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3.6 out of 5 stars
Dancing at the Blue Iguana
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159 of 165 people found the following review helpful
on February 10, 2002
OK, so Dancing at the Blue Iguana features wall-to-wall naked gyrating women. But don't let that put you off. Despite the subject matter - the lives of five strippers who work in the eponymous club (played by Daryl Hannah, Jennifer Tilly, Sheila Kelley, Charlotte Ayanna and Sandra Oh) - and the frequent nudity, Blue Iguana is not a T&A movie. Rather, it's a compelling insight into the lives of the underclass of Los Angeles, or indeed, any one of the world's major cities.
If your cinematic tastes run to tightly plotted fare where all the loose ends are tied up with a big gift-wrap bow in the last five minutes, you'll probably it find frustrating. But if you can appreciate a film in which some issues are never quite resolved and some questions are never quite answered - just like real life - then you may be seduced by the Blue Iguana.
The film has been panned by so many critics that I must admit I started watching the DVD with some trepidation, expecting to be embarrassed for the actors. But I became so engrossed in the world of the Blue Iguana that I was actually disappointed when the film ended.
The DVD is very professionally produced. Features include a commentary from director Michael Radford; a second commentary from stars Sheila Kelley, Sandra Oh and Robert Wisdom (who plays the Blue Iguana boss Eddie); Strip Notes, a documentary by Daryl Hannah on how she researched her character in the LA strip club Crazy Girls; and some deleted takes and alternative scenes.
Much of the criticism of Blue Iguana is based on the fact that it was made without a script. The actors started with only two things: the title of the film and the fact that it was set in a strip club. Everything else, they worked out themselves - their characters, their storylines, and their dialogue - in an intense series of improvisational workshops. This approach may be unconventional, but it gives Blue Iguana a freshness and immediacy which is rarely found in mainstream films. As Michael Radford explains in the director's commentary, improv relies on nailing the scene in the first take; once it becomes too polished, it loses its sense of realism.
The female cast has been another target for critics - not because they're not superb actors, but because, in their late 30's to early 40s, Daryl Hannah, Jennifer Tilly and Sheila Kelley would be too old to work as strippers in LA where beautiful young women exist in a buyer's market. But they bring a depth of sadness to their characters - you can't help wondering where they'll be a few years down the track.
Sandra Oh's performance as Jasmine is a standout. Jasmine leads a double life, stripping on the Blue Iguana stage and secretly writing poetry in the dressing room. After persuading her to read one of her painfully beautiful works at his poetry group Dennis (Chris Hogan) starts to fall in love with her mind. But Jasmine realises the fledgling romance is doomed. In the film's most heartbreaking scene, when Dennis seeks her out at the club, she performs her routine to Moby's "Porcelain" with its haunting refrain "So This is Goodbye". The camera focuses on her face. It's an impassive mask, but her eyes betray incredible sadness. She's wordlessly saying to him, "This is the real me. Do you still want me now?"
Putting aside its improv-based development, Blue Iguana succeeds on its own merits. If you want to see a T&A film, rent a copy of Showgirls. If you want to see a haunting, thought-provoking slice of life, get hold of the DVD of Dancing at the Blue Iguana.
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59 of 62 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2003
Too many people (including myself) passed this by upon its release, and thankfully with the advent of Video and DVD, it may get a second shot at life.
Cast off any aspersions that this is another T&A movie. There is nudity, but it's (for the most part) tastefully done, and not always gratuitous. Unlike such moronic fare as "Striptease" or "Coyote Ugly", this film aspires to much higher ground, more along the lines of Atom Egoyan's brilliant "Exotica".
*side note* like that film, it includes a lot of Leonard Cohen and features noted Canadian character actor Elias Koteas! Coincidence?
Daryl Hannah acquits herself admirably, and Jennifer Tilly does a great job of combining pathos and comedy (the S&M scene is hysterical), but the standout here is Canadian actress Sandra Oh ("Last Night"), who plays outside of type and has you alternatively seduced and saddened along with her character.
Not to be ignored; rent it, then tell a friend. Films like this are few and far between.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2007
Prior to watching this, I expected something on par with "Striptease" or "Showgirls," which are films about stripping that also attempt to legitimize their titillation by tossing in dramatic subplots. Even with earnest intentions, films of this sort usually end up being clichéd and disappointing. Adding to my trepidation was the fact I had never heard of this film, which was released in 2000, prior to 2006. I finally took a chance on it and gladly admit that it really drew me in and convinced me to care about the characters. Like most people, these women only want to find love and something real in life, yet have lost their centers. Indeed, it is the actresses' portrayals of these characters that make each disappointment and set-back so painful to watch. Sandra Oh really moved me with her performance as Jasmine, a would-be poet who sabotages her own happiness because she has come to believe she cannot trust anyone, including herself. Her performance as a sensitive, intelligent person is the most tragic among these lives because she lacks the confidence to escape her current situation, even though she easily could. As Angel, Darryl Hannah is wonderful as a helplessly dim and hopelessly optimistic dreamer. (She also looks unbelievably fit!) Jennifer Tilly is also very good as the out of control Jo, a woman who tries desperately to win in a man's world, but comes to realize the playing field is not level. Charlotte Ayanna is remarkable as Jessie, an eager to please naïf, who has not yet had her spirit crushed by the weight of the world. Come to think of it, it does all sound very clichéd and there really isn't much of a plot to tie it all together, just several subplots. Nonetheless, the acting is exceptional, made all the more impressive by the fact much of it is improvised. (And yes, the ladies here all smoke, which would ostensibly account for their trim appearances) I enjoyed the entire two hours and would recommend it to anyone looking for a good character study without the hindrance of a plot. The DVD is quite decent, with a very good transfer, optional subtitles and some alternate scenes. This is a bargain for the price.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2007
Dancing at the Blue Iguana is a film whose story was developed during a five month improvisational workshop run by director Michael Radford. The story centers around the Blue Iguana, your average seedy strip club, this one located in a faceless semi industrial area of the San Fernando valley part of LA. Each of the lead actors developed their own character and storyline based on their own research.

