Moulin Rouge
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, John Leguizamo, Jim Broadbent

Baz Luhrmann

Writing credits: Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce
Distributor: 20th Century Fox * 120 minutes
Rated: PG-13
  (USA 2000)

Ewan McGregor.

There. That's all you need to know about MOULIN ROUGE. Now go see it.


No, not really. But for all the hype given the former Mrs. Tom Cruise, MOULIN ROUGE is Ewan McGregor's movie, and ought to be the vehicle that finally turns the droll Scotsman into a star. Yes, MOULIN ROUGE is the escalatio-ad-absurdum of director Baz Luhrmann's career, one that started with the deceptively harmless and charming SIMPLY BALLROOM, upped the ante with Leonardo DiCaprio as a twentieth century Venice Beach Romeo, and now reaches a zenith with this Alphonse Mucha On Even More Hallucinogens vision -- but without McGregor to keep the film anchored in some kind of sanity, MOULIN ROUGE is simply too much peyote on an empty stomach.

At its core, MOULIN ROUGE is La Traviata disguised as a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movie. The icy Nicole Kidman is Satine, a dancehall queen/courtesan who represents money to Moulin Rouge impresario Zigler (the valiant Jim Broadbent, playing W.S. Gilbert after drinking funny Kool-Aid). By selling herself to the evil Duke of Monroth (a snivelingly evil Richard Rosbergh), she will generate the revenue Zigler needs to produce "Spectacular, Spectacular", a strange theatrical endeavor put together by none other than Henri de Toulouse Lautrec (John Leguizamo), here portrayed as a dwarfed, Gallic Corky St. Clair from WAITING FOR GUFFMAN instead of as the foremost poster artist of La Belle Epoque. However, Satine's willingness to sacrifice herself to an evil rich guy for the communitarian good is thwarted when Christian, the penniless writer recruited by Lautrec, appears on the scene, offering True Love.

If this is all starting to sound very much like TITANIC to you, you're not alone. MOULIN ROUGE's story is cribbed from so many other films I lost track. But who cares if the story isn't original, or even particularly compelling. MOULIN ROUGE, like "Spectacular, Spectacular" itself, is about spectacle; about production values; about what an artist is capable of doing with the medium of film. And as such, it succeeds smashingly.

MOULIN ROUGE boasts one of the best opening sequences you will ever see. A curtain opens, revealing a bandleader with Cab Calloway's best moves. Sepia-toned credits in an art nouveau font swoop through he air, landing in the Moulin Rouge, a club that looks like Bob Fosse's Cabaret circa 1900, then swooping back to reveal a vision of Paris as imagined by Tim Burton. From there, MOULIN ROUGE becomes a hallucinogenic pastiche of color, music, and other sensory mayhem. From a hip-hop version of Lady Marmalade, to a can-can production of Smells Like Teen Spirit, to the unforgettable sight of Jim Broadbent, winner of this year's Good Sport Award for Excellence in Hollywood, in a duet version of Madonna's Like a Virgin, MOULIN ROUGE is sort of like MTV in Hell.

Yet behind all of the color and magnificence, MOULIN ROUGE is an oddly downbeat movie musical, reminiscent more of Dennis Potter's PENNIES FROM HEAVEN than of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. Just as Dennis Potter's Arthur Parker wishes life was like the sheet music songs he sells, Baz Luhrmann, via the character of Christian, understands our somewhat adolescent need to turn pop song lyrics into symbols for life. And in the process of conveying to us that need, Luhrmann makes a divine revelation:

That crazy Scot can sing!

Boyish charm has long been Ewan McGregor's stock in trade, but Christian is the most boyishly charming of all of McGregor's characters. And who'd a thunk he had such a marvelous voice? I'm not talking adequate, like Edward Norton in EVERYBODY SAYS I LOVE YOU, we're talking a big, Broadway can belto voice, with vibrato and everything. I knew that Elton John's debut schmaltzkrieg Your Song was part of the repertoire in this film, but McGregor manages to make it tolerable, even listenable, proving that he need not reveal his light saber in order to give a knockout of a performance.

We already know from PORTRAIT OF A LADY that Nicole Kidman looks dynamite, no, luminous in a corset, and MOULIN ROUGE is the corset flick to end all corset flicks. With the whitest skin this side of Bernadette Peters, she may be luminous but she's a cold as ice in every role. Fortunately, the hard-bitten Satine is a role that requires exactly this sort of brittleness, and Kidman manages to soften it around the edges just enough to make Satine the doomed, tragic heroine she needs to be.

Much has been made of MOULIN ROUGE's role in single-handedly bringing back the old-fashioned movie musical, in which people burst into song for no good reason. Yet it is more TOMMY than GIGI. Woody Allen captured the spirit of the movie musical's heyday in EVERYBODY SAYS I LOVE YOU, complete with cheesy dancing. MOULIN ROUGE is something new, a musical for those who cut their teeth on the rapid-fire editing and dizzying colors of MTV, albeit with just the right art nouveau touches for atmosphere.

You don't mind, do you, if we here at Cozzi fan Tutti are insufferably pleased with ourselves, for we were Art Nouveau before Art Nouveau was cool.

- Jill Cozzi

Read Gabriel's review of MOULIN ROUGE




Review text copyright © 2000 Jill Cozzi and Cozzi fan Tutti. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Cozzi fan Tutti or the author is prohibited.


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