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Moulin Rouge

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Moulin Rouge

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Nicole Kidman
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 126 Minutes
Release Date: June 2001
Genres: Drama, Music, Romance

*Also starring: John Leguizamo, Jim Broadbent, Garry McDonald, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, Jacek Koman, Kylie Minogue

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
No Rating Supplied

After the press screening of "Moulin Rouge," I stood in the lobby of the theater listening to the reactions of my friends and colleagues. Everyone seemed a bit numb, understandable after sitting through a barrage of often-incongruous sounds and images. A pal of mine simply said that he loved the film and could hardly wait to take his wife to see it. Another enthusiast immediately began to analyze the production, while a woman who flat-out hated the movie gave him the skunk eye. When one fellow quietly stated "I've never really been a fan of musicals," the statement surprised me because, even though the story is told almost completely through song, I didn't think of it as a musical. There is so much going on in "Moulin Rouge" that "musical" seems too small a term to cover it.

"Moulin Rouge" is the kind of creation that sends critics scurrying off to the Big Tub O' Adjectives in search of proper words to describe the experience. Australian director Baz Luhrmann, the man behind "Strictly Ballroom" and "Romeo + Juliet," fills the heads of viewers with unique camerawork, opulent imagery and songs ranging from "The Sound of Music" to "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Sumptuous and beautiful, vulgar and overdone, "Moulin Rogue" travels through the looking glass while an ethereal stereo loaded with 50 years worth of catchy tunes operates on the "random" setting.

Oh, and it has a story as well.

"It was 1899, the summer of love... " Christian (Ewan McGregor) is a penniless young writer newly arrived in Paris, "to write about truth, beauty, freedom and love," where he encounters a group of bohemians, led by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo). Christian meets Satine (Nicole Kidman), a courtesan from the legendary Moulin Rogue, and his world transforms from black and white to technicolor. At once fragile and vivacious, the dazzling red-haired woman sweeps him off his feet without even trying. Christian instantly falls in love with her and Satine finds herself smitten with him as well, which is quite a hindrance for someone in her profession.

Working with the bohemians and Moulin Rogue impresario Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent), Christian writes an opus modestly named "Spectacular Spectacular." Zidler quickly finds a backer, the wealthy Duke of Monroth (Richard Roxburgh), but there's a catch - the duke also wants the hand of the fair Satine. As if all that isn't enough, Satine has a cough, and while a cough in the real world probably indicates a cold, it rarely turns out to be anything that simple in Movie Land.

Like a teeter-totter, "Moulin Rogue" moves up and down between the ridiculous and the sublime. One of the loveliest moments comes as Christine and Satine commune outdoors at night, becoming part of a defiantly unrealistic Parisian cityscape straight from a book of fairy tales. Together they dance, while serenaded by the man in the moon (Alessandro Safina provides the vocals), apparently transported from the classic Georges Méliès silent film to guard the nocturnal sky.

Other scenes merely traffic in everything-and-the-kitchen-sink overload. The cavorting of Toulouse-Lautrec and his comrades gets strained at times and some of their overt comedy, accompanied by cartoon sound effects, is overly reminiscent of the frenzied farce that sitcoms like "Bewitched" beat into the ground.

Of course, sensory overload was exactly what Baz Luhrmann had in mind. "We never heard from Baz to turn it down," one of the actors told the Los Angeles Times. "It was always, 'More! More!'" The director even sent a note to his cast reading, "I dare you to make me say you've gone too far."

The musical numbers reflect his attitude. One knockout piece, the "Elephant Love Medley," incorporates the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love," U2's "In the Name of Love," Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" and Elton John and Bernie Taupin's "Your Song." Need more? How about "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" spiced with portions of "Material Girl?"

Luhrmann's cast offers a wide variety of approaches that, together, add up to something messy, but often wonderful. Ewan McGregor is extremely likable as Christian, emphasizing the sincerity of the love-struck poet. McGregor's singing voice is robust and adds vigor at just the right moments. Once labeled the "Ice Queen," Nicole Kidman melts that characterization with a sizzling, yet tender, performance. She handles the songs adroitly, although her voice sounds a bit thin in the upper range. Veteran character actor Jim Broadbent is suitably larger than life as ringmaster Zidler - wait until you see him perform "Like a Virgin." As the buffoonish duke, Richard Roxburgh proves to be the film's weakest link, although I'm sure he was simply following instructions.

I suspect "Moulin Rogue" will be one of those love-it-or-hate-it films. While I didn't completely love it, I most certainly liked it a lot. Over the course of a year, I see well over 300 movies, and most of them look like Xeroxes of each other. "Moulin Rogue" is an original, and an original, even a flawed one, is a thing to be cherished.

Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott

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