There have been a couple of pathetic attempts by Hollywood to make a film about the world of strip clubs, namely Showgirls and Demi Moore's abhorrent Striptease, but both of those failed miserably. Dancing at the Blue Iguana succeeds brilliantly. Walk into any average to below average strip club in America and you'll find stories that are not at all dissimilar from the stories developed by the Blue Iguana's five dancers all played brilliantly by Darryl Hannah, Sandra Oh, Charlotte Ayanna, Shiela Kelly and Jennifer Tilly.

The one story element that sticks out as overly fantastic is that of the Russian hit man played by Vladimir Mashkov, who because his target is being held for questioning by the FBI, is stuck in a hotel next to the club and falls for Darryl Hannah's character because he sees her smoking outside the club all the time. But if you replace the Russian hit man with a businessman stuck in town for a week, it still makes sense, and would be much more believable.

Robert Wisdom who plays Eddie, the owner of the club, and W. Earl Brown, who plays his right hand man, Bobby, both do a wonderful job in this movie as well. The camera work is first rate and does a fantastic job capturing the unscripted dialogue. The soundtrack is perfect for this film.

In a film about strip clubs, there is obviously going to be a lot of nudity, and there is in this film, but it's not done in a gratuitous way. The film also kind of starts and ends in the middle of each of the stories, but that's the way life is. I found it just absolutely compelling and rivetting, in some sense the way a train wreck is compelling, because some of these young women have real problems. I could have watched another two hours of this, though, it was that good.

