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DVD Review HTF Review: Connie and Carla

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Jason Perez, Aug 9, 2004.

  1. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

    Jul 6, 2003
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    Connie & Carla

    Studio: Universal
    Year: 2004
    Rated: PG-13
    Running Time: 108 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
    Captions: English
    Subtitles: French and Spanish
    Audio: English – Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1; French – Dolby Digital 5.1

    Release Date:
    August 17th, 2004

    It is amazing how fast Nia Vardalos’ star seems to have fallen! A couple years ago, Nia became an overnight sensation with the endearing film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which became the highest grossing romantic comedy of all time, despite being put together on a shoestring budget. She then tried to re-conjure the magic with the dreadful and short-lived series My Big Fat Greek Life, before moving on to her latest effort, Connie and Carla which turned out to be a disappointingly predictable and poorly written musical comedy. Vardalos the actress is her usual energetic, confident, and often funny self, but her screenplay is just so derivative that it doesn’t match her exuberance. That being said, let’s back up and take a closer look at why I think this film went wrong…

    In terms of story, as Connie and Carla gets underway, we see two cheesy Chicago-based lounge singers Connie (Vardalos) and Carla (Toni Collette) witness a drug dealer (Robert John Burke) murder their boss. In shock, the duo alerts the killer to their presence, and has to make a break for it! Afraid that the gangsters will find them, and hoping to perform their act free from such violence and fear, the two friends leave the “Windy City” behind and head for a city bereft of dinner theater or culture – Los Angeles!

    Eventually, our heroines decide to settle down in West Hollywood, where they theorize that they will be able to both revive their lounge show and remain under the radar. Unfortunately for Connie and Carla, however, West Hollywood is not exactly the dinner theater capital of the United States, so they are forced to rack their brains for a way to keep their act going. In a moment of brilliance during a visit to the “Handlebar” drag club, Connie comes up with a new plan – the two ladies will pass themselves off as drag queens and show the audience their skills!

    It seems as though the purpose of this plan was to hold the pair over until a more conventional way of getting their show going presented itself, and it is inferred that Connie’s ideas usually don’t work out too well, but the ladies end up becoming a house-packing sensation! This unexpected success carries a price with it though, for as their notoriety increases, the likelihood that the drug lord that killed their boss will find them increases. Things get even more complicated from there, when Connie develops feelings for the decidedly heterosexual Jeff (David Duchovny), but cannot reveal that she is really a female without potentially compromising the safety of both herself and Carla.

    From this point on, the film proceeds in a very formulaic fashion, with a lot of ineffectual comedy and unimaginative borrowing from classic films like Victor/Victoria and Some Like It Hot serving to pass the time between musical numbers. And as you might expect, there is also a climactic showdown between the two would-be drag queens and the drug pusher who is after them, not to mention a completely clichéd resolution to the relationship between Connie and Jeff. To put it mildly, the end of this film is a complete mess!

    To be sure, Nia Vardalos’ disappointingly unoriginal screenplay is the cause of most of the problems here, but director Michael Lembeck does very little to alleviate them. I really think that he should have reigned in his stars a little, as they are so manic and whiny in this film that it quickly becomes both overwhelming and irritating.

    Other quibbles I had with Lembeck involved how ineffective he proved to be at both setting up jokes and paying them off, and how he let some truly repetitive scenes stay in the final film. Seriously, how many times can Jeff and Connie run into each other and fall down before it is not funny anymore?

    That being said, I would not be honest if I told you there were no laugh-inducing moments, because there are, including a funny cameo by Hollywood legend Debbie Reynolds and the slow conversion of the man tracking Connie and Carla into a lover of musical theater. There are a few other positives as well, since Vardalos and Collette do a fair job during the musical numbers, and the production design was quite good overall (especially costumes, wigs, and set design).

