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Friday, April 16, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Movie Review
'Connie and Carla': You gotta love these big-hearted dolls as guys as dolls

By Moira Macdonald
Seattle Times movie critic

EIKE SCHROTER / AP
Carla (Toni Collette, left) and Connie (Nia Vardalos) pose as drag queens.
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"Connie and Carla" is one of those movies that sneaks up on you, in spite of yourself. Consider what happens to one of its minor characters, a mobster who's scouring the country's dinner theaters in search of two songbirds on the run (yes, yes, I'll get to the plot in a minute). At first, he sits glumly while the well-fed audiences sing along to "Mame," clearly wanting to be anywhere but there.

The movie keeps checking back with him, and soon, in New York, he's discussing the narrative thrust of "Rent" with anyone who will listen. And at the dinner theaters, he's starting to sway a little bit, waving his hands and joining in the chorus. By the end, he's chiming in lustily with "Mame." (Every dinner theater in this movie, nationwide, is doing "Mame," which somehow feels exactly right — it's very swayable.) Those who love show tunes should be nodding along with me at this point — these songs, even the awful ones, are irresistible.

Movie review


Showtimes and trailer

**½
"Connie and Carla," with Nia Vardalos, Toni Collette, David Duchovny, Stephen Spinella, Dash Mihok. Directed by Michael Lembeck, from a screenplay by Vardalos. 98 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual humor and drug references. Several theaters.

And so, in its messy way, is "Connie and Carla," which has the same sort of warmhearted charm as its star/screenwriter Nia Vardalos' previous effort, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." It has some of the earlier film's flaws as well: There's a broad, sitcommy feel to much of the writing, and Vardalos has a weakness for stereotypes — affectionate, well-meaning stereotypes (everyone's so nice, you want to hug them), but stereotypes all the same. But she also has a great gift for connecting with an audience, both in the warmth of her performance and her knack for creating characters whose dreams reach out to touch our own.

Here, Vardalos is Connie and Toni Collette (channeling the gawky ingenue she played in "Muriel's Wedding") is Carla, two longtime pals who dream of hitting the big time with their show-tune act, currently playing at the local airport lounge. They're pretty dreadful, but they don't seem to know it, and when they accidentally stumble across a mob deal gone wrong, off they go to hide in Hollywood and maybe incidentally find stardom.

And here comes the movie's truly inspired touch: What's kitschy and dreadful when performed by two earnest women in an airport lounge suddenly becomes kitschy and fabulous when performed by two drag queens — or, as in this case, fake drag queens — in a West Hollywood bar. (When they belt out "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" in their audition, the audience — previously sitting around looking bored — rises to its feet with arms raised, caught up in the campy emotion of the moment.) Quicker than you can say "Victor/Victoria," Connie and Carla have found success as women pretending to be men pretending to be women, piling on the eyeliner and reveling in their star status.

All is complicated, though, when the disguised Connie falls for Jeff, the cute straight brother (David Duchovny, looking ever-so-slightly amused) of one of her drag-queen friends. Will the two find love? Will Jeff and his brother learn to accept each other for who they are? Will Connie and Carla experience the irony of learning to be better women while disguised as men? And will a Beloved Old-Time Movie Star show up to lead everyone in a show tune?

You know the answers — and if you're smiling, "Connie and Carla" might just be for you.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com


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