Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Written by Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce
Starring Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, John Leguizamo, Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxburgh
My Advice: Don't Miss It.
Christian (McGregor) is a young, idealistic writer who believes in truth, beauty, and all that other bohemian stuff. He's gone to Paris, despite his father's protestations, in order to immerse himself in the counterculture of the day. Through a series of strange happenstances (an unconscious Argentinian falling through his roof), he runs into Toulouse Lautrec (Leguizamo) and his acting troupe. They're working on a Spectacular! Spectacular! for the Moulin Rouge. Well, Christian (with some help from Rodgers & Hammerstein) gets roped into writing it, and they're off to the Moulin Rouge to sell their idea. Through another series of happenstances, Christian finds himself confronted by the most beautiful courtesan of them all, Satine (Kidman), and the two fall in love. But there are complications, like in most musicals, including the manager of the Moulin Rouge, Zidler (Broadbent), and his patron, the Duke (Roxburgh).
Yes, that's right. A musical. It takes testicular fortitude to do a movie musical these days, but if there was any man for the job, it was Luhrmann. With his theatrical background, and the incredible retooling he did of Romeo + Juliet, I was awaiting this one for some time. And the good news: it does not disappoint. The sets and costumes are incredible, as well as the editing and camerawork.
But be forewarned: this is a movie MUSICAL. It is frenetic and out-of-control and over-the-top. But that's, again, an aspect of musical theatre. Also complimentary is the fact that Luhrmann's cast can sing. Unless you're making Everyone Says I Love You, then that is a very good thing indeed. Also worth noting ahead of time: the film makes use of contemporary songs and sets them back to the turn of the last century.
This works better than you think it would on first reckoning. This is partly due to the placement of such classics as Elton John's "Your Song", which becomes the ongoing theme of the Christian/Satine relationship. This is mostly due to my favorite reworking, "Le Tango de Roxanne", which turns into a heart-stopping exploration of jealousy thanks to the Tom Waits-on-steroids vocalizations of Jacek Koman.
The conceit works for most of the film, even "Like a Virgin" performed by...Jim Broadbent. No, I'm not kidding. It does wear a bit on the opening intro to the Moulin Rouge, with "Lady Marmalade" mixing with "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and God knows what else. It completely fails, however, in the Kidman/McGregor "Elephant Love Medley."
You see, the problem with taking the contemporary songs and placing them in a different context...is that you have to overcome the context that they bring with them. When you have just one song to deal with, it's easier to make that transition. But when you have two characters leaping around from Paul McCartney to U2 to David Bowie--my poor brain just couldn't deal.
Other than that, the film works amazingly for both the ear and the eye. It really is a bit of a cinematic achievement, and it underperformed at the box office domestically just like I feared it would. However, I await the kickass release of the DVD. May it have hours and hours of features.
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