While Magic Mike is in theaters we're celebrating memorable cinematic strippers
Beau here to discuss a reluctant exhibitionist, Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies.
It is one of the strangest of all strip scenes. Strange in the sense that, in less than five minutes, it accomplishes so much more than titillation. It anticipates that expectation, and rises above it; it is a telling of a woman looking at the walls she's built in her life and slowly, awkwardly, gracelessly pulling them down, like a feral animal. That she grows in confidence is only fitting, since by revealing herself physically, it's also a striptease she's performing for herself. Layers and a multi-faceted persona that surprise even her. It is the funniest striptease of the last twenty years (intentional, before I get hordes of Showgirls comments) and it is performed by the long underrated Jamie Lee Curtis in James Cameron's True Lies.
Curtis' Helen Tasker begins as a simple housewife, an estimation both the audience and the character accept from the get go. With a ninth grade math teacher's haircut and eyeglasses that would send Edith Head into a conniption fit, she is neo-Dowdy - Clarissa Brown removed and brought to the nineties, sans the lesbianism and suicidal tendencies. (Brat child still intact.)
But by a series of unfortunate events, she is led to a hotel room where she is told to perform a striptease for a figure lingering in the shadows, and it is remarkable to see an actress of such physical and intellectual capacity register the journey through anxiety to control so clearly. She is told by the man in the shadows to strip.
She shuts her eyes, almost to avoid letting herself see what she's about to do (like a mother covering the eyes of her child when something awful is about to happen) and awkwardly begins to remove her clothing down to her lingerie.
After the dress is on the ground, having achieved some semblance of sensuality, Curtis manages a remarkable moment where Helen kicks the dress in the direction of the shadowed man and returns to an attentive standing pose, holding her hands together like a cadet awaiting further orders. It's only business right now.
Ordered to dance, she raises her arms and begins to sway back and forth, stilted and painfully self-aware, unwilling to release her inhibitions. But then, the remarkable thing happens: she closes her eyes once more, raises her hands to her chest and neck and feels herself, (for the first time?) and achieves an erotic sensation entirely derived from her own desires. She is feeling out what she needs, yearns for. The man in the mirror is secondary; she manifests a reflection of her own self, plasters it over him, and now sees exactly what it is she's been missing: the lion in the woman. Eradicating the old Helen. Inviting in the new one for wine and jazz.
She takes control over the four poster bed, ravishes it, and then loses her grip and falls to the ground. Her quick recovery provides for the funniest moment in the film; like a stumbling on the sidewalk, or an uncomfortable grazing past a stranger, you just as soon try to make yourself forget it ever happened.
In this four minute scene, one marvels at what a missed opportunity Hollywood had with such a skilled comedienne. Smart, sexy, self-aware; she has provided several iconic moments to American cinema. One only wishes her career post-2003 would have provided her better opportunity to exhibit more.
Seriously. For shame, Hollywood. You let the lioness out of the cage. Now let us watch her feed.