Moulin Rouge

Movie musicals are largely a relic of the past, relegated today to children's animated movies. The most recent example being The Trumpet of the Swan, which is best left unwatched. The last movie musical, Dancer in the Dark was a good but depressing piece of work. Moulin Rouge is its polar opposite in nearly every way. It is gaudy, opulent, colorful, and uninteresting at times. Australian director Baz Luhrmann (Strictly Ballroom, Romeo+Juliet) and frequent writing partner Craig Pierce (Strictly Ballroom, Romeo+Juliet) loosely modify the myth of Orpheus and set it in turn of the century Paris. Luhrmann goes all out in his efforts, mixing Nirvana with Rodgers and Hammerstein, The Police and Queen with Madonna, Fatboy Slim, The Beatles, and Elton John.

The story is the least interesting aspect of Moulin Rouge. Every time the people stop singing, they begin speaking and reveal how little story there is. Christian (Ewan McGregor, Nora, Eye of the Beholder) is a writer working on a new play. He falls in love with Satine (Nicole Kidman, Eyes Wide Shut, Practical Magic), a courtesan (i.e., high-class hooker). He is looking for funding for his play, Spectacular Spectacular. Satine mistakes him for a Duke who may fund Zidler (Jim Broadbent, Topsy-Turvy, Bridget Jones's Diary), her boss's theater, and promptly falls in love with him. She quickly realizes her mistake, and Zidler insists she woo the real Duke (Richard Roxburgh, Mission Impossible II, Passion). Christian's play begins to mirror his clandestine affair with Satine, with the Duke cast as the bad guy. One issue is that the Duke really has no personality, so it's hard to think of him as truly mean-spirited.

Music is the central element of Moulin Rouge. There is a lot of singing, so no one needs to focus on the story too long. Luhrmann reinterprets some of the songs in unusual manners, making them nearly recognizable at first. It takes guts to mix together so many diverse genres, and for the most part, Luhrmann succeeds. McGregor and Kidman sing all their songs, and they are not bad singers. McGregor has a light, almost soft voice that is pleasing to the ears. Initially, when Kidman is not singing, she is overacting badly. Once Satine falls for Christian, her acting much little better, as do the dance numbers. One especially painful one is near the beginning, where Satine, Christian, and Zidler try to convince the Duke to fund their play. Like many Broadway musical, many elements are exaggerated for effect. This provides for some unintentional laughs when Broadbent begins speaking the verses to Like a Virgin or when other actors begin singing Roxanne. At least he didn't include his annoying "wear sunscreen" song.

The look of Moulin Rouge redeems it from some of its other lesser values. Luhrmann's Paris looks nothing like anything from this world. He is moving further away from the mainstream in creating distinctive looks and filming with rapid close-ups and unique angles. His Paris has buildings packed tightly together, decorated in colorful lights, with windmills next to run-down buildings. Christian's building is drab and gray, and Satine has an opulent bedroom, bursting with bright colors. This is the world of a fairy tale, where the man in the moon sings along with the characters and Satine lives in a large elephant. The colors and detail match the moods of the characters. As Satine and Christian fall deeper in love, their surrounding become more intricate and ornate. The Duke lives in a dark, cavernous mansion devoid of color, lending an ominous feel to the surroundings. It's an excellent use of art direction and music to help Luhrmann evoke his vision of Moulin Rouge. Now if only the story worked better.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
2 hours, 6 minutes, Rated PG-13 for sexual content.

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