When I was young, I dreamt of being a star. A talented actor, an acclaimed musician, a stunning novelist, I didn't care—just as long as my name ended up in lights! Once high school hit, however, the pressures of grades and girls easily eclipsed thoughts of fame. Not so for the titular protagonists of Connie and Carla.
Ever since junior high when they donned matching costumes, scaled cafeteria tables and belted out songs from the musical Okalahoma!, the duo shared a common goal: to be dinner theater performers. But their dream has left them stuck singing show tunes in a seedy lounge at Chicago's O'Hare Airport.
Then, realizing their lives are in jeopardy after business associate Frank gets whacked by a cocaine dealer (Rudy) for stealing a kilo of blow, Connie and Carla hightail it to L.A. where they think they can lay low and restart their careers. Unfortunately for them, there's not a single dinner theater to be found. Depressed, the two retreat to a bar (it turns out to be a gay bar) and witness the gaudy spectacle of a drag queen cabaret. Connie is thrilled. Here is an opportunity to sing! To dance! To fulfill their dream! Best of all, Rudy would never think to look for them here of all places.
Carla isn't so sure, though. Connie's been making eyes at a cute guy named Jeff and that could totally blow their cover. And she really misses her devoted squeeze, Mikey. Plus, wouldn't pulling this whole stunt off mean they'd be women dressing as men dressing as ... women?
Connie and Carla exhibit a stubborn perseverance even though the odds seem stacked against them. Despite being ridiculed by an ex, Connie maintains that since she has one life she'd like to live it in a pleasing way. She repeats the optimistic credo, "If one door closes, another door opens."
Mikey exhibits a sweet devotion to Carla, pledging his faithfulness and a desire to marry her. As for Jeff, he's a true gentleman who is trying to establish a relationship with his estranged transvestite brother, Robert, despite disapproving of his lifestyle (at least initially). The film ridicules starvation dieting and pokes fun at the Botox craze, saying that if a man "doesn't love you when your face looks like a map" then one should kick him to the curb.
Songs from Jesus Christ Superstar get screen time. After reenacting a scene from that particular show, Connie cracks an inappropriate joke about Mary Magdalene's supposed romantic interest in Jesus. She also claims that "God put us on this earth to laugh." A group of transvestites light a votive candle and offer a prayer to "Saint Mary of Drag Queens." They conclude the impromptu petition by intoning, "Gay-men."
Garishly decked out transvestites inhabit nearly every shot. They primp. They preen. They pose. They're so ubiquitous that they almost cease being an outlandish spectacle by the end of the movie's run time—and one can't help but think that was part of the filmmaker's intent. The script also attempts to normalize gay and transgender lifestyles. Initially, Jeff is quite uncomfortable around Robert and his dragged-out chums and claims their behavior is unnatural. (He's also repulsed when Connie kisses him at one point, believing her to be a man.) But he eventually "comes around," affirming that Robert isn't a "freak" by accepting him in his entirety, bras, wigs and all. Homosexual men passionately kiss in a club.
When Connie and Carla unexpectedly pack up and move to Los Angeles, their parents wonder if they've become prostitutes. Connie and Carla often repeat the phrase "chin up, boobs out" before hitting the stage. Scenes show them stuffing their bras with socks to appear more man-ish. When several transvestites marvel over Connie's amazingly "realistic" chest, Carla mischievously urges them to feel her breasts (which they do with much curiosity). Mikey asks Carla if she wants to sleep over with him and she replies in the affirmative, but she's quickly intercepted by Connie.
In order to prove they're women, Connie and Carla flash a crowd (the camera is behind them). Jokes crop up about oral sex and erections. Numerous risqué stage names are provided for cross-dressing performers (e.g. "The Belles of the Balls"), as are a handful of less-than-modest dance routines.
Rudy's thuggish crony violently pins the girls' heads to the bar when asking about Frank's location. The hooligan also thoroughly roughs up Frank before Rudy shoots him (offscreen). Realizing Connie and Carla have witnessed the crime, Rudy proceeds to empty the gun at them and narrowly avoids being hit by their car as they flee. Connie accidentally bowls over Jeff several times. [Spoiler Warning] Eventually Rudy tracks the duo down and a huge brawl ensues, during which shots are fired, Mickey accidentally gets knocked out, and Rudy and his goon are pummeled by drag queens.
Drug and Alcohol Content
A packet of cocaine that Frank has planted in one of the girls' purses unexpectedly opens, spraying the ladies with white powder. Upon being fired, Connie tells Carla that "we need to get drunk." They end up downing shots. Drinks regularly show up at bars and restaurants. A man confesses to a friend that he's a bit smashed. Upon discovering that Carla has been posing in drag, Mikey loads up on liquor.
Connie and Carla is Nia Vardalos' first cinematic outing since her surprise hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding. So comparisons are inevitable. Wedding won audiences' hearts with its smart dialogue, well-rounded characters and hilarious, yet humanizing, comic touches. Many families enjoyed the film despite a handful of mild negatives because it was a heartfelt tale that wisely sidestepped the cesspool of prurience and profanity in which many Hollywood comedies wallow.
Enter Connie and Carla, which—much to this reviewer's disappointment—fails on a whole lot of levels. The two gals and their entourage of gay and straight chums are as three-dimensional as rice paper. The jokes barely elicited a single chuckle during the screening I attended. And, morally, the movie makes no bones about wearing its pro-homosexual themes on its sleeve.
Viewers who shouted "Oopah!" for Vardalos' Wedding aren't likely to let out a peep for Connie.