plot in a nutshell
This is Chicago in the roaring 20'2 - a town in a nation where scandal and
infamy are gold, but fleeting. Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) is a small
time performer, dreaming to hit the big time like Velma Kelly (Catherine
Zeta Jones). But her husband isn't too bright, rich or particularly
handsome, and her boyfriend turns out to be a liar. She thought he'd
get her into show biz, but he just wanted in her. When she learns he's
lying to her, she shoots him in a crime of passion, and ends up just like
Velma, who a year previous had shot her own husband and sister when she
found them together.
Now both incarcerated, facing
the death penalty, and both with the same shrewd, conniving defense attorney
Billy Flynn, they strive for both freedom and fame against a backdrop of
music and dance. Bob Fosse would be proud.
Spoiler Free Thoughts
Let's get this
straight right away - this is a musical. This means that the story is
told and progressed through the use of song and dance. If you have
never liked a musical in your entire life, hated everyone you were ever
forced to sit through, then you won't like this film. You can stop
reading, you can stop wondering, and you can skip over it at the local
if you have found at least some musicals entertaining in the past, then you
really should give this film a chance. It won far too many Oscars last
year, including best picture, and while I wouldn't have awarded it that
highly had I been asked (and oddly enough, no one did ask), it is certainly
an enjoyable and entertaining film.
story is simple enough, as is the usual case for musicals. Roxie wants
to be the big star like Velma. Then Velma finds her sister - who is
also the other half of her act - doing the splits with her husband.
She kills them both, and goes off to death row. Then sometime later,
Roxie learns that her no good boyfriend has been lying to her all along,
stringing her along with promises of stardom when he's a nobody
himself. She pulls a Velma and guns him down, to be arrested in what
seems to be a pretty open and shut case of murder.
gets the famous defense attorney, Billy Flynn (who's never lost a case
concerning a beautiful woman), and the rest of the film covers her attempts
to prove how sweet she really is, and keep her face on the front page until
the trial. Her and Velma are both trying to stay on top, since fame is
the best way to beat the wrap, and they battle each other for top spot.
performances here are all excellent. Richard Gere as the sleazy lawyer
Flynn does a great job at acting, dancing and singing, which was quite the
surprise. All three leads - Zellweger, Zeta Jones and Gere - did their
own dancing and singing, and all did a marvelous job. It's quite
surprising how good they are, although Zellweger sticks mostly to singing
with 'strutting' passing for dancing in most of her numbers.
also some excellent supporting work from John C. Reilly as Roxie's loser
husband, Amos (who Gere always calls Andy), and Queen Latifah as Momma, the
matron of the woman's prison. It's no surprise that Latifah can sing,
but even Reilly does a truly impressive job holding his own in a solo
not much story here, but after all, it is a musical. Story plays
second fiddle to the choreography and song, and that's to be expected.
The real reason this film works so well is the imaginative way they've
blended the numbers with the live action. Since these are big, Broadway
play sort of numbers, they would have been difficult to include as
'reality'. Instead, each number is actually played out in Roxie's own
head, as she treats everything in her life as if she was a star on stage,
and the events around her are just another song and dance routine. The
transitions from reality to imagination are flawless. This mingling of
reality and fantasy works extremely well, but no better than in the 'tap
dance' that Gere has to do in court, while he's doing the same on
stage. The ventriloquist number, the number in which the ladies of the
row explain why their men deserved what they got, and Reilly's Cellophane
Man routine were all exceptional, and Director Rob Marshall did a great job
bringing together the two worlds in a seamless and easily understandable
there's one problem the film has, it is in the message. Those in the
film craving fame and money come out on top, while those who are innocent
end up with the worst of punishments. I was disappointed in the
conclusion, and the overall feeling I was left with about the
characters. But as musicals go, this one was certainly fun.
Rating - Rent
can't say this is a film I'd watch repeatedly over time, so I can't give it
a Buy rating. But it was very entertaining, with some laugh out loud
moments, and at least three exceptional song and dance routines. I'm a
moderate fan of musicals, and I've seen plenty, from the God awful Paint
Your Wagon to the all time hilarious South Park: Bigger, Better,
Uncut. I wouldn't have picked this as the best film of 2003, both
because of the conclusion and because it really is just cotton candy, but
even I have a sweet tooth.
Spoiler Laden Thoughts
There's nothing really additional to spoil here, other than the fact
that there's no real surprises.