We, the potentially adoring public, didn't exactly go for the last movie musical sent our way, "Topsy Turvy" (1999) so why would Hollywood give the genre another try? Well, even if a genre doesn't work as well at the boxoffice as it once did doesn't mean it's dead for all time. And so, 20th Century Fox Film in association with Baz Luhrman, director, ("Romeo + Juliet", Strictly Ballroom") gives it another try and we think it'll please afficionados, lovers on a date, and a few others.
It's a boisterous, panache-filled, colorful dance-a-thon love story that cleverly incorporates pop tunes from the late 20th century. Its repeated device is to introduce song lyrics as spoken dialogue, which then leads into the production number -- a rather bold device for any director other than Baz Luhrmann whose stock in trade is over the top. But that doesn't mean that it doesn't work as part of his extremist style of storytelling and entertainment.
He brings back a star of "Topsy Turvy", Jim Broadbent, who here, as Zidler (play on Zeigler of follies fame?), is the owner/manager/announcer/singer of the Moulin Rouge, fabulous Parisian nightspot that seems never to be wanting for a panting full house but which is close to ruin financially. This despite the fact that the lead singer/performer/courtesan is the fabulous Satine (Nicole Kidman) who, it would seem, has a virtually global audience. But, close to bankruptcy it is, we are told, and Zidler must succumb to the offer by Duke of Monroth (Richard Roxburgh) for a loan whose collateral is not just the club itself, but its chief attraction, Satine.
Obviously, Zidler will stop at nothing to save his club (it's an institution of indisputable importance, is it not?) and pretty soon Satine is compromised. But, how do you compromise a courtesan whose business it is to satisfy customers both public and private? Well, by making her fall in love with a pauper, that's how.
Enter handsome but penniless Christian (Ewan McGregor), a writer from the wrong side of Montmartre, living, somehow, in a hotel where they rent rooms by the day and don't mind the chatter of his typewriter. It's no easy task to win the love of the rage of Paris but pretty soon it's a contest between the handsome, lovable pauper and the Duke who has on his side the salvation of the Moulin Rouge.
The contest is dramatized through a play within a play as Christian comes up with a scenario for the club's next public presentation, a story about a love triangle that parallels his own. And, since such a contest wouldn't be real enough for the emotional involvement desired, Luhrmann and co-writer Craig Pearce provides the tragic vulnerability of their perfect specimen Satine as fleshed out so magnificently by Nicole Kidman by investing her with the fatal disease, consumption (tuberculosis).
Kidman is sinuously sumptuous and, in her full-out rendering of a fabulous song and dance girl after a filmography as a pretty well straight dramatic actress brings to mind a similar breakout, that of Michelle Pfeiffer amazing the film world with talents never suspected in "The Fabulous Baker Boys". Kidman brings that big an effect to the audiences of 2001 with her delicate grace and tough comeliness. She can act, she can dance, she can sing. She's convincing.
McGregor is the ideal cleft-chin sweeheart who convinces us that he can appeal to a woman who has Paris at her glorious feet. He's been called a "nouveau Gene Kelly" (Time Magazine) but we think more in terms of legitimate contender for male star of the year award. He's got it and Luhrmann makes good use of it.
As he does of his entire cast and crew. The fantasy Paris is replete with sets and costumes that convey the period and places by Luhrmann's wife, Catherine Martin, who will not go unnoticed at Oscar time. The costumes blur with color and choreography in the wonderful light of cinematographer Don McAlpine ("Stepmom", "Romeo + Juliet", Mrs. Doubtfire").
Estimated cost: $50,000,000. Projected U.S. boxoffice: $52,000,000.