Written and directed by Daniel Halperin, original story by Dane Pizutti Krogman, twelve contestants from all over the world journey to Las Vegas seeking to win the title of Miss Viva Las Vegas. Starring: Raquel Perez, Pinup Little Bit, Bernie Dexter, Cherry Dollface, Bo Huff, Tom Ingram, Lisa Love, Angelique Noire, Marilia Skraba, Dita Von Teese, Amanda Watson and Ella Webster.
The film explores the worldwide community of people who celebrate Rockabilly, vintage and pin-up styles and embrace them in their everyday lives as well as at events such as Viva Las Vegas, a yearly weekend long celebration of cars, fashion, music and pin-up models. While the film briefly explores those other aspects of the festival, its main focus stays on the women contestants, why they got into the fashion and modelling, how it’s changed them and preparing for competition. There are a host of different reasons why these women dived into this world but a common theme among them all is body positivity and embracing your own style.
From what the film shows you, their Vegas event almost acts like an epicentre of the love for all things from between the 40s and 60s, bringing together people from all over the world, with the pin-up contestants come from a variety of countries, including Russia, The Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. It’s an enjoyable thing to watch so many different people come together to celebrate their passion for vintage stylings, especially these women who are so supportive of each other. The film has a hugely positive message about being yourself and not shying away from the vibrancy, a lot of the models struggled with body image and getting into vintage clothing that embraced their shape gave them a way to feel proud, positive and sexy. It’s something that’s talked about by most of the contestants and it shows that there’s a deeper side to it, it isn’t just the hair, clothes and make-up, it’s the way that it makes them feel and how it’s changed their lives for the better. It’s a very positive experience to watch these women talk about their discovery of pin-up and the impact that it’s had on their lives.
While it does have plenty of that positivity to offer, it perhaps jumps in with both feet to the sentimentality of it all a bit too quickly, it would have been nice to initially spend some time explaining the subculture for those who aren’t familiar before diving into the contest. That issue of mistimed progression is one that persists throughout, instead of each aspect of the film being handled in a linear way, it has a tendency to jump around between each one. It would have been a much more smooth and satisfying viewing experience for them to move in a way that began with that initial explanation, then introduced the women they’ll be focusing on, then moved on to how the competition works and watching it unfold. It doesn’t give you a chance to get invested in these women as contestants, as the set up is akin to a beauty pageant so had they introduced them in a more individual and clear manner, you could have picked a favourite or rooted for them, potentially pulling you much deeper into their story. It’s certainly the main problem that the film has, it lacks a stronger direction and effective storytelling which prevents everything from coming together in the most compelling way possible.
There are also a few brief moments where the film turns to the organiser of Viva Las Vegas and a couple of other aspects of the festival and these all feel unnecessary, with almost all of the film being focused on the women, it feels wasteful to take attention from them. It’s almost as if, without these moments, you could have made a mini-series about the contestants and really dived into the preparation and dedication that goes into entering something like this. It’s a shame that it didn’t stick to its main subject to give it that strong focus, instead it feels jumbled, which isn’t helped too much by some less than graceful transitions between various scenes. There’s also a brief detour into talking about the LGBTQ inclusions in their community and their open, accepting environment, but ironically it’s somewhat judgemental in assuming that everyone outside of their community assumes that they’re all straight. It’s an inclusion that feels too shallow and forced, it’s a really nice moment to show one of the contestants talking on stage about being a lesbian but again ironically, it would have shown their accepting nature more if they hadn’t felt a need to comment on it. Another similar issue is the ending, generally when you show a film’s logo that’s a sign that it’s over but strangely here it does so, then carries on and repeats that a few times resulting in something that’s messy and uncertain.
Bombshells and Dollies cuts itself off at the knees by being edited in such a fashion that doesn’t allow for a natural or smooth progression, restricting the possibility of audiences genuinely investing in the story. It has a hugely positive message, it’s full of energy, colour and enthusiasm, it embraces body positivity and women supporting other women but it strays from the message and doesn’t keep a strong focus. There’s great material within the documentary and it’s a delightful experience to watch these effervescent, generous and kind women but it’s not presented in a way that does them justice.