Connie and Carla

Movie Information

Genre: Musical Comedy
Director: Michael Lembeck
Starring: Nia Vardolos, Toni Collette, David Duchovny, Stephen Spinella, Ian Gomez, Debbie Reynolds
Rated: PG-13

Yes, it’s My Big Fat Greek Drag Queen — even if Connie and Carla might more appropriately be better dubbed Some Like It Hot Meets Victor/Victoria. No matter how you slice it, though, this is yet another vanity project for Nia Vardolos — aided and abetted by producers Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks (who loses some of the points he gained with me from The Ladykillers for helping to bring this turkey into the world).

OK, I’ll admit it: I found My Big Fat Greek Wedding a big, fat, unfunny bore, not in the least because my Nia Vardolos tolerance is very low indeed. It hardly helps that her two starring vehicles have been made by directors who are more at home with the 30-minute-sitcom format; neither Joel Zwick (Wedding) nor Michael Lembeck (Connie) seem to know what to do without a laugh track, or with that pesky extra hour to fill. Loading that extra time with scads of close-shots of Vardolos’ incessant mugging just ain’t the answer.

Then again, Vardolos in her screenwriter capacity doesn’t offer her directors much help. I don’t know about you, but I don’t go to the movies wanting to see a TV show with a thyroid condition, which is essentially what you have here. Vardolos and the usually reliable and sometimes-brilliant Toni Collette (see About a Boy) play Connie and Carla, a pair of not-very-talented musical-theater enthusiasts who perform show tunes to uninterested patrons in what is meant to be a waiting room at O’Hare Airport (that it looks more like a broom closet at O’Hare may or may not be a joke). Unfortunately, these two witness a gang slaying, and instead of staying concealed — presumably because Vardolos imagines herself the heiress apparent to Lucille Ball — they scream, reveal themselves and have to take it on the lam.

So Connie and Carla head for Los Angeles, the one place they think no one will ever look for them –because it has no dinner theater and, indeed, “no culture of any kind.” (Yes, the characters in this movie believe — as, presumably, does Vardolos herself — that dinner theater is a true cultural barometer.) Once there, the two discover work is hard to find, so they opt to pretend to be drag queens, which is also thought to be a great way to hide from the mobster who’s out to silence them. And, yes, they quickly become the toast of West Hollywood — based less on any actual talent than on the fact that they have the nerve to actually sing, rather than lip-synch, other people’s songs.

It’s not very long, of course, before they also become gurus of the gay community, teaching the guys how to believe in themselves, while smoothing out the relationship between drag queen Robert/Peaches (Stephen Spinella, Bubble Boy) and his estranged straight brother, Jeff (David Duchovny). Naturally enough — since this movie has nothing at all to do with reality — Jeff is strangely drawn to Connie, even though he thinks Connie is a man. I don’t know whether we’re supposed to believe that he’s dazzled by Vardolos’ beauty, or that Vardolos just keeps crafting scenes where they crash into each other — with Jeff always the one who hits the ground.

As anyone with a slight background in movies can see, Connie and Carla has made the switch — however badly — from Some Like It Hot into Victor/Victoria. Sadly, Vardolos and director Lembeck are about as far from Billy Wilder or Blake Edwards as is humanly possible, but not removed enough that their rip-offs aren’t painfully obvious — and that’s despite the fact that this movie takes place in some alternate universe where no one has ever heard of those iconic directors’ films.

None — or at least little — of this would matter so much if Connie and Carla were very funny. But with a few good jokes to one side (there’s a great insider gag where one character gushes to guest star Debbie Reynolds, “I loved you in What’s the Matter With Helen?“), this is a flat, predictable and unbelievable movie that mostly seems an excuse for Vardolos to perform a bunch of show tunes and make faces at the camera (widening her eyes and showing every tooth in her head — her parents must’ve paid a lot for those choppers, and she wants them to get their money’s worth).

Neither she nor Toni Collette are bad at the singing (though Collette, for good or ill, looks a lot more like a drag queen than Vardolos); we’re not on the stunt level here of those novelty records where William Shatner or Christopher Lee “prove” their vocal abilities. Still, the two are never more than adequate, such that all the fuss over their characters seems manufactured and even a little offensive. That all these gay-caricature refugees from a bad production of The Boys in the Band would fall into a faint over them just doesn’t wash.

If you feel the need for a drag movie, go rent or buy The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and see how it’s really done. Hell, even Too Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar is more sincere than this.

— reviewed by Ken Hanke

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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One thought on “Connie and Carla

  1. judy cheseborough

    I think your comment/review is way, way, off. That is absolutely the funniest movie I’ve seen in a long, long time!!!! The first funniest movie I ever say was “Silent Movie” where I laughed til I dropped! Nia and Toni are tops as far as I’m concerned! I bought the movie after I saw it on cable and have watched it many times. I especially love the commentary by Nia and Mr. Lembeck!!

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