#151 Moulin Rouge!

(2001, Baz Luhrmann)

“Never fall in love with a woman who sells herself”

Oh, musicals. How I dislike you. I don’t know what it is about the genre that makes me dislike it so much. Maybe it’s the inability to connect with characters who burst into song inexplicably. Maybe it’s a dislike for the musical genre they tend to perform in. Maybe I just find them silly. Whatever the reason, here’s another one. The musical that arrived on a wave of hype, designed to be the showiest of all musicals: Moulin Rouge!

It’s about a writer named Christian (Ewan McGregor) who moves to Montemarte in France in the late 19th century. When he gets there, he finds himself drawn to the infamous club, “Moulin Rouge”, an all-singing, all-dancing cabaret. It’s here that he finds himself falling in love with the courtesan Satine (Nicole Kidman), the star of the show. Christian’s play, Spectacular, Spectacular, ends up being commissioned thanks to finance from a wealthy duke, with Satine in the starring role. The catch is that Satine is part of the deal – she becomes exclusively his property. However, Christian and Satine end up embarking on a love affair during production, while the play gradually comes to reflect the real events of the film.

Oh, where to start? Well, first off, it is, quite frankly, a little bit of a tired and clichéd plot. It doesn’t really do much to distinguish itself from other starcrossed lover stories, and isn’t particularly interesting as a result. If you can predict something’s going to happen, it most likely is.

I suppose this is the point with musicals; it’s not about constructing a tightly woven plot, it’s about making a spectacle out of a simple one. And director Baz Luhrmann has certainly gone all out on making it a spectacle.

Visually, the movie is a love letter to 19th century Paris, with tons of bells and whistles to try and give it a distinct visual flair. The costumes are as gaudy as the real Moulin Rouge, and there’s a sense that everything is huge and larger than life. The problem with it all is that it feels so hollow. The CG/green screen Paris is painfully obvious most of the time, with real actors rarely blending well with the paper-like buildings during wide shots, and some linking shots (such as the camera rushing through the doors of the club) feeling like they’re just there to distract you from the fact the movie never really feels sure of what it’s actually trying to achieve.

Essentially, the movie demands your attention, but it demands it in the same way that a small child keeps whining for one of its parents. It tries far too hard to impress. It goes from being a visual spectacle to just being simply annoying and pretentious.

The soundtrack certainly does not help. Rather than a period-appropriate batch of songs or some original showtunes, Moulin Rouge! throws a bunch of terrible rearrangements and mashups of contemporary pop music at us. The introduction to the club itself consists of a cover of “Lady Marmalade” by Christina Aguilera and friends that screams “this is a single, please buy it now”, inexplicably getting elements from Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” chucked at it. I swore I heard a low rumbling hidden in the mix too, but that may have actually been Kurt Cobain rolling in his grave.

It doesn’t get better. A creepy tango version of The Police’s “Roxanne” and an operatic rearrangement of Queen’s “The Show Must Go On” just sound off in comparison to their originals, and the cover of “Like A Virgin” is just embarrassing to watch. The sole song written for the film, “Come What May”, feels rather hollow and bland, and I can guarantee you will get sick of Elton John’s “Your Song” by the end of the movie because it keeps getting used in dialogue endlessly.

The actors do a pretty decent job with what they have to work with, I’ll admit. The leads are especially impressive, and it’s hard to ever fault a Jim Broadbent performance. But McGregor’s singing isn’t all that great (as if the songs weren’t bad enough) and thanks to his presence, it’s hard to not see the entire movie as some kind of drug-induced hallucination seen by Marc Renton in Trainspotting. And then I just wish I was watching Trainspotting instead.

Put simply, this is a pretentious, overly busy movie. It has too many ideas and no clue on how to execute them in a cohesive manner. And no amount of flashy visuals can help save a film that’s clearly trying far too hard with no real purpose.

Starring Ewan McGregor, Nicole Kidman, Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxburgh, John Leguizamo, Jacek Koman & Caroline O’Connor
Written by Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce
Produced by Baz Luhrmann, Fred Baron & Martin Brown
Music by Craig Armstrong & Marius De Vries
Cinematography by Donald McAlpine
Edited by Jill Bilcock

Favourite Scene: Ok, fair enough, as awkward as it came across, “Roxanne” did kind of work quite well within the context of the movie. The whole “in love with a prostitute” theme helps.
Scene That Bugged Me: “Lady Marmalade” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” simply do not mix. At all. Ever. Never do that to me again, movies.

Watch it if: You actually like soulless reinterpretations of popular music
Avoid it if: Anachronisms bug the hell out of you

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Posted on January 22, 2013, in 2000s, Musical, Romance and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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