You could never accuse Baz Luhrmann of pandering to anyone’s expectations. Following his high camp tale of ballroom dancing, and his MTV reconstruction of Shakespeare, comes a revival of possibly the most neglected of all genres – the musical.
The last high profile director to attempt an old fashioned musical was Woody Allen – and it’s fair to say that Everyone Says I Love You fell flat on its well intentioned face. However, Luhrmann’s take is about a million miles away from the neurotic New Yorker. “Moulin Rouge” is a ridiculously energetic, dazzlingly kenetic spectacular which, while not without it’s flaws, is a huge success.
The basic premise is the usual boy-meets-girl storyline, with Ewan McGregor’s Christian moving to Paris in 1900 and becoming understandably smitten with Nicole Kidman’s Satine, the star of the decadent Moulin Rouge nightclub. Obviously, the path of true love does not run smooth, and the wealthy Duke of Monroth is Christian’s rival for Satine. Without seeing the film, this sounds dreadfully hackneyed stuff, but it is Lurhmann’s visual genius that means that this film is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
It’s impossible to watch the first hour or so of this film without a huge, soppy grin on your face. While you have to worry about Lurhmann’s sanity, the film grabs you by the scruff of the neck and for the first 20 minutes or so, refuses to relent. The introductory sequence to the Moulin Rouge nightclub in particular is absolutely dazzling. Lurhmann’s camera swoops and zooms, and the screen is filled with colour and mind-blowing sets.
The major criticism of the film seems to be the choice of music. Obviously this is a film where disbelief has to be suspended somewhat, as songs like Smells Like Teen Spirit, and Lady Marmalade would not be the typical 19th century hits. However, this gimmick works really well – the scene in which Jim Broadbent performs a bizarre version of Like A Virgin is the highlight of the film for me. It’s helped that both McGregor and Kidman have the voices to carry the material off.
McGregor has burst into song before, with middling results. Personally, I’m still shuddering from his rendition of Beyond The Sea from A Life Less Ordinary. However, he is surprisingly good at singing in Moulin Rouge. It helps as well that he’s having the time of the life. After a series of mediocre films, he at last gets the chance to remind people just what a talented and charismatic actor he can be.
Kidman too, is a revelation. She’s never seemed particulary easy doing comedy, but here she carries it off perfectly. When the story takes a more tragic twist towards the end, she manages to play it beautifully. She and McGregor have a real chemistry, it would be a shame if they weren’t to team up again in the future.
If there is a flaw in the film, it may be that its style is too much for some people. It’s certainly not a film to watch with a hangover, and you come out of the cinema feeling completely drained. Also, with over a two hour running time, it could probably have done with some sly editing. However, these are minor complaints. If you’re stick of the usual formulaic Hollywood films and want to see something completely different, go and see Moulin Rouge.