Murderesses Velma Kelly (a chanteuse and tease who killed her husband and sister after finding them in bed together) and Roxie Hart (who killed her boyfriend when she discovered he wasn’t going to make her a star) find themselves on death row together and fight for the fame that will keep them from the gallows in 1920s Chicago.
Year 1, Day 205
BEFORE: There are two more musicals planned in Oscar month: Les Misérables and today’s flick, Chicago. It was a big contender at the Academy Awards, nominated for thirteen Oscars and winning six of them including Best Picture (the first music since 1968 to do so), Best Supporting Actress, and Best Film Editing.
AFTER: I have to start off by saying, “Bravo.” As any of you who read this movie marathon know, I’ve come down hard on my opinions of musicals. But Chicago is not like the others in that I found it quite enjoyable. While the film is very similar to many of the others, the director Rob Marshall did a few things differently that alleviated many of my common complaints about the genre.
My biggest annoyance with musicals in general is that many of them showcase the music through random outbursts of song in the middle of public places where if that happened in real life it would either be: (1) a flash mob; or (2) just get really weird looks. When I wrote my review of West Side Story, I honed in on why this annoys me so.
Theater and film are two completely different mediums each with their own means of entertainment and acting styles and when I see something like West Side Story (which was based off a 1957 Broadway play) on film I cringe. I just don’t get how people like seeing large groups of people randomly break out into song, most times for no apparent reason, and also be dancing around the middle of the street with no reaction from onlookers.
One of the reasons I like Chicago so much is that the two main characters, Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) and Velma Kelly (Catharine Zeta-Jones) are singers and the musical numbers take place either on a stage (à la “All That Jazz”) or in dream-like sequences (à la “Cell Block Tango”). This is not the first time I’ve enjoyed the music itself from the musical (in fact, I’ve enjoyed many of the previous songs), but Chicago is the first musical where I’ve enjoyed the songs, performances, and presentation of the music. And that is because Rob Marshall didn’t film a stage musical and release it as a film, he made a film that happened to have music in it.
Now Chicago wasn’t all glitter and gold; there were still some things that took away from the entertainment. Most of my complaints deal with the story. I did find the competition between the competing singers Roxie and Velma to be quite well done. And the introduction of the lawyer Billy Finn (Richard Gere) was well timed and added lots of interesting twists that kept the story going. But at the same time, I found myself tuning out for portions of the film and I think that was because of the music. But I just spent a whole paragraph praising the music, how am I going to knock it as well? I think this is just a personal thing rather than a complaint against the music itself, but for pretty much any song, I’ll just start to zone out and only pay attention to the melody rather than listen intently to the lyrics. The good: I was still able to understand and follow the story. The bad: that means there was probably some filler that could have been cut to make for a shorter film. Like with Taxi Driver yesterday, the length wasn’t unbearable (it is also 113 minutes long) but just a few cuts could go along way.
Chicago has renewed my faith and hope in musicals and has really set a new bar for others to live up to. The music was entertaining and was also done in a way that alleviated my ongoing concerns. It still doesn’t make the cut for my favorite films, but I will say that if you’re thinking of watching a musical anytime soon, Chicago should make it onto your list.
RATING: 4 out of 5