Strip clubs are often sad places, both the dancers and their customers often have melancholy tales. Dancing at the Blue Iguana captures that milieu in a perfectly downbeat way. Really a great film.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2003
I enjoyed this movie. The acting is good and it did seem a bit slow, but I was always interested to see what happen next. But I have searched for any listing of the songs that were featured and have failed to find them. Why wasn't the soundtrack for this movie released? Great songs!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2002
This film is astonishing. What started off as an actors' workshop became a deeply moving piece of work about a group of women and their coworkers in the Blue Iguana strip club.
This movie is not intended to be soft-core pornography, although there is plenty of exposed breast and provocative dancing in evidence throughout. Rather it is about the (mostly dysfunctional) relationships that informs the lives of the dancers, the club owner, and the bar staff. The determinates of those relationships are sometimes revealed in detail, but are more commonly and powerfully, simply implied. We are given just enough evidence to make a judgement about those relationships, but never enough to be relieved of our ambivalence about them (Is he a nice man or a bad man?). The resulting tension makes them immediate and demandingly relevant.
Individually and collectively the actors all succeed in developing characters that, while not always appealing or even admirable, invoke pathos. And while each is worthy of praise there are outstanding performances.
Darrell Hannah's character Angel, is desparately attempting to achieve a measure of adequacy simply to be loved...by anyone. Her encounter with a policeman who finds marijuana in her car after she has asked him to photograph her in front of a billboard advertising the Blue Igauana invokes feelings of desparate, truly awful empathy. If there is anyone who deserves not to be "busted" it is Angel. Her "dance of love" to her unknown benefactor, when all ambient noise is obliterated by Eric Claptons' "River of Tears," and when we are thus left with nothing but the dance and its plea for intimacy, is wrenching.
Jennifer Tilly as a dominatrix simultaneously having to cope with a submissive trick wearing a leather dog collar, and an intoxicated, profoundly disinhibited coworker who needs a place to stay following a beating, is a nugget of comedy ad libbing ("Don't touch him, you don't know where he's been!") delivered so rapidly that it needs to be watched two or three times simply to appreciate the sheer volume of dialogue and acting that gets crammed into three or four minutes of movie time.
Sandra Oh delivers an understated performance that leaves us feeling drained by its restraint. We keep hoping that she'll follow what we know to be her true desire, grinding our teeth as she equivocates, tending to the needs of her fellow dancers to avoid the inevitable.
There is not a wasted character portrayal in this movie. The sound track alone is worth the purchase of the DVD. This is an adult, intelligent and ultimately life-affirming look at subject matter too easily trivialized by social preconceptions to commonly warrant such care and finesse. Although it is a sad movie it is never disheartening.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on December 17, 2001
The movie was an improv or so I read. It was really quite good and funny in some parts. It mainly was sad showing how stripers were lonely using drugs to fill all the empty spaces, or men, or just plain dreams that never seemed to materialize. The acting was overall pretty good considering that this was all done without having an exact script. I was surprised to see some of the faces in the film, such as Daryl Hannah and Jennifer Tilly. These girls took on some really scary stuff, by getting up in a roomful of men and stripdancing. The dances were very intense and erotic and because I am a girl and was in an audience of mostly men I felt a little, no alot, uncomfortable. There were alot of dances with very little clothing because that was what the movie revolved around, unlike Striptease with Demi Moore, where there was I think maybe one or two times that she actually danced. This movie has endless dance sequences with all the major stars and some minor ones as well. There are also lap dances but they are not as intense as some I have seen in other art films. There was one movie I saw that had the most erotic lap dance ever, it was a movie called The Center of the World. These scenes in the Blue Iguana did not sizzle. But thats ok, I think the movie didn't want to show that side as much as it wanted to show how lost and unhappy these girls were. Some were just plain angry, trapped in a lifestyle they could not escape from. There were some beautiful poems in the film which enhanced the theme of the film. It is definately worth checking out, just be aware there is alot of female nudity! I wouldn't give it 5 stars because there were some parts that dragged, overall I rated it 4 stars.
Lisa Nary
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
youre going to go through an aspiring-stripper phase after seeing this.

with addictive plotlines, phenomenal dialogue and characters fabulous enough to make you immediately assign one to each of your friends (or at least to yourself) this movie is at very least a guilty pleasure, with star quality to boot.

to top it all off, the choreography is incredible. i recommend watching the behind the scenes, and then maybe renting "The S Factor" (the striptease workout by Sheila Kelley, who plays Stormy).

it's a movie worth seeing, and definitely a great addition to most collections. a serious classic!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2007
I'll be honest, any movie where I get to see Sandra Oh and one of the Tilly sisters nekkid is going to get 6 stars from me.

But it actually is a pretty good movie, though it is a little predictable. I would say it is fairly realistic (having dated a couple of strippers), except for the total lack of any lesbianism. But maybe thats just in the bay area.

On the plus side, this is one of the better Jennifer Tilly movies. That girl needs to get a better manager!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2002
If you haven't seen this movie and experienced the music you are missing out. Raw, true emotion flows from each character while at the same time your caressed with the phenomenial music selection chosen for this movie.
I'd really enjoy the full soundtrack or list of music and artists used to create the waves of emotion I felt through this entire movie.
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