The UnPopular Opinion: Moulin Rouge
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
I am not a big fan of movie musicals from any era. I can count the ones I do like on one hand and the other is reserved for those films I merely tolerate. But, back in 2001, something happened that changed my perspective on the genre forever: Baz Luhrmann's MOULIN ROUGE. As a big fan of WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S ROMEO + JULIET and actor Ewan McGregor, I was intrigued by the hyperkinetic trailer. It was unlike anything I had seen before. Sure, it was a musical, but using contemporary songs in a period setting. What I was not prepared for was just how great the movie would be.
While a movie nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, doesn't seem like your standard fare for this column, I firmly believe that MOULIN ROUGE should have won the Oscar that year and is easily a better film than the other four candidates, including IN THE BEDROOM, GOSFORD PARK, THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, and winner A BEAUTIFUL MIND. Yes, I will choose Luhrmann's musical over Peter Jackson's first journey to Middle Earth any day. Not to belittle those other films in any way as they are all quality films, but MOULIN ROUGE is just more special then all of them.
Yeah, this doesn't look creepy at all.
In the 13 years since the release of MOULIN ROUGE, our pop culture has become inundated with musicals of all shapes and sizes. Whether it be the Oscar winning CHICAGO and LES MISERABLES or the mash-up heavy television series GLEE, they all owe a major debt to MOULIN ROUGE. Luhrmann's film not only brought mash-ups to the zeitgeist, but it was also the first live action musical to be nominated for Best Picture since ALL THAT JAZZ in 1979 (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was the last musical of any kind to be nominated for Best Picture in 1991). But, while musicals have become pretty standard fare again after such a long drought, none of them compare to the magic of MOULIN ROUGE.
First off, the cast is phenomenal. Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman bring a mountain of chemistry to the screen and actually show us they can sing pretty well. McGregor's voice cracks at a few places in the movie but it just adds to the naturalism of the music in the film. You would think a romance featuring songs by Sting, Paul McCartney, Whitney Houston, The Wallflowers, Nirvana, Marilyn Monroe, Christina Aguilera, Gloria Estefan, and many others would be lacking in the natural or realistic aspects of a movie, but it just works perfectly. Luhrmann successfully mashed Shakespeare with a gang movie and does the same thing here with his musical choices. Add to that great turns by John Leguizamo, Jim Broadbent, and Richard Roxburgh as the Duke and you have the grand type of movie that just doesn't get made anymore.
Nicole Kidman used to be good looking. Then she shaved her mustache.
If MOULIN ROUGE had been made today, it would most certainly have been in 3D. Luhrmann used the technique to accentuate the grandeur in THE GREAT GATSBY, but MOULIN ROUGE is the movie of his that most deserves the format. Watching it in 2D and you get a sense of depth and movement thanks to the acrobatic camerawork from cinematographer Donald Alpine. The movie takes place on a stage within a stage within a stage and these layers are peeled back throughout the movie as we watch the characters perform while also hiding themselves from one another. There are few movies that can balance drama, comedy, romance, and music the way that MOULIN ROUGE does. By the end of the film you will be exhausted both emotionally and visually, but in the best way possible.
It took Baz Luhrmann almost two years to just secure the rights to the music in MOULIN ROUGE and it was well worth it. The excess of MOULIN ROUGE works because it takes the extravagance of Paris in 1899 and makes it relateable for 21st century audiences. It draws to mind how the HBO series DEADWOOD used contemporary profanity to illustrate the foul nature of those who populated the West during the time period. MOULIN ROUGE is the rare example of a period film where using anachronistic music enhances both the story and the viewing experience.
Like the decor? Tom Cruise picked everything out himself.
MOULIN ROUGE is a movie that would be equally at home on the Broadway stage, but the magic of the movies is what gives it that extra edge. The Green Fairy flying at the screen with demonic red eyes, the fly-over sequence of a pop-up book version of Paris, and the breathtaking final dance sequence are choreographed to perfection, but it is the gloss of a big budget film that makes it a lasting masterpiece. There are simply no movies that you could compare to MOULIN ROUGE in terms of grandeur, emotion, or execution.
MOULIN ROUGE is silly, ridiculous, and over the top while moments later becoming tragic, depressing, and stone cold serious. Just like the operas and musicals it aimed to pay homage to, MOULIN ROUGE vacillates wildly from one emotion to another, taking the viewer along for the ride. Each time I watch MOULIN ROUGE, I get a different perspective on the film. Just looking at the ornate art direction and costumes in the film yields little easter eggss and treats you may have missed the previous viewing. It is rare to find a movie these days that endures as well as MOULIN ROUGE.