OBPC #75: Chicago, 2002

Rating: 2½ stars (out of 4)

Chicago (2002): Dir. Rob Marshall.  Written by Bill Condon.  Lyrics by Fred Ebb.  Music by John Kander.  Based upon the musical of the same name with lyrics by Ebb, music by Kander, and book by Ebb and Bob Fosse; itself based upon the play of the same name by Maurine Dallas Watkins.  Starring: Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, John C. Reilly, and Queen Latifah.  Rated PG-13 for sexual content and dialogue, violence and thematic elements.  Running time: 113 minutes.

ChicagoIt’s certainly been a while since we’ve seen the movie musical (over 30 years, in fact!).  Thanks to the success of 2001’s Moulin Rouge!,the movie musical came back with a bold, brassy vengeance.

A musical of the mind (of sorts), Chicago features musical numbers that inhabit its characters’ fantasies (and sometimes, nightmares).  When Roxie Hart kills her deceptive lover, it looks certain she’ll face the noose.  Luckily, Roxie’s cuckolded husband has hired hot-shot attorney Billy Flynn to defend, with a plan that incorporates all the glitz of Hollywood to acquit his client.

For all its gaudy debauchery, Chicago aims to be about something—the transience of fame, and the public fascination with celebrity.  That most numbers occur in characters’ minds adds poignancy to the lives of these clearly delusional people.  Director Marshall shoots these sequences on obvious sound-stages, with lighting that bathes the performers in an eerie white glow.  He also effectively edits each sequence to emphasize the sharp choreography—something a director wouldn’t be able to accomplish on stage.

Yet I wonder if the film basks too much in its own artifice.  The satire, while initially clever, doesn’t necessarily surprise with its exposé of the media circus.  Certainly the characters of Chicago prance and pout like spoiled children, with Renée Zellweger’s Roxie Hart taking center stage (she manages to simper and still earn our sympathy, making her easily the best part of the film). But why litter the screen with ultimately meaningless characters like Queen Latifah’s Mama Morton or John C. Reilly’s Amos other than for one-off musical numbers?

I admire the filmmakers’ attempts to craft a musical that goes beyond show-tune confection, but somehow it doesn’t go far enough.  While sure to satisfy the palates of musical purists thanks to its deft direction, Chicago lacks the probing wit of great musical satire (read: Sondheim).

Next film: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, 2003

One thought on “OBPC #75: Chicago, 2002

  1. I saw Chicago with my sister yesterday and we were hoping that he movie as going to be fun. We were fulfilled to the fullest. The movie Lavishly well done, energetic and fun to listen to, Chicago is easily on the top 10 best musicals ever. The music in the movie, the rhythm just utterly spellbinding, that’s how incredible Chicago is. The movie mostly benefits from it extremely talented cast. Catherine Zeta-Jones shines in Chicago and gives the performance of her lifetime. She well-deserved her Oscar. John C. Rielly, Renee Zellwegger and Queen Latifa deserved their Oscar Nominations.

    The cinematography, sound, art directions, and especially the costume design they were all expertly done. I resisting the urge to dance and tap my shoe. What an amazing production it took to create this film. Everyone deserved their Oscar Wins or nominations whomever took part in the production. 1920s Chicago comes alive in breathtaking detail. Everyone whom likes musicals or music should definitely have a listen and watch Chicago.

    Rob Marshell truly out did himself in this masterpiece.

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