    Unfortunately, as was the case with My Big Fat Greek Life, Nia Vardalos’ character is also more than a little abrasive and self-righteous, which did not help matters any. This, coupled with the overacting and uninspired “borrowing” from other films, and the disingenuous speeches about accepting drag queens (or other people) for who they are, pulls the curtain down right on top of this clunky musical comedy mid-performance!

    In the final analysis, despite a few funny moments, and an outstanding turn as the film’s “straight man” (literally and figuratively) by David Duchovny, Connie and Carla is a surprisingly unentertaining film. The intentions behind this gender-bending musical comedy may very well have been good, but the poor writing and inclusion of far too many clichés and disingenuous messages of tolerance make the end result a drag (pardon the pun)! And let’s not forget that messy, ham-handed ending…yikes!

    Connie and Carla is a recent production, so it should shock anyone that its anamorphic widescreen presentation (1.85:1) looks pretty darn good. First off, with the exception of a minute amount of grain and specks, the image is quite sharp and detailed, which shows off the hard work of the makeup and costume personnel. Blacks are also deep and well defined, which leads to both above average shadow delineation and a pleasing sense of dimensionality.

    Moving on to color reproduction, whites are clean and crisp, and primaries are vibrant throughout the feature. The handful of outdoor shots from the Los Angeles area look fantastic! Lastly, artifacts and other digital nasties are not a problem, and though edge enhancement is present, the haloing that results from its use is minimal enough that it should not traumatize all but the most eagle-eyed viewers.

    Another solid, by-the-numbers transfer from the folks at Universal Home Video!

    The soundtrack for Connie and Carla’s misadventures (particularly in DTS form) offers a pleasant, although slightly under-whelming aural experience. Let’s begin with dialogue, which is full, rich, and always easily discernable. Equally nice is frequency response, which is strong from the high notes hit by Vardalos and Collette through the low bass and piano from the film’s many show tunes. Indeed, low bass is quite powerful, if a just a tad “boomy”, during the few instances that call for it (such as when the girls get shot at, or during the nightclub scene in Chapter 4).

    With regard to music, there is a fair amount of separation evident, so by listening intently you can make out each character’s voice during harmony parts. And “Born to Be Wild”, by Steppenwolf, which kicks in at 12 minutes into the film, just rocks in 5.1!

    Sounds good, right? Yes, for the most part I was pleased with this soundtrack, but it also does take advantage of the many opportunities to put listeners “into the audience” during Connie and Carla’s many performances. In effect, despite a few instances of smooth panning as cars go by, the soundtrack is entirely too front heavy.

    Taking all of the above into account, I think the fidelity of this soundtrack is nice, and it is mixed well, but I think it could have done a little more to envelop the listener.


    Audio Commentary
    Writer/star Nia Vardalos and director Michael Lembeck have reunited, but this time it was only to deliver a pretty solid yack track for Connie and Carla. As the film plays, they point out a lot of the mistakes and inconsistencies in the film, provide information about the casting process, and reveal the inside jokes and “shout-out” imagery hidden throughout the film. There is also plenty of insight into the production design, creating the characters’ looks (make-up, hair, and costumes), and some of the editorial choices that were made.

    In addition to being quite informative, the commentary is also aided by the fact that the two participants obviously have a very good relationship, which made their commentary easier to listen to than most. In addition, Vardalos and Lembeck are not afraid to poke fun at themselves, so there are some funny comments sprinkled throughout the feature. As was the case with the “making of” documentary, I think I enjoyed this audio commentary much more than the film.

