Dizzying musical fantasy that throws everything imaginable into the mix in the hope that some of it will stick – breath-taking in parts, yet at times embarrassing and clumsy, it’s a film you’ll either love or hate.
Baz Luhrmann’s follow-up to his superb version of Romeo + Juliet is a
delirious musical fantasy that is bold, brassy, stunningly designed and
gorgeous to look at, but somehow never quite pulls it all together.
It mixes zooming cameras and dazzling colours and includes covers of modern pop songs alongside old standards and 80s rock numbers (many of which are sung by Kidman and McGregor themselves) but ultimately fails to convince with its central love story.
The plot follows the traditional musical formula of guy-falls-for-unobtainable-girl. Ewan McGregor plays Christian, a poet in what is ostensibly late 19th century Paris.
He meets legendary shortarse Toulouse Lautrec (the normally reliable John Leguizamo) and is introduced to bawdy nightclub the Moulin Rouge, where he falls in love at first sight with the star of the show, the courtesan Satine (Nicole Kidman, looking, it has to be said, drop-dead gorgeous).
However, Satine has been promised to a seedy duke (Richard Roxburgh) in a particularly sordid deal with her pimp / emcee Zidler (Jim Broadbent), not to mention the fact that she’s developing a Rather Nasty Cough, which is never a good thing.
One of the main problems with the film is that Kidman's character seems all wrong. The film is supposed to be about "truth, beauty, freedom, but above all things, love" and yet she doesn’t seem worthy of that love at any point.
It would have been much better if she'd been pure and forced into prostituting herself for Broadbent, rather than willingly doing it.
Traditionally, characters like that 'see the light', but it appears that she falls for Christian after a rather dodgy serenade sequence and that’s it. She doesn’t repent and there seems to be no real reason for her to love Christian in return.
Similarly, Kidman’s acting is embarrassing at times, whether it’s her
high-pitched giggling during the poorly-directed bedroom farce scene, or her horribly over-the-top coughing scenes.
As for the songs themselves, one or two of the numbers are superb (Kidman’s opening Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend, Broadbent singing Like A Virgin), but many of them are forgettable and even quite poorly staged.
There are also far too many times when the characters resort to speaking in song titles just to get cheap laughs.
The main problem is that they just throw everything in there, hoping some of it will stick -as a result the film is wildly uneven and constantly shifts in tone. It’s also a good twenty minutes too long. Still, it’s hard not to admire the sheer boldness of it all.
Indeed, the opening twenty minutes, up until the end of Satine’s big entrance number (and including a delightfully bizarre cameo by Kylie Minogue, as absinthe-inspired hallucination the Green Fairy) are an incredibly exciting cinematic experience – it’s only a pity that the film can’t sustain that level of quality.
Having said all that, it should be re-iterated that this is a film you will either love or hate – you’ll have to see it and make up your own mind.
At any rate, regardless of how it does at the box office, the high levels of kitsch on display would seem to indicate that its status as a future camp classic is assured.