MOULIN ROUGE! mounts a “Spectacular! Spectacular!” dazzle so dense in detail and rich in layout it practically overloads your retinas with color and movement while simultaneously dousing your eardrums in music, mirth and a measure of heartbreak. Some of the sounds and images caress, others bombard. Clever, inventive and effective joy for the most part, frequently ingenious in its lush design and roller-coaster verve, though it occasionally pushes warp overdrive to such a pitch you might feel like you’re being hit not so much with gee-whiz as G-force.
1899. Bohemians run riot in the bawdy Montmartre District of Paris: precocious talent, carnal desire, social abandon and dreams of pure love collide in the theatrical & sexual wonderland of the show-house/bordello Moulin Rouge. Penniless, starry-eyed writer ‘Christian’ (Ewan McGregor) lays eyes on beautiful premier courtesan ‘Satine’ (Nicole Kidman), and his innocent heart is a goner. Is a ticker of gold beating in her jaded ivory breast? Wild Man impresario ‘Zidler’ (Jim Broadbent) senses tragedy, while a cloddish, Satine-smitten—and insanely jealous–‘Count Monroth’ (Richard Roxburgh) vows velvet or vengeance. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo) capers madly on the sidelines, just one in a dizzying swirl of personnages grotesques.
“You expect me to believe that scantily clad, in the arms of another man, in the middle of the night—inside an elephant— you were rehearsing?”
Directed by Baz Luhrmann, who also co-wrote the script with Craig Pearce. They pulled threads out of Greek tragedy (Orpheus & Eurydice), from Alexandre Dumas and Camille, Verdi’s La Traviata, Puccini’s La Boheme and a dose of Bollywood musical epics, then grafted bits and pieces from dozens of familiar pop hits onto the framework. Then, layer on a mountain of quick-flash background atmosphere in the riotous costuming and stops-pulled art direction and set decoration. Those elements are flat-out brilliant. The cast excel, their energy infectious; Kidman gorgeous and funny (and so more gorgeous), McGregor hapless-puppy appealing, Broadbent roaring like a lion on Acid, Roxburgh a hoot as the nasty nabob, Leguizamo a surprise in a zany go at tormented Toulouse. Many of the songs and most of their presentations are keen. Not all, though: while germane to the plot, that dark tango number done to “Roxanne” is hard to endure.
Mercifully, unlike so many musical blockbusters, this one doesn’t last longer than the period it’s set in, holding to relative brevity at 127 minutes.
Which is good, because while much—most—of the bounteous BazBomb lands on target, it’s also exhausting, what with the hyper-kinetic editing (a good movie for which to employ the pause button). Critical & crowd opinions range from those who waxed rapturous over its “re-invention of the form” and the opulent phantasmagoria of imagery saturation—to those who hated what they saw as shallow and continual racket, taking the tack that myriad musical homages were simply lazy steals. The cheerleaders may have genuflected a gush too far, but the Sour Apple Squad really need to hit the prune juice. Meant to tease and please, its crass craziness and soul-baring is as over-the-top as you can get, but, really, are we so cynical that a jazzed-up sally at silly and earnest lament to l’amour is a reason to spout forth huff & puff? If you can get past a few breath-intake bumps, this heartsong spectrum spectacle is mostly a lot of fun.
The $52,000,000 production came in 43rd among 2001’s slate, grossing $179,200,000 and won Luhrmann’s wife Catherine Martin two well-deserved Oscars, for that truly fabulous Art Direction and magnificent party-time! Costume Design (shared with Angus Strathie). Worthy nominations were garnered for Best Picture, Actress (Kidman), Cinematography, Film Editing, Makeup and Sound. It became a bone of contention that auteur overlord Luhrmann wasn’t on the roster for his inspired direction. *
With Jacek Koman, Caroline O’Connor, Kerry Walker, Linal Haft— and Kylie Minogue as ‘The Green Fairy’. Craig Armstrong arranged the score, with Fatboy Slim whomping up “Because You Can”.
* Speaking of awards and the great Nikki Kidman—whatever it is they put in tucker down there in Oz, it’s produced some of modern cinema’s most exciting, charismatic and pretty much flawless actresses: enticing & sexy, bold & brassy, smart & secure, cute & charming Mistresses of their Craft….Naomi Watts, Cate Blanchett, Margot Robbie, Toni Collette…. sigh