Pure movie magic
After last year’s Dancer in the Dark, a movie musical that was slightly deranged and absolutely amazing, the genre gets another shot in the arm with Moulin Rouge, a decadent, completely deranged and magnificent tour de force for Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman.
Set in 19th century Paris, this film by director Baz Luhrmann begs to be different and achieves its wishes. If you find yourself on this movie’s wavelength, and I imagine that quite a few won’t, it will have you cheering, crying and laughing out loud.
Playing an impoverished writer interested in the bohemian lifestyle, Ewan McGregor proves that he is one of the more well-rounded actors in the business, boasting a singing voice worthy of any movie musical (after hearing him sing, I’m wishing they would remake The Who’s Tommy and cast him in the title role). Matching him in vocal prowess is Nicole Kidman, playing the high-priced courtesan Satine and reminding me of Ann-Margret in her heyday. They light up the screen.
After an acting troupe crashes through his ceiling, McGregor finds himself writing for a new musical. He displays an uncanny lyrical sense (he wows the troupe during an impromptu audition, crooning “The Sound of Music"). The troupe recruits their new star and looks to get their show financed at the Moulin Rouge.
While the film is set in the notorious, real-life Moulin Rouge and is a period piece of sorts, historical accuracy is not one of its goals. Modern music remakes mixed with a few originals make up the soundtrack, and there is great joy to be had in seeing McGregor romance Kidman with a stirring rendition of Elton John’s “Your Song” on a rooftop during a lavish dance number, complete with an animated, singing moon.
For her character’s introduction, Kidman performs “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” intercut with Madonna’s “Material Girl.” Another of Madonna’s works makes its way into the movie when Jim Broadbent as Zidler, the rather large master of ceremonies, performs a raunchy version of “Like a Virgin,” a number that concludes with a remake of Truth or Dare‘s spinning bed.
Luhrmann, who turned another genre on its head with William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, is not a subtle director by any means. Employing an editing style that can often be described as frantic, some will surely suffer migraines within the film’s first 15 minutes. For me, the style works because it accentuates the exuberance that the film is achieving, but it will surely backfire for those who like their movies slow-paced.
Expect all matters of art direction and costuming awards to be thrown at this picture. Paris is depicted on screen with a pop-up storybook appearance, a brilliant stylistic touch giving the movie a distinct fairytale appeal.
All of the film’s musical moments work, with the standout being a love song medley that includes Joe Cocker’s “Up Where We Belong,” David Bowie’s “Heroes” and Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” McGregor and Kidman perform the medley, and every time they segue into another pop standard, it’s a major smile-maker.
Moulin Rouge is an ode to music, radically displaying that it has no boundaries. It also marks a triumphant return to the movie musical, a genre that has never really died, but has floundered of late. McGregor and Kidman, who both deliver career performances, could each have alternate careers as musical stars.
Above all, the film is an astounding work by a maverick director, who shows his willingness to take chances and put something before an audience that is wholly original. This is one of those films that you will never forget, whether you love it or not. It’s pure movie magic.