Movie musicals may be making a comeback – thanks to Baz Luhrmann’s latest all-singing, all-dancing foray Moulin Rouge.
Christian (Ewan McGregor), a struggling poet, goes to Paris to immerse himself in the Bohemian spirit. There, he meets a troupe of actors and writers who are putting up a new show Spectacular Spectacular, and offers his services as a lyricist. While marketing the show to the popular but sleazy theatre Moulin Rouge, Christian falls under the spell of Satine (Nicole Kidman), an enigmatic courtesan. Unfortunately, the rich and influential Duke of Monroth (Richard Roxburgh) has also fallen for Satine.
Unlike most modern movies with music, Moulin Rouge has its plot riding on a wave of delightful and instantly recognisable songs. Most notable in the song list is a refreshing take on the archetypical show tune The Sound of Music, a link to “tradition”, as it were. Incongruity rules the day, with songs like Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend seguing into Madonna’s Material Girl.
The main obstacle that modern musicals face is how to blend songs seamlessly into the storyline. Modern audiences are not used to seeing actors break out spontaneously into niftily choreographed song and dance routines. Moulin Rouge overcome this obstacle in a very stylish way, using the show-within-a-show format to introduce a number of songs into the plot. Let’s face it: the idea of actors starting to sing in the middle of a movie is an inherently corny prospect. But Moulin Rouge uses this fact to draw a few laughs, like in the scene where Christian sings, “The hills are alive…” Other musicals following Moulin Rouge can learn much from it.
A-list stars Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman prove to be top-rate singers. (Of course, modern sound technology can make almost anyone sound great these days, but these two are pretty good singers – especially Ewan McGregor.) The chemistry between the two leads shows itself in the duets they sing, especially in Come What May.
I disliked the way the overt content was handled in this movie. (Satine, after all, is a courtesan.) The number of references and innuendoes, plus songs like Voulez Vous etc etc, disqualify Moulin Rouge as a family movie. Thankfully, the second half of the movie plays down this aspect of the show.