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Moulin Rouge! (2001)

September 10, 2010

5/10 Love Songs

This must be what it feels like when a drag queen takes acid.

Moulin Rouge! is about a hopelessly romantic poet who moves to Paris in the pursuit of true love, somehow winds up as the lead writer of a bohemian musical that’s set to be the biggest thing to hit France since that guy in the Red Light District started cooking snails, and along the way falls head-over-heels in love with the star courtesan of the biggest night club in town. So he starts to woo her, shows her that true love exists, she falls for him right back, but then the head financier of the musical steps into the picture and tries to steal her away with his money and sinister mustache. So a secret affair is sparked between this lowly writer and his high-class escort and it’s up to them to keep it that way or else it could all be taken away with the pull of a trigger.

Of all the unwatched movies that have been collecting dust on my shelf for the past year-and-a-half, this one has without a doubt been the most highly touted amongst my fellow bloggers, colleagues and close circle of friends/drifters as the one I need to see. Up until this flood of adoration started coming my way, I never though much about giving it a shot and the only pang of guilt came in the fact that I lent it out six months ago from a co-worker who I no longer work with (I’ll get it back to her, I promise). But since I’ve clogged up my Netflix queue with obscure Asian films and my DVD collection consisting of even more obscure Asian films isn’t exactly up my good buddy Fred’s alley, we finally gave this a shot and quickly wondered what we had gotten ourselves into.

Before the movie even started, I asked Fred what he remembered about this movie since he’d seen it in High School, to which he replied, “It was weird.” Then the movie started, it wasn’t long before my eyeballs began to hurt from trying to focus on who or what to look at, nothing was said between us, the silence spoke volumes, and then I couldn’t help but nod in agreement when my good buddy Fred finally piped up with, “I don’t remember it being this weird.”

And that kinda sums up the whole movie. Actually, it’s more like a double-edged sword.

This whole thing is over-the-top and proudly eccentric like you wouldn’t believe, which can be a pro or con depending on how you look at it. I felt like I was touring the Wonka Factory and the tour boat got stuck in the middle of that nightmare tunnel with no chance of an Oompa-Loompa technician squad to get me out for another two hours. I kid you not, about 90% of the shots in this movie don’t last half a second before they cut to something else in the room, and while I’m all for artistic vision, it was awfully exhausting trying to keep up. And that’s just the camerawork, that’s not even the half of it.

The characters here are all totally effing bonkers, some more so than others, but bonkers nonetheless. Ewan McGregor is fine as our star-crossed scribe, Christian, even though his voice leaves something to be desired; Nicole Kidman isn’t bad as our showgirl with dreams of walking down the red carpet, Satine, and her voice is pretty good; Jim Broadbent gets better with time as Harold Zidler – Satine’s boss and owner of the Moulin Rouge; John Leguizamo and his awful fake lisp are utterly intolerable as Toulouse – one of the minds behind the musical (never been a big Leguizamo fan anyway); and Richard Roxburgh is also annoying as hell with his fake high-pitched lisp as The Duke – the evil bastard who’s trying to buy out Satine from under Christian’s nose.

As you can see, it’s kinda 50/50 with the cast, but it’s also kind of hard to fault any of them because they’re all playing very odd and specific character types to begin with. The thing is, this isn’t about the actors at all, this is about Baz Luhrman and by the end of it all it will be his name you’ll walk away remembering more than anyone else.

His story is nothing special, we’ve heard it all before, the same can be said for his dialogue, but when it comes to music and visuals, he’s definitely onto something new. The whole idea behind the soundtrack is that, while the story is set in the early 1900’s, all the songs are contemporary hits that range from “Like a Virgin” and “Roxanne” – which don’t really work out just because they’re bizarre or sung poorly – to absolute stunners like “Your Song” and “Heroes” (the Bowie version, not that Wallflowers crap). And it’s hard to describe all the lavishly beautiful set pieces and imagery that runs rampant from one scene to the next without seeing it for yourself, but this is the one aspect that really has no drawback, this is wild from the get go.

I remember one my dad’s co-workers saying that he cheered out loud in the theater when he first saw this, and something tells me that doesn’t seem to be an all too uncommon reaction either. There are some wonderful scenes, there are also some not so wonderful scenes, and while I didn’t exactly like Moulin Rouge! and never quite connected with it, there is still so much here to admire and appreciate in terms of ambition, originality and vision that I can understand how some people would go effing nuts for it. To me, it felt more like watching a play than watching a movie, like something I would have liked more if I had been a part of Drama Club in High School, but the rating I’ve given it doesn’t take away from the fact that this a movie worth seeing even if you don’t end up digging it in the long run.

If I didn’t have a movie blog, I probably would have turned this off after ten minutes and booted up Memories of Murder instead, but in the end, I’m glad I stuck it out. I’ve never seen anything quite like Moulin Rouge! before, and while many of the things that people probably love about it ended up being the very things that turned me off, there’s something to be said for a movie that dares to be different.

Did like the ending though. Good note to finish on.

26 Comments leave one →
  1. September 10, 2010 1:56 am

    Ahh…you finally watched it. And didn’t like it. Oh well it isn’t for everyone. It is a little eccentric and can be a little in your face.

