Directed By Baz Luhrmann
20th Century Fox
By: Eric Greenwood
Baz Luhrmann follows up his unwatchable remake of Romeo And Juliet with more of the same slice and dice, over-stylized editing. Setting itself up as a story about “love”, Moulin Rouge barely even scratches the surface of its hackneyed "star-crossed lovers" theme. The deliberately anachronistic musical that drives the film has a few clever moments, but the story is so hollow that the film feels like a cartoon, albeit one that is at times both dazzling and hypnotic. Luhrmann’s direction is inspired, for sure, but it’s all sugar and no salt. He has too many balls in the air, dabbling in comedy, tragedy, music, and theater.
Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman are equally impressive as the ill-fated couple. Both have above-average voices, but neither would have been cast based on vocal ability alone. McGregor brings a certain malaise to his role, but his boyish charm flows so naturally it’s no wonder he was picked to play Obi-One Kanobi in the new Star Wars trilogy. Kidman is gorgeous in her vampish garb, making it all too easy for her to dance and sing her way into your heart. Luhrmann makes the seedy Parisian underworld look like a fantasyland with Kidman as its fiery princess.
The music is so diverse it’s sometimes disconcerting. Fusing everything from Elton John and Gloria Estefan to Phil Collins and Nirvana, Luhrmann pounds you over the head with conflicting emotions, but the effect is surreal. Working Madonna's lyrics to "Like A Virgin" into the dialogue is one of the film's most light-hearted yet effective moments. Moulin Rouge works as a play within a play. And the choreography is stunning. The inherent campiness of the musical genre is lessened somewhat by Luhrmann's tongue in cheek and hyper-self-aware presentation. It's at once absurd, gratuitous, and sentimental. Take out all the sexual provocativeness, and it could easily be a child's film with it's wacky, almost slapstick comedy.
Moulin Rouge is lavishly over the top- a constant barrage of images and cuts, fast zooms and blurred sequences, deep crimson colors and wild, glittery sets. The eye candy almost makes up for the unfulfilling storyline. If the film had been shorter, the trite plot wouldn't hang so heavily in its wake. As it stands, though, Luhrmann's story is a cliché of a cliché. We know from the onset that Christian (McGregor) and Satine (Kidman) do not live happily ever after. Christian's beard tells us so, as he recounts the events at the Moulin Rouge. All flashbacks are shot in a glorious haze of dreamy colors and constant motion, whereas, "current" scenes are dark and dank, emphasizing the emptiness and abandon Christian feels now that he is without his one true love.
Luhrmann's films do not look like anyone else's. He is unquestionably a stupendous visual artist and "excess" is the name of his game. As a visual spectacle Moulin Rouge is a triumph, but as a film it lacks staying power as it brazenly insults your intelligence and fails to engage you emotionally. Whether it's done deliberately or not is beside the point (when someone whispers to you at the start of a film that it's based on a true story does that make the film any better?). Luhrmann's had it both ways: Romeo And Juliet was certainly not lacking in plot, but Luhrmann still managed to bungle it. Moulin Rouge suffers from just the opposite problem- the story is half-hearted, but it's a vision to behold. Perhaps, there's some common ground between these extremes where Luhrmann can succeed.