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Moulin Rouge! (A PopEntertainment.com Movie Review)

Moulin Rouge!

MOULIN ROUGE! (2001)

Starring Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, John Leguizamo, Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxburgh, Garry McDonald, Jacek Koman, Matthew Whittet, Kerry Walker, Caroline O’Connor, Christine Anu, Natalie Jackson Mendoza, Lara Mulcahy and Kylie Minogue.

Screenplay by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce.

Directed by Baz Luhrmann.

Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Pictures. 128 minutes. Rated PG-13.

I truly would like for Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! to work. The old-fashioned film musical is pretty much a dead art form. It has been relegated to animated films, because it has somehow been decreed that only cartoon characters can believably break into song. The occasional live action musicals like Evita generally are box office disappointments. In fact, the last hit musical was Little Shop of Horrors back in 1987, the last blockbuster goes all the way back to Grease in 1978.

So it takes a lot of nerve just to film this movie. Unfortunately, the filmmakers can’t quite seem to decide what they want the film to be. In most ways the story is almost as quaintly old-fashioned as an opera (one of the main characters is dying of consumption, it doesn’t get much more antiquated than that!) At the same time, though, the camerawork, the storyline and particularly the music are disturbingly post-modern. Especially the first fifteen minutes which Luhrmann has had cut at a dizzying MTV pace. While I get that he is trying to convey the frenetic energy of the place, it is rather difficult to even keep up with what’s going on.

Then, after a little while, the cuts slow down to a very stately (perhaps even too slow) pace. Still it is appreciated, because you can take the time to value the stunning sets and art direction and the fine performances by Nicole Kidman and Ewan MacGregor. The other performances are a bit over the top, particularly Richard Roxburgh as the evil Duke who wants Kidman all to himself and John Leguizamo as Toulouse Latrec – still, this scenery chewing somehow fits into the grand guignol gonzo passions of the story.

The biggest problem is the music. While it certainly can work (and has worked in the past) to use popular tunes to form a musical, for the most part it doesn’t succeed here because the songs are just too far removed from the story they are trying to tell. Not surprisingly, the songs that feel most comfortable in the Paris 1900 setting are the oldest ones… “Nature Boy” and “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” are not quite that old, but they do have a certain old-fashioned charm. There are also a few other more obscure songs that also feel comfortable because while people might not get the rush of familiarity, they also do not carry their own pop culture baggage with them.

Too bad they insist on slipping in pop hits from the seventies, eighties and nineties like “Lady Marmalade,” “Your Song,” “Like A Virgin,” “Roxanne” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” These songs bring Moulin Rouge! screeching to a halt every single time. The audience listens to the opening words thinking they sound familiar, chuckle briefly when they recognize the song. It’s a cheap trick, though, after that small pay-off the audience has to sit through the next two or three minutes pondering how these characters knew about Madonna and Elton John a hundred years ago, and what do these words have to do with the storyline, anyway? (6/01)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2001 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: May 16, 2001.

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