Connie and Carla
It's Some Like It Hot meets Victor/Victoria meets La Cage Aux Folles meets The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert meets Queer Eye For the Straight Guy meets--oh, stop already! Suffice it to say, the gender bending Connie and Carla isn't original, but the film's talented cast and outrageous musical numbers will entertain just the same.
Since they were young girls growing up in the Midwest, Connie (Nia Vardalos) and Carla (Toni Collette) have shared the same dream--to become the next biggest thing to hit musical theater, but so far performing in an airport lounge is the closest they've come. Their lives change, however, when they witness a murder by some nefarious drug dealers, and in an attempt to escape, end up in Los Angeles, which has ''no dinner theater, no musical theater, no culture at all.'' It's the perfect place for them to hide out, and all goes to plan until Connie and Carla happen upon a local drag club. Suddenly, they see an excellent way to elude their pursuers--and fulfill their need to be on stage at the same time. Pretending to be men dressed as drag queens, Connie and Carla are soon headlining at the club, belting out the show tunes they love. They become a huge hit, getting the fame and recognition they've always wanted--but as time wears on, the whole charade turns out to be a real ''drag'' (''pun intended,'' as the gals like to say), especially when Connie falls for nice guy Jeff (David Duchovny). Still, with the killers hot on their trail, Connie and Carla have to stay incognito--at least until they can find a way to come out of the closet without getting killed, or disappointing their growing legion of fans.
The very charismatic Vardalos wowed audiences with her first feature, the smash hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and is probably feeling more than a little pressure to follow up with something just as good, especially since the Big Fat Greek spin-off TV series failed miserably. Luckily, she succeeds with Connie and Carla, due in large part to her co-star Collette, who finally--after a string of dramatic movies such as The Sixth Sense and The Hours--gets to use the comedic skills she deftly showed in her feature film debut, Muriel's Wedding. Together, the actresses' natural rapport and infectious charm permeate the film, and, despite a sometimes hackneyed script, they keep things lively, and boy can they sing! Vardalos and Collette make the most of their musical theater backgrounds, working the stage and making the film's musical numbers truly memorable. Vardalos also displays a fair amount of chemistry with Duchovny, as the straight Jeff desperately struggles with his burgeoning feelings for someone he believes is a man. The last little plus is C and C's supporting cast, including the bonafide drag queens the girls befriend at the club. Led by the Tony-winning Stephen Spinella (Angels in America) as Robert/''Peaches,'' who also happens to be Jeff's estranged brother, the supporting guys/dolls add that certain La Cage joie de vivre.
As she did in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, writer/actress Vardalos' script speaks from the heart with genuinely fresh, funny and down to earth dialogue. Apparently, she did loads of dinner theater in her early years, so she's familiar with the subject. Unfortunately, she relies on a contrived Some Like It Hot plot about vengeful drug dealers to get Connie and Carla to L.A., but once the film gets into drag, it zings. Connie and Carla is also in capable hands with director-actor Michael Lembeck (The Santa Clause 2), a former song-and-dance man himself, at the helm. The broad comedic style he picked up directing countless television sitcom episodes serves well here, and he turns the musical numbers into mini show-stoppers, each one topping the next. The last is the best, of course, when the girls launch into ''I'm Just a Girl Who Can't Say No'' from Oklahoma, capped by a special guest appearance from the musical theater goddess herself, Debbie Reynolds. Classic.
Although it may take its cue from other gender-benders, it's definitely snaps all around for the delightful and heartfelt Connie and Carla.