Chicago (2002) — Just another song and dance

“This trial… the whole world… it’s all… show business!”

Justin’s rating: Yeah, but I can do the entire “Lumberjack” song from Monty Python perfectly, lederhosen and all!

Justin’s review: There are two types of musicals. There are the musicals where everyone says like two actual lines of dialogue, then ponders on what was just said through a seven-minute song, and there are musicals where the plot advances through the songs. Les Miserables and Moulin Rouge are both excellent examples of how songs can replace entire scenes and further the plot immensely. But alas, alas, with the exception of one courtroom scene, Chicago is a musical that stops cold every time you hear a song start to rev up.

Hey, don’t look at me that way! I gave it a fair shot! I’ll admit, a couple (only a couple) of the tunes were catchy, but not nearly as infectious or energetic as Moulin Rouge’s. Generally, I’m a very forgiving man for the trials of musicals as long as the songs are inspired, but Chicago does not deserve my pardon.

This is the paper-thin story of two women in prison (no, it’s not that kind of movie) who attempt to use their infamous reputations to propel them back in the spotlight. Velma (Catherine Zeta-Jones, actually showing an unexpected acting muscle) is a diva on the fall, all saucy and wanting oh-so-bad to be Nicole Kidman, while Roxie (Zellweger) is a breathless bimbo (who is so gullible and dimwitted as to be a rather evolved form of goldfish) looking to get on stage and do whatever people did on stage in the twenties. Oh, and there’s Richard Gere, freaking the living nine hells out of me by stripping to his Hanes undies in a bizarre musical number.

There are no twists to the plot because, frankly, they don’t even have time in this movie to go to the restroom for fear of triggering a twelve-minute marathon of a song about dancing Tidy Bowl cleaners falling in love with janitors. So it’s fairly clear what’s going to happen, seeing as how the audience has plenty of time during the more nonsensical songs (please, Queen Latifah, stop, stop, stop singing about being my momma) to predict certain rises and falls and rises. None of the characters — except the “simple” husband who continually loves and sticks up for his treacherous wife — are likable or sympathetic or anything more than boorish dullards. I like calling people “boorish dullards” to their faces, because usually it takes them a minute to figure out I’ve insulted then, and by then I’ve tip-toed away.

It’s not a horrible musical, it’s merely a trying one. As I said, there were a few numbers that had my toe a-tappin’ (it’s a medical symptom, I’m having it checked out) and my lungs even emerged from their state of shallow breathing to chuckle once or twice. Still, that’s not a glowing recommendation of any sort, so I’d recommend that you just wait until Mutant Reviewers From Hello Dolly comes to a theater near you.

Andie’s rating: If you can’t be famous, be infamous

Andie’s review: Well, Chicago finally came to Kirksville after all these weeks of waiting and now I finally know what the fuss is about. I loved every last second of this movie so much that I was disappointed when it ended. I could’ve sat through another hour of it. The characters are wonderful, the music is fantastic and the sets and costumes are gorgeous. I can’t believe anyone would not love this movie and I can’t believe anyone would think it is not as good as Moulin Rouge.

As far as comparing Chicago to Moulin Rouge, here’s why Chicago is so much better. First of all, the music is all original. I know Chicago has been around for years, but this music was written for the musical Chicago. At first I thought Moulin Rouge’s use of other people’s music was cool but after awhile I was like, “C’mon, write your own songs.” Secondly, Chicago is such a better story than Moulin Rouge. Moulin Rouge is another sappy-ass love story hiding under the guise of a lavish sets and Crystal Meth camerawork and snappy tunes. Chicago is about sassy Jazz Women and the crimes they commit. All the music is in murderous chorus girl Roxie Hart’s head and I love how seamlessly it fits in with what’s really happening. Plus there’s no stupid love story to cloud the picture. (As you can probably tell, the genre of romance is wearing pretty thin with me.)

However, this is a review of Chicago, not a review of Moulin Rouge, so I will get back to the subject at hand. The music in Chicago is all wonderful and I was more than blown away at the singing and dancing talents of the cast. Renée Zellweger has come a long way from “Sugar High” in Empire Records. Catherine Zeta-Jones was phenomenal, I thought her dancing was wonderful.

