Saturday, May 9, 2009

Chicago (2002)

I am well aware that it is a bit odd for me to do my first "review" on a recent film, given that I typically skew older in my film choices, but I cannot help it. Chicago is one of the most fun movies I've ever seen, and it definitely one of my favorites.

For those who don't know, Chicago is based on Bob Fosse's broadway hit about aspiring singer/dance Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger), a dumb blond who murders her lover only to end up in prison and using the tricks of greasy lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) to turn her into a star that no jury on earth would convict. But she has to compete with Billy's other client, Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), one half of a duo of dancing sisters who's doing time for killing her dancing partner as well as her husband. In addition to those three, we have Matron "Mama" Morton, played by Queen Latifah who operates on the system "If you're good to Mama, Mama's good to you" and Amos, played by John C. Reilly who is Roxie's simpleton mechanic of a husband.

The plot itself is fairly straightfoward, and it's not hard to see where it's going. But that's not really an issue at all, because the real appeal of Chicago (The Razzle-Dazzle, if I may be so bold) is in the musical numbers, which are vibrant and brimming with creativity and are accompanied by some truly great songs. It also helps that the cast is uniformly good at singing (at least, good enough for the songs used in the film), except for maybe Richard Gere, who's voice suddenly becomes a higher pitched and nasally so he almost starts sounding like Fran Drescher.

The real star of the film though, is Catherine Zeta-Jones who takes Velma Kelly to the heights of uber-b*tchy Diva-ness with great joy and enthusiasm. She doesn't really care what she has to do, she just wants out of prison so she can cash in on her fame and make some money. Not to say that Velma is the "villain" of the story, since pretty much every character in this film is crooked and horrible in some way or another (Roxy, you could argue, is the worst person in the whole film), except for poor Amos who is played to puppy-dog perfection by John C. Reilly. But that's really where a lot of the humor from the film comes from, these horrible people trying to outdo and screw over eachother just so they can get ahead. It also manages to sneak in some social commentary about sensationalism and how we turn horrible criminals into celebrities.

Another bright spot is Queen Latifah as Mama Morton. Queen Latifah already has a great likability to her already, and she capitalizes on it to create a truly corrupt woman who you still love (In addition to channeling Mae West). Not to mention that she OWNS the screen in her one musical number, and it's almost brave for a woman who is hardly thin (by Hollywood standards) to perform a very sexual musical routine and have such a confidence about herself, especially since at the time her boobs were enormous and capable of doing great harm if used for evil.

I know that the "real" star of the film Renee, Zellweger is largely being ignored, but that doesn't mean that I disliked her in the film. In fact, she gives her role a Marilyn Monroe-esque edge that makes her appear dumb enough to get herself in trouble, but smart enough to know how to get herself out and is incredibly entertaining throughout the entire film.

Chicago is a film that probably received a huge amount of backlash for winning Best Picture, especially up against more serious films like Gangs of New York, The Pianist, or The Hours, but it's such a fun movie (And for a comedy to win Best Picture is a big deal) that is so well-made that I hope more people check it out, because it's definately in my top 10 of all-time.

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