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Chicago (2002)

June 14, 2010

8/10 Murder Ballads

Catchy. As. Hell.

Chicago is about a no-name dame in the 1920s whose dreams of becoming a Vaudeville star get fast-tracked when she bumps off the loverboy who tried to leave her high and dry, then gets sent to the big house with one of her idols and has her naive, devoted husband to hire an A-list lawyer who’ll keep her from the gallows and make her the Windy City’s favorite front page sympathy case while he’s at it.

When it comes to musicals, sure, I can dig it, but let’s just say that it’s been a good long while since I’ve actually been excited to see one. Loved going to see Phantom of the Opera as a kid and I still find myself whistling “Be Our Guest” after recently revisiting Beauty and the Beast, but then there’s that copy of Moulin Rouge on the bookshelf that I still haven’t watched since my co-worker lent it to me six months ago.

And therein lies my problem, folks.

See, I like musicals, but when it comes to prioritizing my Netflix queue, I can’t think of a single instance where a musical edged out…well, anything really. But then a day comes when my good buddy Fred starts giving me the business (understandably) for continually awarding the top spot on the queue to movies that only a raging nerd like myself would be interested in seeing, so I hold off on Battle Royale for another week and decide let him take the reigns. Lo and behold, Chicago comes in the mail a couple days later, we watch it, I’m hooked from start to finish, I’m singing all the songs like an idiot, I want to watch it again, I feel shame.

Dead serious, gang. I never thought I’d be that guy who cuts off the iTunes playlist in the middle of a party so that he can hit up YouTube and gush over “All That Jazz” while everyone stares in disgust, but that’s what happened this past Saturday and I really think it’s turning into a problem. But so much of what makes this movie the blast that it is are the show tunes, all of which are just out of freakin’ sight and simply refuse to get out of my head no matter how much I want them to five days after later.

It’s one of those rare situations where, naturally, some songs are better than others, but there really isn’t a weak link in the bunch. It starts off with a bang, it doesn’t let up and it’s simply one fantastic number after another. But despite how good they are from an audial standpoint, how great and funny the lyrics are and how surprisingly good the cast is at singing them, they end up being twice as good thanks to Bob Fosse’s choreography and Rob Marshall’s absolutely kickass direction.

Everything Marshall does well here can essentially be summed up in the “Ventriloquist Act” scene with Zellweger as the puppet and Gere as her master, but it’s crazy how expertly choreographed every damn aspect of the movie is even outside of the dancing. The way he flawlessly cuts back and forth between reality and the stage acts, all while keeping in tune with the song and how it’s being played, is really something else and must have required some serious foresight in pre-production. Very impressive.

And with the exception of Renee Zellweger as our femme fatale of the hour, Roxie Hart, the whole cast is at the top of their game. She’s good in the “Roxie” number, but I’m just not a fan of Renee, probably has to do with that perpetually-sucking-on-a-lemon look of hers.

But Queen Latifah is the bomb as Mama, John C. Reilly was a solid choice as poor old Mr. Hart, and Richard Gere is awesome awesome awesome as Roxie’s lawyer, Billy Flynn. Never been a huge fan of Gere’s, but after this and being extremely surprised by how much I liked him in Runaway Bride (I know, I never expected to write that either), I’m slowly coming around. Dude is a total riot and I love it when big timers just loosen up and have fun. 

And then there’s Catherine Zeta-Jones, and she does kinda steal the show as Velma Kelly. As much as I will always love Meryl Streep’s stoned-out performance in Adaptation and Kathy Bates skinny dipping in About Schmidt (God, I love that woman), Catherine’s the whole package here. Lord, can she sing, dance and bring that vixen attitude like no other. Hard to take your eyes off her, and I can totally see why she got the Oscar, but still, I think I would have given it Kathy.

Coming from a skeptic, someone who probably never would have seen this on his own free will, I gotta say that Chicago really was a whole lot of fun. The story does end up taking a backseat to all the music and dancing in the long run, but since the music and dancing really are so effing good, it’s pretty darn easy to just sit back and enjoy the show without getting all nitpicky about it. Would see it again in a heartbeat and it sure has made Moulin Rouge that much more appealing.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. June 14, 2010 4:11 am

    Chicago isn’t bad as far as musicals go, in fairness – particularly big studio, Oscar-winning musicals. It already has one-up on Mammma Mia in that all of the cast can sing. And I think that this was the moment that Richard Gere became awesome again. (The first time he was awesome was Primal Fear, my favourite “lawyer movie” ever.)

    • June 15, 2010 11:56 am

      I don’t think I could handle Mamma Mia. Definitely can’t handle ABBA. And Primal Fear is the bomb, even though Norton totally stole the show. Gotta see that one again.

  2. June 14, 2010 11:20 am

    No wait…you haven’t watched Moulin Rouge! It should be next.

    Not a fan of Chicago. I liked the “Ventriloquist Act” which was pretty impressive. But the story and the characters didn’t really reel me in. And music is just too show tune-sy for me.

    • June 14, 2010 11:32 am

      Yeah, that’s the vibe I’m getting with Moulin Rouge. Might even be on the menu for tonight.

      Wasn’t crazy about some of the characters and the story isn’t so hot, but I really got sucked into it for some reason. Bizarro.

  3. Ryan permalink
    June 14, 2010 11:21 am

    Can’t believe you watched this and not only liked, but loved it. This is a crazy world we live in.

    Richard Gere is the bomb in The Jackal.

    • June 14, 2010 11:30 am

      Hahaha. Yeah, I wasn’t expecting it either. Strange days indeed.

      Why do I feel like half our conversations inevitably lead back to The Jackal? I think it’s high time I actually gave that a watch. Hope for the sake of our friendship that I fucking flip over it.

  4. June 14, 2010 3:21 pm

    Chicago is a solid musical but I didn’t think it held a candle to the musical it has been compared to so much: Moulin Rouge.

  5. June 14, 2010 3:48 pm

    I have that same problem with musicals. If its on I’ll watch it, but I won’t go out of my way to see it.

  6. June 14, 2010 4:09 pm

    I loved the Broadway stage version. It is sexy and choreographed beautifully. I finally got around to watching it a couple of years ago. It was good. Not crazy about it. Certainly not “Best Picture” worthy. What the hell was that about??!!!

    • June 15, 2010 11:58 am

      Yeah, Best Pic was not deserved. Probably would have given it to The Pianist.

  7. Ryan permalink
    June 14, 2010 6:06 pm

    I danced to this in college. Never saw the movie.

    • June 14, 2010 6:10 pm

      Hahahaha. Oh I remember that fondly. You stepped up to the streets in a big way, man.

  8. June 15, 2010 12:02 am

    Im sorry so many people love this film, should have not won Best Picture. Compared to the competition, this was no where in the same ball park as powerhouses like: The Pianist, Gangs of New York, About Schmidt, even Adaptation. But hey that’s just me, liked your review anyway.

  9. June 15, 2010 12:28 am

    I think Chicago has to be one of the milestone’s in the musical genre simply for how well it subverts the concept. Making the musicals imagined lets them be out there while still letting the story progress with its grit. Good write-up for a good movie.

  10. Branden permalink
    June 20, 2010 12:48 pm

    I don’t know why people are poo-pooing over this movie. I wish it was darker, but you can’t alienate everyone from watching this movie. Is it Best Picture caliber? Not really. It was a weak year.

    I loved CZJ and the Queen.

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