After Moulin Rogue!‘s nomination in 2001, in 2002 the Academy finally gives another musical a BP win. A musical hadn’t won since 1968 with Oliver! I, of course, love musicals, and Chicago is no exception. Not only is this a great musical, but it works very well as a film too. Though the soundtrack is definitely the highlight, it delivers on
Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) is a show biz hopeful living in 1920s Chicago with her boring husband Amos (John C Reilley) and her slightly less boring guy on the side Fred Casely (Dominic West), who supposed to get her into vaudeville. When he doesn’t and walks out on her, she shoots him in “self-defense,” is arrested, and sent to murderess row. Already there is famous singer and dancer Velma Kelly, who spurns Roxie’s overtures of friendship. However, she lives to regret it when Roxie becomes the next big thing with the help of hot shot lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), who has no trouble manipulating public opinion and turning the court room into a stage.
The whole thing about Chicago is that it’s a satire about how the public is willing to be lead to believe in just about anything, and make heroes out of villains (or heroines or villainesses). This is a good set up and it works in the film, you definitely get a sense of how all of the criminal justice system in 1920s Chicago is a show put on to gain notoriety. The only problem is that it doesn’t really go any deeper than that, save a quite heartbreaking sequence when the only completely innocent character in the film is the one that hangs. Otherwise, we don’t see too many consequences of the type of behavior Chicago is exaggerating and satirizing.
Even so, the film ends up being really good and unbelievably enjoyable. The film doesn’t have that much in between the musical numbers, the talking that exists is mostly editing straight into them. More than the lack of depth, I sometime have a problem with the editing in this film. I can’t tell if it’s effective or not, because on hand I think it works with the story to show the musical numbers happening in Roxie’s imagination (ala All That Jazz) and the real-life plot events that inspire them at the same time, but on the other hand, what does that do to performance? Being a fan of 1950s movie musicals for as long as I remember, I’ve sort of come around to the way of thinking that musical numbers should be as uncut as possible, so show the performance to its fullest extent. Besides the fact that here, it’s sometimes too breakneck to be able to tell what’s going on. But again, doesn’t that confusion on the part of the audience fit in with the themes of the movie? Yes. So I’m of two minds about the editing.
One very good thing about Chicago cannot be disputed, the musical numbers themselves are fantastic. The songs are great, featuring many of my favorites “All that Jazz,” “Mister Cellophane,” “Razzle Dazzle,” “Cell Block Tango,” and what has to be the most cleverly staged, “We Both Reached for the Gun.” It takes place during a press conference and features Flynn telling Roxie’s story for her, and in her mind this equates to her becoming a puppet and Flynn becoming the puppet master. This is one upped by all the reporters becoming marionettes as well; it’s wonderful to see this interesting idea realized onscreen. As I said previously, most of the musical numbers are taking place inside the characters’ imaginations; further reinforcing the criminal justice system- show business comparisons.
At the Oscars that year, Chicago was nominated for a whopping 13 awards, taking home six of them. It won BP, best supporting actress for Zeta-Jones, best art direction, costume design, film editing, and sound, but lost out on best actress for Zellweger, best supporting actor for Reilly, best supporting actress for Queen Latifa, best director for Marshall, best adapted screenplay, best cinematography, and best original song. In 2002, Chicago was up against Gangs of New York (probably my least favorite Scorsese film), The Hours, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and The Pianist. I’m honestly totally fine with Chicago winning for 2002; I can’t think of anything better. And of course I love the fact that a musical won for the first time (and hopefully not for the last) in 34 years!
I really like Chicago. Though I’m conflicted on what the editing does in terms of the musical genre and showing performance, I agree it works with the story and that’s the main thing. I might not fully be behind it aesthetically, but I see what they were trying to do. Other than that, I behind the performances and the musical numbers for sure; I think they were very cleverly staged for the most part. Most of all, Chicago is just an incredibly fun film. I do think it’s good, but it really just is a blast to watch.
“No I’m no one’s wife, but oh, I love my life and all that jazz.”
Long story short: 3.5/4 stars
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