Synopsis: Oscar Winner Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Jim Broadbent and John Leguizamo head an internationally renowned cast in this musical extravaganza. Baz Luhrmann’s sensual reinvention of the movie musical was Nominated for 8 Academy Award including Best Picture. Set in a Paris nightclub that caters to society’s decadent elite, the exhilarating Moulin Rogue follows the story of the ill-fated love affair between a stunning courtesan (Kidman) and a struggling young writer (McGregor).
Moulin Rouge! 8.25
eyelights: the stunning cast. the eye-popping production. the musical medleys. its zest. its humour.
eyesores: the poor blue screening/CGI. Richard Roxburgh.
“Come what may, I will love you until my dying day.”
I despise musicals. Or I despite most of them, in any case. Then comes along the odd one that actually charms me in surprising ways – such as was the case for ‘Moulin Rouge!’, the 2001 Baz Luhrmann motion picture that set fire to the box office, the music charts and nabbed eight Oscar nominations along the way.
The story is pretty basic: Set in France, in 1900, it tells the story of an aspiring writer who falls in love with the star of the Moulin Rouge, a burlesque bordello, as they work together on a grandiose musical production. However, the producer of the spectacle also has his eye on her… and his jealousy is deadly.
You’ve heard this one before.
But what makes ‘Moulin Rouge!’ shine high above its peers are its zest, its playfulness, and the skill with which it modernizes a dated, tired genre. It’s an extravaganza, a feast not just for one’s senses, but also for one’s emotional palate: it’s a comedy, a drama, a fantasy, and a romance – all balanced deftly.
It sets a playful tone right from the beginning, with an absurd opening overture (just like they used to do for road show presentations back in the old days) that takes us to a classic theatre, complete with a large screen and velvety curtains, and which finds a conductor accompanying the music maniacally.
Right there and then, we know ‘Moulin Rouge!’ is not going to take itself seriously. In fact, all the opening performances are comedic, even bordering on camp. But it’s a delight to watch: In fact, it’s this devil-may-care attitude that makes the picture work – otherwise it would be pompous and pretentious.
The picture is all style: the sets don’t look real; everything about it looks artificial. But this quality makes the film look like a natural extension of a stage play, in a way, which in effect takes us into the Moulin Rouge itself. It’s a truly well-conceived fantasy, even if the CGI is a bit awkward-looking.
It comes together because of the setting: the musical numbers are frequently set on the stage, and the rest of the time they’re developing a musical together – so it’s contextually appropriate. It’s exactly the same thing that makes musicals like ‘The Sound of Music’, ‘Star!’ and ‘Victor/Victoria’ work.
Interestingly, the picture’s modern style doesn’t come into conflict with its setting, nor does its anachronistic musical references (which include The Beatles, David Bowie, Kiss, Madonna, Marilyn Monroe, Nirvana, U2, and many more). But, since none of it is intended to be realistic, it’s okay.
Part of ‘Moulin Rouge!’s charm is the music, which frequently consists of whimsical medleys of loose interpretations of the original songs, with the lyrics being adapted for the story. The songs are so bloody fantastic that the soundtrack CD sold enough to warrant a second volume – a rare feat.
The whole cast is phenomenal, and Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor are a delightful surprise – who’d have thought them capable of performing a musical? Only Richard Roxburgh, as the Duke, was too much of a caricature (heck, even Leguizamo was better, and he’s no master of subtlety).
If I have any gripes to make about the picture, it’s the poor pronunciation of “moulin” in Moulin Rouge, which for some reason is said “Moulon”, here. Would it have hurt anyone for them to learn the proper way of saying it? It’s like saying “cruh-sants” instead of croissants (i.e. “crwa-sa”). It’s so annoying.
It’s also trivial, in the grand scheme of things.
Ultimately, ‘Moulin Rouge!’ is stylish musical that’s a pure joy to watch: it’s a huge production filled with awe-inspiring show-stoppers, massive choreographies. It’s a classic tale, it’s nothing original, but it’s done with such verve and style that it’s nearly impossible to not be charmed by it.
And when the curtains come to a close, we come to the realization that Lurhmann didn’t just deliver a bunch of show-stopping musical numbers: he made a show of the whole film, from start to finish. It’s really quite brilliant. In my estimation, ‘Moulin Rouge!’ is the near-perfect modern musical.
Don’t you dare miss it. You’d be missing out.
Date of viewing: January 31, 2016