Welcome to FrockTalk, the web’s only costume-based movie review site. The goal of Frocktalk is to shed light on the magnificent artistry of costume design in motion pictures. Reviews on this site are written by working costume designers in the entertainment industry – people who know, better than anyone, what it takes to make it all happen. The focus of FrockTalk is not to comment on the big flashy costume dramas, but to call attention to the seemingly ordinary costume design work in film that silently and persuasively moves the audience toward understanding the characters. Costume design for motion pictures is an art form that deserves more recognition than it usually gets. Fancy, pretty costumes do not always equal effective, appropriate costumes. The art of the costume is in letting the audience know who the character is, before the actor even has a chance to open his mouth. Read on, and enjoy. ** CAUTION: ALL REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS! **

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone


Review Date: 4-2-2013

Release Date: 3-15-2013

Runtime: 100 min.

Period: Contemporary (flashbacks to 1980s)

Costume Designer: Dayna Pink


The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a very interesting movie, and the costumes are awesome.  What kind of a dream job would it be to create a world of magic?  To span a few decades doing so?  To work with some of the best comedic talent in the process?  I sat down with costume designer Dayna Pink to discuss her work on the show, and I will run that interview soon.  But first, have a look at some of her outrageous and hilarious costumes.

Burt Wonderstone and his team of masseuses.

Burt Wonderstone and his team of masseuses.

Steve Carrell plays Burt Wonderstone, a neglected child who grows up to be a self-centered, ego-driven magician.  Partnered with childhood friend Anton (Steve Buscemi), their headlining Las Vegas Strip act is becoming stale, in light of freaky street magicians like Steve Gray (Jim Carrey). Along the way, they pick up Jane (Olivia Wilde), an aspiring magician herself, and the act struggles to hold on.


Eventually, casino boss Doug Munny (James Gandolfini) fires Burt.  Destitute from years of irresponsible spending, Burt is forced to start over.  He meets his childhood magic idol Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin) in a retirement home, and it reignites his passion.  Munny hosts a competition, the winner of which will headline his new casino.  Will it be Burt, Anton & Jane? Or will it be the likes of Steve Gray?  The final showdown is hilarious and I won’t spoil it for you.


Burt’s basic arc is from bullied, neglected child (left alone to bake his own birthday cake), to arrogant, peacock-like magician, to humbled broke man, to whole, in the end.  The costumes help illustrate the journey.  Let’s take a look at Burt and Anton’s performance costumes:


The red jumpsuit on Burt and the red three-piece suit on Anton.  It’s brilliant.  And I just can’t handle the hair; KUDOS to the hair department.  The two costumes coordinate with each other, and are clearly a team.  Yet, note the difference in cut and style, informing the audience about their personalities.  Together with hair and makeup, there is no doubt as to who is the more self-important one in the duo.


Their second performance costume is a blue sequined tuxedo get-up.  At this point, Jane has joined them as their assistant, and is dressed to match/coordinate.


You can see the difference here with Burt’s costume being the flashier, showier version…


…and Anton’s costume, again a three-piece version with a bowtie, is much more subdued and in the background.  Burt is still clearly in charge.


When we meet Steve Gray, he’s performing street magic to a crowd outside on the strip.  It’s very clear that this is a Criss Angel-type of magician – and the way Carrey is costumed is absolutely hilarious.  It’s right on, with a big touch of tongue in cheek.  Look here at the baby doll’s arm hanging from his belt.


Let’s also talk about the two-toned “ombre” hair, the facial hair, the jewelry, the tattoos – every I is dotted, and every T is crossed.   It’s pretty fabulous.  You hardly recognize Jim Carrey through this look.  He performs the heck out of this role, too – it’s pretty awesome.


Burt and Anton go back to Steve’s van to talk with him after the street show.  Steve is sewing his face back up (after a stunt).  Here you can see Burt – still in attention-seeking costume: red, sparkly, ostentatious – in a good compare and contrast with Steve Gray: earth-toned, dirty, gritty.  It’s old school vs. new school, and the costumes tell the story.


In a stunt designed to get Burt and Anton more publicity (and in a futile effort to rise to Steve Gray’s “street performance” bait), the duo decides to suspend themselves in a glass box, high above the strip.  The send-off show is much more mellow than the stage show. Note the more subdued colors on Burt, on all of them.  He’s still natty, but he’s taken it down a notch.  Anton, meanwhile, is in t-shirt and pants, rejecting the stage costume element completely.


Once suspended, it’s not long before Burt starts to lose it.  The jacket and shades are gone, the shirt is untucked, and he’s become unhinged!


After kicking and pounding on the cage, it finally gives way.  This big stunt involves costumes in a very interesting way…


Burt hits bottom and gets a job performing magic for an old folks’ home.  Rance heckles Burt as he works.  Burt discovers that the heckler is actually his childhood idol, and they form an uneasy friendship.  Note Burt’s color – black (hitting bottom), and Rance’s absence of color – beige.


They decide to work together at the home, as a team.  It’s very entertaining stuff.  You can see some color come back into Rance’s world.


Doug Munny approaches Burt about a job.  Burt, hopeful, gets gussied up in a fancy white tailored jacket for the meeting.  Munny tells him that the job is performing at his son’s Bar Mitzvah.  Note the use of the silk bathrobe on Munny.  He doesn’t even have the respect for Burt to get dressed.  It’s a great use of costume to underline the power dynamic at play.


Meanwhile, Jane has taken Burt in and given him a place to live.  Here we see Jane at home, performing a magic trick for Burt.  Look at her down-to-earth colors and soft silhouette.  I’ve gotta hand it to costume designer Dayna Pink.  Olivia Wilde is one of the most beautiful women in the world, and her look here is soft and approachable. There is nothing intimidating about her beauty in this movie – she is real, likable, interesting and attractive.  It’s nice to see Olivia Wilde really done up – she has an exquisite, other-worldy beauty about her – but in this film, she needs to be real, and costume/hair/makeup have all done a wonderful job.


The Bar Mitzvah day arrives, and Burt wears some color – finally!  Is he coming back to life, wearing pink?  He does some cool tricks at the party, including one in a “quick-change” tube.  It looked like they shot it live, as a real trick – I’m going to have to ask Dayna about that.  So many of these tricks appear to have been done live.  It’s pretty amazing. I don’t get magic.  Like, at all.


The finale of the film is the final audition for the new casino’s headliner position.  Burt, Anton and Jane have dialed it way back.  Look at the simplicity here.  The lines are clean, there is nothing pretentious or flashy about it.  Anton retains his bowtie and Burt has a simple white necktie.  They’ve come back to earth from the crazy Siegfried and Roy cloud.


Rance Holloway – Alan Arkin – in younger days.

There are so many cool influences at play here.  So much spandex.  So many rhinestones and sequins.  I’m looking forward to sharing Dayna’s interview with you – it was so great to catch up with her and to find out more about this film, as well as her philosophy about work and life.  Stay tuned and I will post the interview next week.  For now, I leave you with a nice article from the Costume Designers Guild magazine about this film.  I am so glad people are appreciative of the costume design in Burt Wonderstone.  I really enjoyed it.  Great job, everyone!!! Catch it now, in theaters!



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