Dancing at the Blue Iguana (18)
Delving deep beneath the skins of five erotic dancers in a backstreet LA strip joint, director Michael (White Mischief) Radford comes up with a portmanteau story that explores lives, emotions, frustrations, fury, violence, incest and sexuality.
Based on a largely improvised stage production, Dancing at the Blue Iguana features at least two sizeable Hollywood names in Daryl Hannah and Jennifer Tilly, while rising names Charlotte Ayanna, Sandra Oh and Sheila Kelley fill out the cast.
From the outset the picture offers more than just a sketch of the lives of those involved. Pulling together an often disjointed narrative Radford and his cast manage to inject this potentially tragic tale with some wildly funny moments while, at the same time, bathing the story in pathos.
Each woman exists in isolation outside the confines of the Blue Iguana and its stage.
Star stripper Angel (Hannah), an airhead with a heart of gold, longs to foster a child and lives in a fantasy world of want and self-delusion. Jasmine (Oh) speaks like a slut but is a secret poet of some note. Stormy (Kelley) yearns to pluck up the courage to link up with her estranged brother. Jo (Tilly) discovers she is pregnant and wants no part of it. Jessie (Ayanna) looks to new horizons in music but turns to stripping to make ends meet.
Thrust into the midst of all these disparate stories is almost an overdose of humanity as these five women argue and make up, support one another, struggle through one another’s woes and battle with club manager Eddie (Robert Wisdom).
Radford’s triumph is in proving that even people at the bottom of the food chain have a value, and he is rewarded in his enterprise by some remarkable performances.
Top of the heap is Hannah’s dim-witted dancer – a disaster area on stage and behind the scenes – who longs for normality and the possibility of meeting Mr Right. Oh, as the poet-stripper, is excellent as the quick-witted, no-nonsense Jasmine, while Tilly provides much of the humour as a seriously buxom dominatrix in rubber.
While the action rarely moves out of the strip club Radford is careful to take a businesslike approach to the sequences where the girls perform or provide lap dances to the punters – male and female – who frequent the place.
In fact the only moment of titillation comes when the boss hires a part-time porn star, Nico (Kristin Bauer), as a visiting star attraction.
In its realistic approach to the girls and their gritty milieu Dancing at the Blue Iguana never shies away from adopting down and dirty language to make a point: this a seriously seedy, seriously nasty environment where the threat of violence goes hand-in-hand with sexual and drug abuse. Meandering through it is a succession of sad, lonely women kept afloat by booze, pills and dope.
Continually poignant, occasionally shocking and always compelling, Dancing at the Blue Iguana betrays its theatrical roots only rarely; the real trick here is that Hannah, Ayanna and Co really do strip and swing around their dance poles in this garish neon underworld. To see them is to believe them, and we feel almost every tortured, raw emotion.
There is bravery here among the scorching, X-rated striptease routines. There is also true cinematic poetry. In Hollywood films, that really is a rare thing.