What really strikes me though is the fact that these two women are not placed in opposition to one another but actually support one another. Positive intergenerational female relationships are unusual in fiction. The younger woman is usually fighting against the older woman in stories (the evil stepmother, the monster mother-in-law) or older women are simply absent. Tess challenges Ali but not in a destructive way. They end up in partnership, working together to achieve both of their happy endings.
When I first saw this movie, I absolutely adored the characters and the Alice Through The Looking Glass motif. It inspired me to take a chance on my own dreams, stepping away from fan-fiction and writing my first original manuscript. That story is still buried in my hard-drive but with my second, I decided to take a little more direct inspiration and make my heroine a tough-as-nails burlesque dancer with a heart of gold. I still listen to the music from the movie on a regular basis and last year, I gave a Basics of Burlesque workshop at Romancing the Capital.
I love stories that embrace confident women and female sexuality rather than punishing them. And, of course, I adore stories that inspire hope and end with dreams achieved. Burlesque is and will always be one of my all-time favourite movies and the one I turn to when my spirits sag. It reminds me that dreaming big is the only way to live.
(Keep on reading for more information on next month's Heroine Fix and a special offer on my own books.)
If you'd like to read about Dani, my superpowered burlesque dancer, now you can pick up Revelations for less than the price of a cup of coffee. Get started with fast-paced paranormal romantic suspense about a secret society of superheroes living among us.
If you'd like something shorter and spookier, there's my Spirit Sight Short Stories, releasing between April 30th and May 14th. Get them one at a time or the whole collection.
Or you can browse through the blog and check out last month's Heroine Fix about the brilliant and irrepressible Charlotte Holmes in Sherry Thomas's Lady Sherlock series. Or you can read last week's blog post about the line between romantic and creepy. Or if you're looking for other books to read, check out my Hidden Diamonds for romance recommendations with strong women, exciting adventures and paranormal thrills. This month is Sally Brandle's romantic suspense series set in the Colorado mountains.
Next month, in anticipation of Avengers:Engame, I'll be looking at Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy. Join me on April 11th for your next Heroine Fix.