Moulin Rouge
*** GM
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, John Leguizamo, Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxburgh


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This is an appalling, beautiful, painful, interesting, offensive, intricate hunk of pleasantly fragrant donkey crap. It's been a while since I've been so polarized by a film that I've considered asking my doctor about Zoloft.

First of all, one has to appreciate the guts it takes to dare to make a movie like this. Upon first hearing the idea of "Hey! How about a musical set in turn-of-the-century Paris, but instead of writing our own songs, we'll turn all sorts of contemporary pop songs into weird-ass medleys!"... the standard thought would be 'that sounds awful and ridiculous and you should be smacked with a bowling pin.' In truth, some of this is awful and ridiculous. But for every painful cringe and fist-shaking inward cry of "ALACK, YON HEATHENS! TRAVESTY OF TRAVESTIES, CORRUPTION MOST FOUL!", I tempered my fury by trying to accept that the reason this feels like such a fresh pitchfork to the gut is partially because this hasn't been done before... so director Baz Luhrmann was taking a risk, and there's no doubt he was aware of the dangers of doing something like this (or at least I hope he was). It's an attempt to be different, to try something new... and although the wisdom of this particular risk can be debated indefinitely, it's hard to fault Baz for giving it a shot.

But the main question has to be "does it work?" That's hard to say. Judging by how I reacted upon hearing the songs I knew, I can only imagine how distracting it would be if I recognized EVERY song they used. Perhaps the only reason it's so irksome is because it's not conventional - I'm not USED to it - but moments that should have been emotive turned into "Hey, I know that song! Hey, fuck them for using THAT song! Hey, that song kinda works," ad nauseum. So in that sense, it detracted from the story and occasionally elicited a righteous indignation that knew no bounds.

On the other hand, a little reflection on things helps to put them in perspective. How many of us make mix tapes/CDs for ourselves and for other people all the time? Sometimes for a goof, sometimes to express how we feel with other people's poetry (see High Fidelity), but we're not making up our own songs. We're using tried and true tunes from people with the talent to make up the "soundtrack of our lives," as dumb as that sounds. All this film is doing is taking the songs it would have used as standard tunes playing over a scene for emphasis, smashing them all together into a stylized flamboyant Cheese-Whiz stew and making the characters actually sing them instead of simply feeling them. Seeing things in that light, one might even be able to attempt genuine enjoyment of this film.

The look of the film is absurdly ornate and gaudy, yet also beautifully colorful, and there's always something drawing the eye, whether it's something worth looking at or not. I'm not a Nicole Kidman fanatic, but she was pretty good as Satine, the hooker with a heart of gold. Ewan McGregor is decent, but a bit shakier and more awkward as Christian, the penniless writer that wins the hooker's heart of gold, as he tends to scream his songs rather than sing them. Richard Roxburgh brings to mind Michael McKean as the villainous Duke (I mean that in a good way), John Leguizamo is entertaining as usual as Lautrec, and Jim Broadbent gets to sing "Like A Virgin," the absurdity of which encapsulates the bipolar response I had to this film. GOOD GOD.

The plot is simple, complicated only by the use of itself as the "Spectacular Spectacular" that Christian is writing within the film. It's melodrama and flourish and a flagrantly absurd Bohemian rhapsody (sigh... yes, I know, I'm sorry), which also helps to explain the blatant borrowing of the musical works of others - truth, freedom, love, what have you. It's about the Bohemian ideals, and it's never ashamed of itself, no matter how much you think it should be.

So... I can't get mad at it for fucking around with good songs. The next question is this - were Kurt Cobain and John Lennon fucked up enough to appreciate seeing something like this done to their music, or are they doing gale-force pirouettes in their graves about now? Discuss.

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