    I agree with the Like a Virgin number. It was too weird and not really sung well…I guess they were trying more to be comical. But you didn’t like the El de Tango Roxanne? Thought it was one of the best covers in the movie and the dance just soo raw and stunning as well.

    • September 10, 2010 9:58 am

      The thing I didn’t like about the tango was the Spanish guy’s voice, other than that the scene was pretty sweet. Reminded me a lot of Luhrman’s first movie Strictly Ballroom. Ever seen it?

      • September 18, 2010 2:38 pm

        I have the Red Curtain Trilogy, but have yet to watch that one movie yet.

        I thought the voice fit with that whole dance sequence, him all scruffy and rough and manhandling Nini.

  2. September 10, 2010 3:18 am


    • September 10, 2010 9:58 am

      hahahaha. different strokes for different folks, Anna.

  3. September 10, 2010 7:34 am

    Visually it looks great and the music is nicely worked into the story but I don’t see what all the fuss is about to be honest. Good review, Aiden.

    • September 10, 2010 10:00 am

      haha, glad I’m not the only one out there who thinks so, too.

  4. September 10, 2010 10:27 am

    Hi Aiden, would have to agree with you and Dan. While I thought it was visually stunning, again I didn’t see what the big deal was about the movie. It’s good, but not great.

    • September 13, 2010 11:22 am

      Hey Olive, glad you agree. Not the worst musical I’ve ever seen, just a little too…bizarro for my tastes.

  5. September 10, 2010 4:40 pm

    I really didn’t like this one and I’m glad to see someone that isn’t afraid to call it what it is and not completely gush over it…but I guess I should expect that from you, no? Anyway, nice review of a decidedly less-than-nice film.

  6. September 10, 2010 5:16 pm

    This is my favorite musicals of all-time, and I know I take a lot of crap for this, but I don’t care cause for me it’s just a film that loves movies. The soundtrack is bangin’, and watching Kidman and McGregor (when he was actually trying to act) sing together on-screen is one of the best romances of musicals. I see your points, but I love this too much!

    • September 13, 2010 11:17 am

      Way to stick to your guns, homey, and I know you’re not alone in praising this thing so I won’t argue this comment one bit. You da’ man.

  7. September 10, 2010 8:36 pm

    I thought the Roxanne number was pretty good.

    • September 13, 2010 11:16 am

      In terms of style and choreography, it was damn good, it’s just that Spanish guy’s voice that ruined it for me.

      • September 13, 2010 3:06 pm

        Argentinian, good sir. And I think his voice was supposed to be in juxtaposition with Christian’s soft one.

      • September 13, 2010 3:10 pm

        lol, my bad. still not won over by it, but he did make Christian’s voice sound better, so i’ll give you that.

  8. September 14, 2010 2:08 am

    Can’t say I am a huge fan of the film (McGregor, as usual, is good) although they do make use of a Nirvana, which always gains points with me.

    • September 14, 2010 12:57 pm

      I actually found that whole Nirvana bit to be awfully weird, like a breaking point of weirdness. I love Nirvana as much as the next guy, just seemed like the way someone would use Smells Like Teen Spirit if they’ve never actually listened to Nevermind before.

  9. September 14, 2010 4:51 pm

    Notoriously I have ranked this as one of the worst films ever made. I will stand by that claim until I die. Your opening line is perfect!

    • September 14, 2010 5:47 pm

      Hahaha. Good for you, man, I ain’t gonna fight ya’ on it.

      Also, finally saw Memories of Murder this morning. SO damn good. Thanks for the recommendation, now I just need to see The Host again.

      • September 14, 2010 6:05 pm

        Glad you liked Memories of Murder – I try to tell people about it any chance I get. Great crime drama.

      • September 14, 2010 6:13 pm

        Will be following suit in that regard.

  10. September 18, 2010 8:36 am

    I think we’re going to fall out over this one. Moulin rouge is fantastic.
    The best thing about it is the energy and colour that you found so exhausting. I love that directing style the Luhrman has, because it adds a supernatural dream like quality to what are usually quite fantastical stories. It works so well in Moulin Rouge because you become emersed in this new world, and like Christian, it is a complete assault on the senses.

    The opening of the film made it into my Top 5 Movie scenes of all time (

    And how you can say that McGregor’s vouce “leaves something to be desired” is jsut beyond me. He has a shockingly good voice, just right for Christian.

    I hate to play the gender card, because I don’t actually think this is a chick-flick, but there do seem to be a lot of guys out there who just don’t get it.

  11. September 21, 2010 2:13 pm

    I actually like a lot about this film, the cast, the musical choices and the story. What I find so frustrating is, like you said, how weird this film is. The style is just too flamboyant and in your face and I think that hurts the film a lot.

    Still, it’s a film I find pretty enjoyable and the closest thing I have to a guilty pleasure.

    • September 21, 2010 2:25 pm

      I can dig that, and I totally realize how much there is to appreciate here and why so many people love it, but boy is it just unforgivingly nuts. “Guilty pleasure” is a good way to put it.

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