Oo La La!
Watching those old MGM musicals, I felt sure something special was in store for me every time Mickey Rooney said to Judy Garland, "Letís put on a show!" Never mind about strikingly similar plots, dialogue, and characters in Babes in Arms, Babes on Broadway, Girl Crazy, and so on. That didnít faze me. I couldnít wait for the singing and dancing to begin. Other glorious musicals like Singiní in the Rain, Easter Parade, and The Pirate also enchanted me while I was growing up. But why has it been decades since a film had that kind of impact on me. Did movies change all that much? Or have I become too cynical as an adult? After seeing Moulin Rouge!, I have my answer. Grown-up me can still be thrilled by a well-filmed musical.
Although I think Moulin Rouge! is a good bet for this yearís Oscarģ, itís unlike any musical Iíve seen before. Instead of presenting the usual joyful story, filmmaker Baz Luhrmann (Strictly Ballroom) successfully combines romance, comedy, and a La Boheme-like tragedy as he showcases two doomed lovers who meet at the Moulin Rouge, a decadent Paris night club made famous by painter Toulouse Lautrec (John Leguizamo), during the late 1800s.
Ewan McGregor (The Phantom Menace) and Nicole Kidman (The Others) give the best performances of their careers as this ill-fated romantic duo. McGregor plays Christian, a poor writer, with such innocent charm itís easy to see why the courtesan Satine (Kidman), Moulin Rougeís star attraction, falls for him. Equally effective, Kidman absolutely sizzles on screen with her come-hither looks and sexy theatrical costumes by Catherine Martin (William Shakespeareís Romeo and Juliet). She reminded me of sirens Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe, and Rita Hayworth all rolled into one, especially when singing "Diamonds Are a Girlís Best Friend." Besides displaying her seductive charms, Kidman made me sympathize with Satine, a woman hiding an illness in order to maintain her vibrant public persona.
Although neither McGregor nor Kidman are professional singers, their voices sound just fine. McGregor won me over with his absolutely stunning rendition of Elton Johnís "Your Song." (How did he manage to smile so captivatingly at Kidman while singing to her at the same time?) Happily, both stars put genuine emotion into the lyrics of each tune. In one terrific scene, they seemed to be having as much fun singing a medley of love songs as I had watching and listening to them. In fact, I had to force myself not to hum along as the couple performed a combination of such pop favorites as "All You Need Is Love," "I Was Made for Loviní You," "One More Night," "Silly Love Songs," "Up Where We Belong," and "I Will Always Love You."
McGregor and Kidman donít do enough dancing, but making up for that is a comical, rousing version of "Like a Virgin" by Jim Broadbent (Topsy-Turvy) and Richard Roxburgh (Mission Impossible II) who are backed up by a group of energetic dancing waiters. Broadbent, as Moulin Rouge impresario Zidler, puts a table cloth over his head to imitate Satine, hoping to placate the evil Duke of Worcester (Roxburgh) when the lovely courtesan fails to show up for a tryst.
Because this story takes place mostly inside the Moulin Rouge, of course thereís a lively, provocative Can Can number. But, in one of the movieís few weak spots, itís filmed with too much speed and excessive cut-away shots. Thereís also a tango (to "Roxanne") which works much better, even though the camera still pans to other scenes during this intense, dramatic routine.
Sheer cinematic artistry comes through loud and clear in Moulin Rouge! Itís an outrageously creative film. From the opening of a plush red curtain at the beginning of the movie to its closing at the end, I was bowled over by the filmís imaginative production design (including a "gentlemenís club" inside a structure built like an elephant, for gosh sakes). Moulin Rougeís touching romance also had a profound emotional effect on me. Corny as it seems, I believe in the filmís "Nature Boy" theme. "The greatest thing youíll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return."
(Released by 20th Century Fox and rated "PG-13" for sexual content.)