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Lions Gate presents
Dancing at the Blue Iguana (2000)

Bobby: This ain't going to be cheap.
Eddie: I ain't worried about cheap, baby. We're gonna fill this club. She brings in three, four hundred guys a night.
Bobby: There's a reason why.

- W. Earl Brown, Robert Wisdom

Review By: Daniel Hirshleifer   
Published: January 04, 2002

Stars: Charlotte Ayanna, Daryl Hannah, Sheila Kelley, Elias Koteas, Sandra Oh, Jennifer Tilly, Robert Wisdom
Other Stars: Vladimir Mashkov, Kristin Bauer, W. Earl Brown, Chris Hogan
Director: Michael Radford

MPAA Rating: R for (pervasive sexual content/nudity, language, some drug content and brief violence)
Run Time: 02h:03m:26s
Release Date: December 26, 2001
UPC: 031398787020
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B-B-A A-

DVD Review

I truly love Los Angeles. This city has a really good independent film presence. For example, last year I was at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival and one of the feature programs was Dancing at the Blue Iguana, the new Michael Radford (director of Il Postino) film, starring Daryl Hannah, Jennifer Tilly, and Sandra Oh. I wanted to see it, but unfortunately didn't get the chance. As is the case with many films at these festivals, it took a while for Dancing at the Blue Iguana to find an American distributor. They finally did however, and I missed the movie once again during its very short theatrical run. When the disc came up for review, I knew I had to see it.

The film revolves around the lives of five strippers at the Los Angeles club The Blue Iguana. There's Angel (Daryl Hannah), a complete ditz who wants to take care of foster children. There's Jo (Jennifer Tilly), a hard-living woman who becomes pregnant. There's Jasmine (Sandra Oh), a would-be poet who tries not to get stuck in the stripper life, while being courted by another poet, Dennis (Chris Hogan). Then there's Stormy (Sheila Kelley), an introverted woman with a dark secret in her past, and Jessie (Charlotte Ayanna), who is down on her luck and wants to please everyone. The Blue Iguana is run by Eddie (Robert Wisdom), and Bobby (W. Earl Brown).

Dancing at the Blue Iguana is the result of an improvisational workshop, where each actor created a character with the guiding hand of Michael Radford. Some actors, such as Daryl Hannah, went to strip clubs for several weeks to observe the comings and goings of the strippers, and their interactions with the customers and the club owners. Some of the girls even danced in the clubs, to unsuspecting crowds. And to that end, the acting is almost universally excellent. Unfortunately, the plot does not sustain the audience's interest, and some scenes get downright pretentious (especially Jasmine and Nico at the end). The film is completely episodic, and the one story that tries to tie the whole thing together comes off as silly. The movie runs along pretty well until the end, where the filmmakers try too hard to make it more than just an interesting set of character studies.

However, the characters themselves often have enough charisma to make the movie interesting for most of its running time. The best performances come from Tilly, Oh, Wisdom, and Brown. Jennifer Tilly creates an extremely forceful character (so forceful that she strips to heavy metal and mostly just attacks the pole) who also has a human side. She also provides most of the humor (one scene in a doctor's office is particularly side-splitting due to her improvisations). Sandra Oh gives the most measured performance as Jasmine, who loves poetry and wants to be a writer, but has little self-confidence unless she's stripping. Sandra has several scenes in which the audience feels real compassion for her. Robert Wisdom and W. Earl Brown play off each other and the other strippers. Wisdom plays the stern but caring taskmaster, while Brown is much more of a sympathetic shoulder for the strippers, helping them through their problems.

The worst performances come from Daryl Hannah and Sheila Kelley. According to Michael Radford, Hannah is actually a gifted improviser. That may be (and, looking at some of her lines, is probably true), but her character choices are downright awful; she decides to play Angel as a complete nitwit who hardly knows her left from her right. After spending several weeks interacting with her real life counterparts, this was the best she could do? She perpetuates every stereotype people have about strippers. Sheila Kelley, on the other hand, doesn't perpetuate any stereotypes. She can't. She's too busy being entirely internal that no other character, let alone the audience, can identify or interact with her. Had her character been the sole focus of the film, this wouldn't have been too much of a problem, because we would have learned more about her and her backstory, and would have gotten to the meat of the character. As it is, whenever she's on the screen she's just looking pained and introspective. Even when she's stripping, she has that same look on her face. Could she at least try to emote? When we finally figure out what the deal is with her character, we're far past the point of caring.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: For some inexplicable reason, Dancing at the Blue Iguana is presented letterboxed, and not anamorphically enhanced. Despite that, the image looks pretty good. There is more dirt on the print than I would have expected from such a recent movie, but the colors are nicely rendered, and the disc shows no problems with a wide range of lighting schemes. Too bad those letterbox bars take away some lines of resolution, otherwise the film would have looked really good.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Dancing at the Blue Iguana has a very aggressive 5.1 sound mix. First of all, the score uses all the surrounds, but so do ambient effects, as well as all those scenes where the girls are talking in the dressing room and the camera is whipping around. This mix is done very well and really seems to capture the environments in the film.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
8 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Michael Radford, Sheila Kelley, Sandra Oh, Robert Wisdom
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Dancing at the Blue Iguana's extras range from being more interesting than the film to downright boring. Let's start with the best parts. This, by far, is Daryl Hannah's documentary, Strip Notes. Running at about an hour, the documentary shows Hannah going to observe at a club, as well as scenes of the girl's stripping, improv sessions that the cast had, and more. Most of it shows strippers interacting with each other and with the club owner. Sometimes they'll show the women telling Hannah a story, and then the corresponding scene in the movie where they took those stories and recreated them, almost verbatim. This documentary is infinitely more interesting than the film itself. Had the movie been two hours of the actors observing the strippers, and then creating their own characters in workshops, I would have liked it far more than what was eventually presented.

The other really good feature on this disc is the commentary by Michael Radford. Radford is very energetic in discussing the genesis of the film, the process the actors went through, particularly good improvs, and more. At times, it is more interesting to watch the film and hear Radford's comments on it as opposed to just watching the film. In doing so, you gain a better appreciation of the method employed, and so you can appreciate each scene more. Radford is very expressive and good at getting his point across, and will often point out interesting visual cues and stylistic choices that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Now the bad. The cast commentary with Sandra Oh, Sheila Kelley, and Robert Wisdom isn't particularly interesting. While Radford talked about a range of different topics, the conversation here is mostly anecdotal. A lot of, "I love that scene," and "Remember when we filmed that?" Not a terrible commentary, but it certainly pales in comparison to Radford's and isn't worth listening to more than once, if that. The worst are the deleted scenes/alternative takes. Radford said he usually used the first take for most scenes, because they were the most fresh. Well, these scenes prove that he did pick the best takes for the final cut, because these are close to the final versions, but just not as good. As such, they're pretty boring.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

An interesting idea for a movie that sometimes pays off, Dancing at the Blue Iguana is really more interesting to see the results of weeks of improvisations rather than the actual content of the film. The best moments come when the characters are interacting with each other and really seem to inhabit their roles, or when one of the better actors has a really good scene. The only problem is that while the improvisations brought forth a host of interesting characters, it didn't create any interesting stories, like M*A*S*H, or a greater overarching story, like Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark.


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