I'm jaded enough as a film critic to be unsurprised when I see a movie about five strippers, all leading melodramatic and tragic lives.
But when those five strippers are all reasonably B-level or former A-level movie stars, even my ears start to perk up. Even more amazing -- they're all naked.
Jo (Jennifer Tilly) is probably worst off, a psychotic dancer and part time S&M "mistress" who also happens to be pregnant. Angel (Daryl Hannah) is a mega-dtiz trying to adopt a foster child while being stalked by a Russian hitman. Jasmine (Sandra Oh) is on fire on stage but is too timid to read her poetry at the local bookstore. New girl Jessie (Charlotte Ayanna) instantly falls in with a bad-boy rock star, who promptly beats the crap out of her. And Stormy (Sheila Kelley, who also served as one of seven producers) is a mysterious old-timer with an even more mysterious brother who she fears for some unknown reason -- it's by far the least compelling story presented.
And this is all directed by Michael Radford, best known for directing Il Postino!
Amidst the plentiful cheesecake scenes inside the Blue Iguana are the sequences that tell us of the sordid lives of these strippers and their men (including Elias Koteas, who also starred in another stripper movie with a Leonard Cohen soundtrack (Exotica), which must be a record for any actor). But that's about the only similarity you'll find between Blue Iguana and the superior Exotica. While Atom Egoyan carefully crafted his mysterious strip-club tale, Radford's Iguana is the product of an improvised script, courtesy of its stars, tied together with a narrative from Radford and David Linter. This imbues the film with some naturalistic and intriguing performances, especially from Tilly's psycho-bitch of a stripper.
Unfortunately, this also gets old pretty quickly. After a full hour of Iguana I was watching the DVD counter tick by in slow motion. Hannah's goofy, New Age princess is the most grating problem, a caricature beyond all reason and a stark contrast to the rest of the cast. Otherwise, Iguana just offers too little and takes too long to get there. With an ungodly two hour running time, it's awfully convenient that each dancer manages to have a life-changing event in her life -- all at the same time, none of which are entirely unexpected and most of which just stop without a real resolution. In other words, you can spend 20 bucks on this DVD, or you can head down to your local stip joint and hear an original sob story for exactly the same amount.
Radford offers one commentary track, actors Kelley, Oh, and Rodney Rowland offer a second one -- both of which focus on the utterly bizarre method in which this film was made. Hannah made a little documentary about the making of the film, and that hour-long experience, with tons of real backstage strip club footage, is presented on the DVD as well -- it's actually more interesting than the film itself. Alternate takes and deleted scenes (none of them terribly compelling) round out the disc.
Who's the fairest of them all?