Connie and Carla is another indie comedy from the mind of My Big Fat Greek Wedding's Nia Vardalos. And while, as a women's studies major I can never stop thinking about the social implications of various performances of gender, in the end Connie and Carla, did right by pretty much everyone, while still remaining genuinely hilarious.
Connie and Carla are lifelong friends who want nothing more in life than to perform. Unfortunately, their variety dance numbers are relegated to Midwestern dinner theaters populated my senior citizens and Chicago O'Hare's empty lounges. When they see a mobster who lent them some dough for costumes get blown away, they know they have to go on the run. They figure on someplace with no culture, to ensure they won't be found, and settle in LA. After bombing in the job market Connie realizes that they can not only earn enough bucks to stay afloat but continue doing what they love…but only if they pretend to be men pretending to be women, and perform in a drag bar. Their act becomes wildly famous on the hook that they actually sing their songs, in beautifully light voices, instead of lip-syncing. But, as in the forerunner, Victor Victoria, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep their cover as they fall for straight men, and otherwise put their real identities on the back burner. The mob boss, who continues to chase them, and the unsupportive boyfriends who also pursue complicate the whole situation.
While Connie and Carla's script isn't wildly original, it's a fun romp through drag land, with enough jokes, both in and out, to actually make me chortle in public. As the hired thug searches every dinner theater in the country (after finding the girls' performance contact book) I came to realize quite an amusing comparison. These very middle-America performances, filled with senior citizens chomping mediocre food as they watch garish musicals, is nearly the same thing as the duos new gig at the drag bar. Essentially, Midwestern grandmas are watching drag shows every weekend.
As mentioned before, Vardalos, is quite admirable in her attempt to give humanity to a drag community; Connie and Carla experience what it feels like to be considered freakish, one instance in particular, when Connie ditches Carla at a mall and Carla begins to feel very out of place in such a heteronormative atmosphere where she is constantly mocked. But the portrayal is not uncomplicated. What does it say to have a straight woman as spokesperson for a queer/genderqueer community? And what of her largely unexplored feminist notion that to be successful they must pretend to be men, regardless of whether those men pretend to be women...And indeed, I expected a little more from the straight hottie (David Duchovny) Connie falls for. As he runs into the bar in the last scene, I expect him to profess his love for Connie, but he doesn't. It is only after he is completely sure she is female, does he admit any interest. There is precious little room for any real thought on societal norms and justice. Though the film seems to lay claim to some exploration of these topics, they are superficial at best.
If you enjoy a plot as outlandish as its costumes, and slapstick moments such as exploding kilos of coke, Connie and Carla is popcorn-out-your-nose funny at times. Its theatrical value is reflected by those productions within the film. That is, it may never make it to Broadway, but as weird campy dinner theatre, it works just fine.