This review originally appeared on Venus Zine.
Gender Bending Burlesque
A Wink and a Smile fails to live up to its burlesque tease
By Melissa Silvestri
Published: May 7th, 2009
A Wink and a Smile, currently making the rounds at US indie theaters, focuses on ten women in the Seattle area taking a six-week course in burlesque dance from professional dancer Miss Indigo Blue, culminating in a one-night-only performance. Directed by Deidree Timmons, the women’s journey is peppered by their lingering insecurities about their bodies and sexuality, and unfortunately, it's these redundant ruminations that drag the film down.
The burlesque dance classes are almost treated more as group therapy sessions, inviting the participants to reveal their self-doubts and confidence issues. After about nine out of ten women in a row speaking negatively about herself, it gets frustrating to listen to, boring, and takes the fun out of the documentary.
The highlights of the film are the performances from established stars subverting gender norms and social stereotypes, like The Shanghai Pearl twisting Asian exoticism, Waxie Moon, the sole male performer who is clearly influenced by ‘70s glam star Jobriath, Tamara the Trapeze Lady as the first to use trapeze in the burlesque scene, or one performer using herself as a canvas, being the artist, model, and audience all in one. These performers take the burlesque act and can use it to be male as female, female as male, female as male as female, or anything beyond just shaking tassels around.
A Wink and a Smile is a great effort to show how anybody with a passion and creative spirit can work within the burlesque world, but the focus on the women’s insecurities in comparison to the wildly diverse professionals exhibited makes it disjointed and split in half. The film would have benefited from editing down some of the women's segments – not necessarily to censor them, but not to keep making the same point of shyness, insecurity, or having issues with confidence or sexuality.