If you say "Hey let's watch a musical!" I'll roll my eyes and maybe fall over and pretend to be dead. It's not that I hate all musicals - it's just that I've had some bad experiences with them. A few bad apples spoil the cart, you know. For me to tolerate a musical, it's got to be light on the over-enthusiastic, bursting into song for no particular reason with a song that wants to be catchy but is really just annoying. I know, that pretty much covers all musicals known to man, right? Actually there are a few I can deal with "Yanky Doodle Dandy", "Moulin Rouge!" "The King and I" and that one episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer".
So my friends, who are fans of musical theater were ready to convince me that 2002's "Chicago" was a good movie and that I'd enjoy it. I already had a three problems with this idea. 1) it was a musical. 2) it had Richard Gere tap-dancing 3) It had Renee Zellwegger attempting that pouty look. But I decided to give it a try. After all, my wife said I'd like "The King and I" and she was right.
Well lo and behold, I did enjoy "Chicago". Almost all the musical moments are either actual performances in the story (characters performing on stage for other characters), or part of the deranged fantasies of one of the characters. This made the whole thing work. It makes sense that everyone was singing in the main characters fantasy land - she's a nut job! The music was jazzy, snappy and not annoying (of course if you hate jazz, you'll probably hate the music). Richard Gere was good, playing a role that wasn't a stretch for him (unlike say "First Knight". GAG!) Only Renee brought the movie down for me. I'm one of the few that finds her more annoying than cute, and here she was doing her full blown "aint I a cute little pouty thing" schtick - except that it fit her character. So in a way it didn't bother me as much.
I think what I liked best about the whole production was the camera work and production design. This is how you do a musical! Much like "Moulin Rouge" (which suffers from some of the over-enthusiastic acting that grates on me like nails on a chalkboard), the camera is not stage bound. It moves and flows like a real movie. The director and production designer went out of their way to make this a full blown movie with songs and not a stage play captured on camera. In addition the use of the fantasy sequences just about screamed for some creative design and you get it in spades here. It's not as dreamlike insane as "Moulin Rouge" but it just as effective to this story. Even people who dislike musicals more than I do should be able to appreciate the talent behind the camera in bringing this story to the screen.
So the final verdict was, I enjoyed the film. I don't know if I'd run out and purchase it or anything, but my knee-jerk reaction to the mention of it's name is gone. Now - as for it's winning of the academy award for best picture... I don't know about that. Of course I already think the academy awards are run by a bunch of loonies, so I don't trust their judgment to begin with. Still, the movie surprised me, and in a good way.
What did you think of Chicago? Have you seen any other musicals that are able to pull off a truly cinematic look and not feel stage bound? Can you explain reasoning behind the over-enthusiastic acting syndrome?
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