With 13 Academy Award nominations and nearly $100 million in revenues so far, Chicago is certainly the favorite to win Best Picture at this years Oscars, so I must say I was intrigued to see this musical. Okay, let me back up and start over I hate musicals, I have an inherent dislike because never once in my life have I seen fifteen people suddenly break out into perfectly choreographed dance, not to mention the same fifteen people all singing the same words to the same song on key. So with 13 Academy Award nominations and nearly $100 million in revenues so far, Chicago, is certainly the favorite to Best Picture at this years Oscars, so I must say I was obligated to see this musical, and while I was pleasantly surprised, this is not the best film of the year.
The story is thin, but in this day and age the concept of celebrity hungry singers, dancers, and lawyers gunning for the most sensational murder trials is poignant. The real story though is in the performances, because without great songs and choreography, there is no reason to make a musical. The cast is stacked with proven Hollywood professionals, and though these people can act, and (most) can sing, the dancing is probably not what the great Bob Fosse (who choreographed the stage play, and whos choreography is used in the film) had in mind. Hes probably not rolling over in his grave, but Im sure he would have liked a little more rehearsal time.
Renee Zellweger (Nurse Betty, Me, Myself, and Irene, Jerry Maguire) who has become quite an exceptional talent on screen plays Roxanne Roxie Hart. Her Roxie is all wide eyed dreamer until she pops the guy shes cheating on her husband with, goes to jail, and realizes this might be her big break. Catherine Zeta-Jones (Traffic, Entrapment, High Fidelity) is Velma Kelly, who killed her husband and her sister after finding them together, and also looks at jail time as a form of career advancement. These women believe this because both are represented by Billy Flynn (Richard Gere from An Officer and a Gentleman, Primal Fear, and this years Unfaithful), a super slick defense attorney whos never lost a case when his client is female. Flynn turns the killers into victims, and courts media attention more than than the courts attention. Hes manipulative and slimy, just what you want in a defense attorney and Gere uses his razor sharp smile perfectly for the role. Rounding out the cast are Queen Latifah (the upcoming Bringing Down the House) as Matron Mama Morton, the head of the jail Roxie and Velma are in, John C. Reilly (The Perfect Storm, and two of this years other Best Picture nominees The Hours, and Gangs of New York) as Amos Hart, Roxies shlub of a husband, and Taye Diggs (Go, The Way of the Gun) as the Bandleader.
Good things first. Chicago eliminates my initial complaint about musicals, because all the musical numbers take place on stage or are fantasy sequences. A brilliant little maneuver that allowed me to stay in the story, but director Rob Marshall (who has never directed a film before), blows his opportunity to run wild with the fantasy sequences by basically filming a stage. It was as if I was watching half a movie, and then during certain portions the audience was asked to now stop watching the screen and start watching the stage. And while yes, the dancing is (mostly) amazing, and the songs (if not the performances of the songs) are great, I paid my $7 to see a movie, not a camera in front of a stage.
The performers are solid, nobody embarrasses himself or herself, but certain people should be singled out. First and foremost is Zeta-Jones, who is head and shoulders above the rest in voice, but especially in her steps. The opening number, "All that Jazz" is hers, and she sets a high bar for the rest of the performers, most of whom unfortunately, dont deliver. Zellweger is a true talent, and it isnt that her singing and dancing are poor, but they just do not compare to Zeta-Jones. As evidence I offer the first time they actually dance together, when director Marshall completely changes the entire look of the film, for one sequence, and I can only believe the thought behind it was to hide the fact that there is one truly gifted dancer on stage, and one woman who can dance some. After "All That Jazz" the second best number is Reillys solo "Mr. Cellophane" done with Reillys trademark pain and a surprisingly strong voice, but alas it is his only song, and that is a shame.
Then we come to Mr. Gere. His is by far the best acting performance in the film, but while Zellweger, Zeta-Jones, Reilly, and Latifah all got Oscar nominations, Gere was left out because frankly, the man can not sing. While he does offer up an impressively smooth tap dance, his voice is at an obviously lower level than the others are and it is a shame, because his performance is the key to the film, and he is phenomenal when he is asked to speak rather than sing.
This might be the meanest review of a film I enjoyed that I will ever write. I guess I simply felt cheated, because I want to someday like another musical (the only one I like is Singin In the Rain, truly a classic), and Chicago had a shot. To many ifs though. If Marshall had done more film making, rather than film recording, if Gere had a better voice, if Zeta-Jones and Zellweger were more evenly matched dancers, maybe Chicago could have reached a higher level, been more than just the spectacle it is.
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