Connie and Carla (2004) – reviewed by George

Such fun! Nia Vardalos and Toni Collette play Connie and Carla, and these actresses have pipes. They should be on Broadway right now, because of the sad state of the movie musical – illustrated by the fact that this film is 12 years old, and neither of these women has made a musical in that time.
Connie and Carla have been best friends forever, and even in grade school (or maybe it’s junior high – yearbook meeting is mentioned) they were performing on the stage in the school cafeteria at lunchtime and having a wonderful time, even if other girls laughed and called them freaks. Ah, the penalties of being different.
But of course their dedication to their dream lives on past high school and into their twenties, where we learn well into the movie that they played dinner theaters all over America. Now, in their early thirties we find them performing in the first-class lounge at the local airport.  Here the trapped audience is polite, if confused. See, the girls are great at scripted stuff, but have never quite figured out how to put an act together. True, they’re using a karaoke machine now, but they never do a complete song. They are underdressed, and they sing a line or two from a show tune, then stop and remove some clothing revealing another costume, and they sing a couple of lines from a new tune. And so on. Yes, they sing great, but the act is hopeless and hapless. Their boyfriends, Al (Nick Sandow) for Connie and Mikey (Dash Mihok) for Carla, are sort of hopeless too, especially Al, who puts the girls down for keeping at it, with encouragement like You’re never gonna make it. Mikey is no smarter , but really loves Carla and is more patient with her ambitions.
Then the girls witness a drug dealer kill his delivery man, who is also their manager, and they scream, alerting Rudy (Robert John Burke) the mobster, to their presence. They run and get to their car and start driving out of town, which from the east coast is basically west.
As they drive through that first night, they try to plan a getaway from Rudy’s mob. Connie says, “We gotta go somewhere where we can just blend in. Somewhere where they’d never look for us, because there’s no theater, no musical theater, no dinner theater, no culture at all.” And Carla, with perfect seriousness, suggests, “Los Angeles!”
Back East, Rudy has found a clue – Connie dropped her portfolio while running, and it contains posters from all the various dinner theaters they have played all over the country. Rudy sends a hitman, a Russian dude named Tibor (Boris McGiver), to search all these musical-presenting dinner theaters (I think a hitman forced to attend dinner theaters is a funny idea), and to kill the girls when he finds them (not so funny).
The girls end up in West Hollywood where they see guys smiling and talking, and Carla says, “They look friendly here.” Connie replies, “I got a good feeling about this, Carla.” They see a sign “Furnished Apartments for Rent”, and begin their new lives, swearing off boyfriends. They take a bus tour of celebrity houses, and Greg Grunberg plays the host with the megaphone; Greg gets a very funny line here. They get jobs at the Slimming Salon, but their genuine knowledge of make-up (and making a customer look really beautiful) gets them fired, and they leave the Salon looking for a bar, so they can get drunk. They find one close by and are drinking at the bar when the small stage erupts with a number. Three female dancers come out doing a great job dancing – but they are lip-syncing. The talk at the bar reveals that the trio has a gig in Vegas lined up, and the owner Stanley (Ian Gomez) tells the patrons that auditions will be tomorrow. At about this time Connie and Carla figure out that they are in a gay bar watching female impersonators. Connie insists that they can win the gig, because they really SING. Carla is worried about the female impersonator thing, but Connie assures her that they can pull it off. And they do – with heavy make-up and attitude.
There are complications – when are there not? The bartender Robert (Stephen Spinella) and his roommate N’ Cream (Alec Mapa) desperately wanted the gig (their act is called Peaches N’ Cream), and very respectfully approach the girls about maybe being backup singers in the act, along with two other guys, Brian and Paul (Chistopher Logan and Robert Kaiser) who also can actually sing, but usually lip-sync (of course they can all dance). As Connie and Carla become a bigger and bigger hit, and the bar’s business begins to really build, this is possible, but first Stanley gives them live music. And Robert has a straight brother, Jeff, to whom Connie is really attracted, played by David Duchovny. Jeff was only 12 when Robert left home at 16, and he wants to get to know his brother and have him in his life. More complications with Jeff’s fiancee, who is not in possession of a mind, much less an open one (the word “freaks” comes up again here).
Eventually Tibor, who has been touring every dinner theater in America (all of which are playing “Mame”), gets to L.A., and Debbie Reynolds hears about the “girls” and comes to meet them and agrees to be in the big show where Stanley turns the bar into a dinner theater(!), and Jeff, who has been reluctant to see the show and see his brother in drag, is finally going to attend. And Tibor has made a call, so Rudy will be there too.
Music Composed, Conducted, and Band Arrangements by Randy Edelman, who is a genius with themes: I especially like the theme used for running from the bad guys, which also is used for fast driving from the bad guys.
Costume Designer Ruth Myers, Director of Photography Richard Greatrex,
Written by Nia Vardalos, Directed by Michael Lembeek,
and Filmed in Vancouver.
If you enjoy musicals and/or comedies you will probably like this movie a lot. But probably not as much as I did. I am over the top for this film. I have seen it three times now, to answer questions about the plot for this review, and I have reacted exactly the same way I did the first time – to every song, to every slapstick bit, to every heart-tugging moment. I don’t like making sweeping statements, but this is now one of my top-five favorite films ever.

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