My absolute favorite number in the whole movie was the “Cell Block Tango.” I loved the style, the lyrics, the dancing. I particularly liked how all the Merry Murderesses had red silk scarves when they talked about their crime. “Pop. Six. Squish. Oh-oh. Cicero. Lipschitz.” I also thought John C. Reilly was amazing in his solo number “Mr. Cellophane.” He was so sympathetic and his voice was fantastic. Also, the clown makeup was great, very Vaudeville. Other highlights include the opening number “All That Jazz” and “Razzle Dazzle.” I also thought Richard Gere’s “Tap Dance” was great, that had me laughing so hard.

The only single thing I had to complain about was that Renée Zellweger has gotten so thin that she made Catherine Zeta-Jones look like a heavy woman and she most certainly is not heavy by any stretch of the imagination. I think someone needs to tell Renée that healthy looking = good and heroin addict looking = bad.

Anyway, I think that maybe it takes a certain kind of person to appreciate Chicago because it’s not another stupid romance and the music isn’t all “I love you, I’ll always be with you, if you leave me I’ll poke sharp sticks in my eyes blah blah blah barf.” This musical has some spunk and some sass. The humor and the songs are all pretty dark but that is what makes this movie so great. It’s a whirlwind ride through crimes of passion and prison and I think all its accolades are richly deserved, I hope it is considered a top contender for the Oscar race.

Kyle’s rating: Actually, I think my unofficial nickname is Mr. Cellophane!

Kyle’s review: In truth, I kinda dig musicals. I would love to be able to break into song and dance at any given moment, and have a few (twisted) inner fantasies where I’m dressed up like a woman, singing woman songs to large groups of men and women while I dance around in giant champagne glasses filled with champagne, balloons, and Silly Putty. Occasionally, I’m dressed like a man singing songs, but those thoughts are few and far between.

Previously, I would have ranked my top three musicals as The Music Man (Robert Preston rules!), Rocky Horror Picture Show (yah, Tim Curry!), and My Fair Lady (Audrey Hepburn is hot!). But now Chicago has taken over the number three spot, because it is cooler than cool and completely rewatchable. It’s just totally fun in every sense of the word, and I really dig that 99% of the characters are selfish, money-grubbing scumbags (just like me!). I could go off on a tangent about how cool Richard Gere is, but I’m already on thin ice from that cross-dressing admission earlier. Yikes.

Girl murders, goes to jail, gets scummy lawyer, hopes to win and find success. That is the plot. Simple, eh? That’s fine, because we’re there to see big song-and-dance numbers and visual shenanigans. And we get both in incredible amounts, as people shimmy-shimmy-shake all over the stage and Taye Diggs introduces us to everything and we wonder how comfortable everyone can be, since those darn sequins must get in everywhere. But everything is shiny and we are therefore happy, and then the movie ends and we all file out of the theater singing our personal favorite songs (mine is “Razzle Dazzle”). And life goes on.

Do not fear the musical! I couldn’t get into Moulin Rouge, but Chicago is just my style (and my favorite kind of pizza) because it’s frenetic and flashy, but with an absolutely perfect cast and a great collection of songs. I enjoy the way the songs are incorporated into the plot, so it’s not like these people live in a world kind of like ours, only with an unseen orchestra on-call for requests whenever someone special wants to sing out some wisdom. Unless you’re completely terrified of being seen going into a musical film, or if you’re afraid of Catherine Zeta-Jones (I was too, but now I’m over it), Chicago is definitely worth your time. Go see this one because it’s good, and don’t wait to see the next big musical that could be bad but might star Nicole Kidman (blargh!). The end.

Didja Notice?

  • Although Amos gives Flynn “large bill” currency notes (25% larger than the “small bills” in use since 1929) when paying Roxie’s retainer, Velma and Roxie clearly use anachronistic small bills in the prison scenes.
  • Even though Hunyack is Hungarian, in one scene, she clearly says “Help! Help!” in Russian. (This might be explained by the fact that Ekaterina Schelkanova is Russian.)
  • The opening title credits, with “Chicago” in lights and the bandleader crying “5-6-7-8!”, allude to the almost identical opening of Bob Fosse’s film All That Jazz.
  • Justin C writes in: “During the Cell Block Tango, Mya’s character relates the account of her no-good boyfriend who had six wives — ‘You know those Mormons,’ she says. Yes; however, I also know that those Mormons (or Latter-Day Saints, as I hear they like to be called nowadays) passed a measure in 1890 declaring that anyone caught practicing polygamy would be excommunicated from the Church. Now, while there is the occasional modern day polygamist (such as Tom Green; I’m not talking about the Freddy Got Fingered guy), polygamy would have been realistically shunned by most Mormons in the 1930s, which is when the film is set.”

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