Moulin Rouge! (2001)


I feel like I have made my feelings know about Baz Luhrman and his ice queen muse Nicole Kidman known in the review for Australia. The pair of them are perhaps the most overrated members of the entertainment industry, particularly here is Australia where they are fawned over by our media simply due to the fact they have had a modicum of success outside of this country. In saying that, Moulin Rouge is not a terrible film. It is by far Baz’s most watchable movie. This is mostly due to the performance of Ewan McGregor and an awesome soundtrack that puts contemporary spins on some old school classics.

McGregor stars as penniless writer Christian, who is looking to get some funding for a play he is writing. One of his partners (John Leguizamo) arranges for Christian to present his work to the owner of flashy nightclub Moulin Rouge (Jim Broadbent) and his best dancer Satine (Kidman) in the hopes of them putting on his play at their club. Due to a misunderstanding, Satine believes Christian is a wealthy duke (Richard Roxburgh) that she has been promised to on the condition he invests in the club. Christian and Satine only realise their mistake after they have fallen in love. The pair must avoid the Duke, while still trying to get funding for the struggling cabaret club.

All the things Luhrman does well are on display in this movie. His musical numbers and costumes are top notch and make the film worth watching for that reason alone. I really enjoyed the music. When the movie was released, a lot was made of the ‘Lady Marmalade’ single that Mya, Pink, Lil’ Kim, and Christina Aguilera covered for the soundtrack. While this was an awesome cover (and one of the best music videos I can remember), I much preferred the slower music, such as McGregor’s solo effort ‘Come What May’. I was really impressed by his singing voice, and it was certainly not something I expected from Obi Wan Kenobi.

The story does feel like the plot of a sitcom and unoriginal, but the music, set designs and costumes make up for a lacklustre story. McGregor and Kidman have OK chemistry, although I didn’t really buy it when they were in love a few moments after meeting. I also have this problem with Romeo & Juliet, but it happens all the time in movies. I’d much prefer it to be a little realistic. Nobody falls in love with someone after meeting them for a few minutes or glancing at them from across the room. As romantic as it might seem, real life isn’t like that.

I also didn’t really understand all of the awards season love for this film. It was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, and Kidman garnered a Best Actress nod for her work. This film is OK, but I didn’t think it deserved the accolades it got. It did rightly win the Oscar for Best Costume Design though.

Moulin Rouge is an unoriginal story saved by a kickass soundtrack and awesome costumes.

Rating: C

Ahhh… Moulin Rouge. The film that introduced me to both my current number one imaginary boyfriend, Ewan McGregor, and the song “Lady Marmalade.” Re-watching this one for the first time in over a decade brought back high school and college memories.

I first became aware of Moulin Rouge through the remake of Labelle’s 1975 hit “Lady Marmalade” that accompanied the movie. The single featured all the hottest women singers of the time (Except Britney Spears, who does not have the singing chops.). I probably watched this music video (which features Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Maya, and Pink dancing in lingerie) about a million times. First bit of nostalgia: this movie was released when music videos were still played on MTV.

As much as I loved this song and music video, I didn’t actually bother to see the movie they were promoting until it was released on DVD. My uncle, who not unlike Ben buys DVDs by the gross, purchased it and made my sister and I watch it with him. This is also the only reason I’ve seen A Walk to Remember.

Anyway… I remember really liking the songs. More importantly, I remember really, really, really liking Ewan McGregor singing the songs. Sometimes I revisit TV shows or movies that sparked a celeb crush and am perplexed as to what I saw in that person at the time. Not so in this case. In fact, McGregor’s performance is one of the few parts of this movie I still find enjoyable. Even at his most hammy (more on that later), he’s still a lot of fun to watch. And he’s awfully handsome, even without a beard.

My initial impressions of Moulin Rouge are probably limited to Ewan McGregor, because the story itself is kind of crap. The film is based on the opera La traviata, but also borrows heavily from other classical sources. This is standard Baz Lurhmann operating procedure: take old source material and make it accessible to today’s audience by using contemporary music. In this manner Moulin Rouge is less successful than some of his other films. There’s too much recognizable music. The result is that I can remember a lot of the songs used, but not the actual story they’re meant to enhance.

Lurhmann made a deliberate choice to incorporate multiple genres into one movie. It’s a musical; it’s a tragedy; it’s a low comedy. The result is a mess, never quite working the way he intended. The musical numbers are breathtaking in their choreography and costuming, but as I already said, they often detract from the story rather than add to it. The tragedy would be successful, if I cared at all about the characters (the emphasis on the music is at the expense of character development). Lastly, the comedy is uneven. McGregor does the sort of comedic overacting this calls for well. Unfortunately, his costar Nicole Kidman does not.

What I really took away from my second viewing of Moulin Rouge is that I really had no sense of my personality when I was 18. This was a movie that my new college friends loved, so I loved it too. Or, I only liked it because it starred a handsome man. Either way, it was worth watching this again just to see how much I’ve come into my own as an adult. Now I openly hate media, friend’s opinions or Ewan McGregor’s smile be damned!

Rating: D+

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