Today on the Netflix bandwagon: Chicago

Full disclosure: Whitney hates this movie, and has been very vocal about it, so that's probably colored my view here.

What we have here is an opera/musical that centers around Roxie Hart, philandering wife of a lowly mechanic who figures to sleep her way to a shot at Vaudeville fame. When her lover comes clean about being a furniture salesman who fed her a line to bed her, she shoots him in a jealous rage. The plot describes her time in prison, the environment of 1920's Chicago, and the role of media in justice (or, in this case, injustice).

Roxie is an anti-hero: Unhappy with her lot in life, she uses every conniving trick imaginable from the traditional (sleeping with a benefactor) to the trite (pretending to be pregnant to curry sympathy) in her quest for fame. Her husband Amos is the perfect, if dull, foil: Madly in love with Roxie, he tries to take the blame for the killing, hocks all his goods for her defense, and STILL takes her back in the end.

The movie draws inevitable comparisons to Moulin Rouge. Both are trippy musicals with name stars doing their best to muddle through the song and dance numbers. (The question of whose singing is worse, Ewan McGreggor's or Richard Gere's, is left to the reader). On the whole, though, Chicago is a bad tequilla hangover to Moulin's acid trip: Here the characters are a little too real, the social satire a little too biting. One could walk out of Moulin distantly acknowledging such tragic love is real but innocuous. After watching Chicago, we're reminded of other maniuplations of justice, like the O.J. trial, Ted Kennedy's Chappaquiddic acquittal, etc.

Taken on its own merits, the movie is uneven. Queen Latifah delights as "Mama", the grafting head guardess of the women's block in Cook county jail, but Catherine Zeta-Jones disappoints, chosen for the part seemingly for the way she can smoke a cigarette and look good in fisnet stockings and dramatic eye makeup. Gere seems lost throughout, unsure of whether to ham up his scenes (yes) or try to be dramatic with a terrible Chicago accent (no!). Most of the scenes are visually intersting (see "Moulin Rouge"), but one is tremendous: The "Puppetmaster" number transcends the movie to social and political commentary, and should make any viewer squirm in his seat. After all, who's pulling your strings?

Some random comments:

  • Using the bandleader as analog the Greek choragus: Inspired!

  • No doubt using Richard Gere was a foregone conclusion, but did he have to be such a ham?

  • I'm torn as to Rene Zelwegger's body type for her character: She's much too toned for a 1920's era woman, but her thinness is apt for the flapper era. I found it distasteful.

On the whole, lovely film, but just a fine adaptation of what Broadway has been doing for 50 years.

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