    Deleted Scenes
    There are a total of five deleted scenes, each of which is preceded by Michael Lembeck commenting on why they were removed. With his commentary, the total running time is 8 minutes. The following is a brief overview of these excised scenes:

    --- #1 Connie and Carla have a quick conversation about their upcoming performance
    --- #2 The girls arrive in West Hollywood, and get into a verbal sparring match with the hyper-sensitive clerk at a coffee house. This scene is quite funny, but I think that Lembeck is right when he says that it did not jibe with the tone of the rest of the film.
    --- #3 Connie and Carla scan the classifieds looking for a job
    --- #4 This was yet another instance where Connie and Carla thought they were being shot at
    --- #5 A short scene where Connie delivers a line that is contrary to the film’s message of acceptance

    A total of 6 minutes of bloopers, which are slightly funnier than what is usually found in most similar offerings, are included. As usual, you can expect to find line flubs, and other assorted on-set silliness…but these outtakes are also notable for how they make it plain that the cast and crew had a really good time making this film.

    Extended Musical Sequences
    There are a total of three extended musical numbers included, with detailed explanations by director Michael Lembeck about why the scenes were condensed. The musical numbers are:

    --- Debbie Reynolds’ Opening Number (from Grease)
    --- “Nothing Like A Dame”
    --- “Shake Your Groove Thing”

    The Making of Connie and Carla
    This better-than-average documentary (25 minutes) uses interviews with the cast and crew, and behind-the-scenes footage, to cover a wide variety of interesting topics related to Connie and Carla. For instance, director Michael Lembeck reveals that he is a musical theater geek, which is why the project spoke to him, and he and the stars, including Toni Collette, Nia Vardalos, and David Duchovny talk about the messages this film tried to convey, the development of both the idea and screenplay, casting the roles, and the research that was done to create realistic sets and a genuine atmosphere.

    There are also some brief but fascinating discussions about the production design, particularly the subtle changes made to the “Handlebar” nightclub throughout the film, and about the daunting task of putting the musical numbers together (which includes rehearsal footage). It is not the greatest “making of” documentary I’ve ever seen, but I can tell you that it is both informative and entertaining. Moreover, the enthusiasm for this project is evident throughout the interviews. It is a real shame that this enthusiasm alone could not produce a better final product.

    Dressing In Drag
    “Dressing” is an interesting little 6 1/2 –minute piece that features interview clips with Nia Vardalos and makeup artist Charles Porlier, among others, who talk about some of the time-saving techniques used by the makeup team, and the phenomenal level of detail that went into creating the characters’ costumes, wigs, and makeup.

    Debbie Reynolds
    During this brief featurette (4 minutes long), interview clips from Nia Vardalos, Jan Gomez, and Debbie Reynolds herself reveal the glamorous actress’ immense appeal to drag queens, and what a pleasure it was for the cast to work with her. There is also some great behind-the-scenes footage of Ms. Reynolds entertaining a group of extras during a break in shooting!

    Promotional Materials
    Trailers for the Along Came Polly and Field of Dreams: Anniversary Edition DVDs, as well a promo for Focus Features.


    (on a five-point scale)
    Movie: [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Video: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Audio: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Extras: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Overall: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Sadly, Connie and Carla seems to signify that Nia Vardalos may have been a one-trick pony. I applaud her ambition, but this movie is so uneven and cliché-riddled, not to mention disingenuous in its messages of acceptance, that it cannot be considered anything beyond mediocre.

    Despite an audio track slightly lacking in atmosphere, in terms of presentation, the DVD is fairly well appointed, featuring a great transfer and some nice bonus features, including a good “making of” featurette and an insightful audio commentary. Still, that being the case, I cannot bring myself to recommend anything more than a rental for the mediocre Connie and Carla, unless you have seen the movie and really liked it. In that case, the DVD release should suit you fine!

    Stay tuned…
  2. Steve...O

    Steve...O Producer

    Dec 31, 2003
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    Thanks for another excellent review Jason!

    My wife and I saw this in the theaters. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit although my wife didn't care for it as much which points out that this will be hit and miss depending on one's personal tastes. I went in expecting lighthearted fluff and that's what I got. I didn't go in looking for messages and social commentary and certainly didn't leave the theater feeling "moved".

    It sounds like this is a well produced DVD so perhaps worth a rental. I thought this type of movie would play better on cable or home video anyway.


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