a critiQal film review Chicago (2002)

Plot: Roxie Hart (Zellweger) has always wanted to be a star. She’s even at the club on the night famed showgirl Velma Kelly (Zeta-Jones) is arrested for murdering her sister and husband. A month later, Roxie finds herself as one of Velma’s cell mates after murdering her lover. Roxie is introduced to Velma’s hot shot lawyer Billy Flynn (Gere), and her star begins to rise, just as Velma’s begins to fall. But will Roxie be able to keep the limelight long enough to get a “not guilty” verdict out of a jury?

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  • ...despite an impressive performance from Renee Zellweger and a star-studded cast, this musical doesn't quite live up to all it's hype.

So, who decided that there was going to be a musical revival in Hollywood? Maybe Woody Allen (Everyone Says I Love You) kicked it off. Whoever it was, Moulin Rouge! (2001) took it, twisted it and made it hip again…and paved the way for Chicago to come in, garner a bunch of Academy Awards®, and (most likely) set the stage for a host of imitators to follow.

But is Chicago worth all the hype, or is it just the Monster’s Ball (2001) of musicals?

The acting was exceptional, especially in Renee Zellweger’s case. She really seems to have come into her own these past few years (after the big boost she got from Jerry Maguire), and she really sinks her teeth into this role. She plays her character, Roxie, with such passion the viewer becomes involved in the film, whether they want to be or not.

One scene comes especially to mind when talking about Renee’s amazing acting in this film – the mannequin scene, where she plays “dummy” (literally) to Richard Gere’s lawyer character. It’s an astonishing scene, since she really looks like the wooden dummy she’s portraying. Now, with the “dumb blonde” stereotype waiting in the wings for any light-haired actress, they usually don’t want to hear they play a dummy very well. But, in this case, it’s truly a compliment.

Oh, and now to add to Renee’s accumulating star power, we find out she can sing too? Oh boy. That ego must keep swelling every day..and so far, we don’t have any complaints.

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere also turn in pretty decent performances, with Gere edging out Jones in the showboating category. Sure, it’s a bit of a surprise to find out Gere has a decent voice, but after you get over that, it comes down to how much each of the stars wants the limelight.

With Gere’s career careening back and forth from abysmal (where did he go after he and Julia Roberts broke up?), to decent (hey, he was there when Edward Norton got his start in Primal Fear, just as he was for Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman), to suddenly coming out of nowhere to be close to the top again (, anyone?), he’s had his ups and downs so many times that the pull of true stardom seems extra strong for him.

Catherine Zeta-Jones, on the other hand, has kind of dropped from the glare of publicity since getting married to Michael Douglas and having a baby. She seems to be more into acting now for the money, and it’s obvious here. Both of their characters showcase these differences between the two of them better than any other characters they’ve ever played, and it’s a delight to watch them show their true colors.

The plot was pretty straightforward, but the lure of the acting pulls the viewer in for a closer look anyway. The musical aspect, a delight in Moulin Rouge! (2001), gets a bit annoying in this film, possibly from the duality it tries to create. The viewer is never quite sure if Zellweger’s character is imagining it, or if the director is just making it up as he goes along.

With Moulin Rouge! (2001), the music helped the momentum of the plot, furthering it along, while at the same time getting the audience more involved by mimicking popular songs of past and present. There are some decent sequences involving the singing (such as the mannequin scene mentioned above), but most of them seem to be there just to show the actors can sing. They do further the plot, but they do so in such a slow way, the film would have been better off having fewer musical segments, and letting their actors act, instead of sing.

All in all, Chicago, while being full of intelligent acting (and a truly remarkable performance by Renee Zellweger) and casting, seems to take the musical genre that Moulin Rouge! (2001) flipped on it’s ear and try to put it back to the way it was.

The best thing that can be said for the theme of Chicago? They didn’t do this completely, and threw in enough acting to keep the movie entertaining.

With a few less singing performances, Chicago could have become something it desperately wanted to be, and which Moulin Rouge! (2001) (at the moment at least) is – the king of the new wave of musicals.

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