It has been reported that the visually stunning “Moulin Rouge” revived the movie musical last year. If that is true, then “Chicago” (the film based on the Bob Fosse stage musical) is continuing to stoke the fire started by “Moulin Rouge.” Hopefully, that flame will turn into a brilliant blaze welcomed by all fans of musical cinema.
“Chicago” tells the story of two women: Velma, a successful singer, and Roxie, who yearns to be on the stage. Both are in jail, waiting trial for different murders. The two women share both a lawyer and a desire to be in the spotlight. Both are good at playing men and particularly the press in their favor. Neither cares for the other, but both seem to respect the other’s talents.
The story is secondary, however, and serves mainly to connect extravagant production numbers choreographed and filmed with perfection. This is a great-looking film with colorful sets and costuming, and some of the best editing this year in any film. The way the scenes are intertwined with the songs represents skilled editing that should be singled out by the Oscars. The cinematography also succeeds in making the film seem broad, like the stage production upon which it is based, while also bringing the intimacy of film close-ups that a play can never provide.
In the recent Golden Globe nominations, “Chicago” led all other films with the most nominations: eight. Five of these went to the outstanding cast: Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah and John C. Reilly. Each actor’s character has at least one solo, and what each lacks in musical skill, he or she makes up for with energy.
“Chicago” is a film about fame: the lure of it, capturing it, holding onto to it. None of these are easy, but each is important to the film’s two leading characters. Those fleeting “15 minutes” of fame are the most important acquisition in life to Roxie and Velma. The film, and probably the stage musical upon which it was based, does not offer strong criticism of this life pursuit.
Rather, it only offers two clear examples, neither of whom is very appealing. Though these characters are placed in the Roaring ’20s, there is not a lot of difference between them and the thousands who yearn for the spotlight provided today by reality TV.
Perhaps for Roxie, Velma and their contemporary counterparts, it’s not really about the fame. Rather, being famous offers meaning in life, if only for a moment. In a year when so many films have dealt with the search for meaning in life, Roxie and Velma have chosen what they believe it to be, and they pursue it with every fiber of their being.
“Chicago,” though, is not heavy with meaning. This story is not as weighted with serious issues as many of the holiday releases. Lawyers, reporters and the legal system are skewered with truth-laced humor. References to a trial being a circus seem all too familiar for anyone who remembers the O.J. Simpson trial. The nature of the press, being manipulated by those creating the stories, also rings true.
There are a few truly emotional moments, mostly delivered by the great character actor, Reilly. Finally, “Chicago” is simply a smart, witty, toe-tapping musical about jazz, murder, scandal, fame and the great city that gives the film its name.
“Chicago” is a fun film.
Roger Thomas is pastor of NortheastBaptistChurch in Atlanta.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content and dialogue, violence and thematic elements
Director: Rob Marshall
Writer: Bill Condon
Cast: Velma Kelly: Catherine Zeta-Jones; Roxie Hart: Renee Zellweger; Billy Flynn: Richard Gere; Amos Hart: John C. Reilly; Matron ‘Mama’ Morton: Queen Latifah.