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Chicago: dark, funny, too good to miss

by April Tashiro, Art & Entertainment editor

   

Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb’s 1975 Broadway musical, Chicago, comes to the silver screen at the hands of former Broadway hoofer Rob Marshall. Winning three Golden Globes and nominated for 13 Oscars, Chicago has prove itself to be one of the best films of this year, one that should not be missed.

In the jazzy 1920s Chicago, Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) dreams of becoming a singer, and has an affair with a furniture salesman who claims a connection to stardom. When she finds out his lie, she murders him and ends up in jail, where she meets a star singer of the city, Velma

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Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Velma is in jail for double murder — her husband and sister, who were being more than friendly. Having a top-notch attorney, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), as her ticket to freedom, Velma is now enjoying new-found fame from the scandal.

 

The fame comes to an end when Roxie hires Flynn as well, thanks to her faithful husband’s (John C. Reilly) love and effort. The media attention shifts from Velma to Roxie, creating a deadly conflict between them. In the corrupt city of the Prohibition-Era, there is room enough for only one celebrity murderess, and both of them are willing to do whatever it takes to be just that.

 

A cynical fairytale of stardom with twists of dark humor, Chicago is a 113-minute roller-coaster ride of music, dance, and drama. Unlike conventional musical films, in which songs decorate a story, in Chicago the music numbers create the story itself, leaving very little time for nonmusical parts. Yet, they are woven so well together that the story moves smoothly, probably because instead of people starting to sing in the middle of conversations, most of the numbers in the film start from inside of Roxie’s head, reflecting the way she sees reality.

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One of many memorable numbers is “Cell Block Tango,” where female inmates sing and dance their stories of how they committed murders and why. Choreographed powerfully with a red handkerchief as the symbol of blood, it leaves strong impressions of each character’s personality and past. What the film accomplished very successfully throughout is depicting the characters efficiently and firmly, tightly packing the essence of them into songs, never letting the audience wonder about their uniqueness by establishing it strongly.

 

Moreover, the acting — including singing and dancing in this case — is excellent. Once a professional dancer, Zeta-Jones plays her role confidently, expressing Velma’s strength and dark convictions through passionate and sexual dances. Her number, “All That Jazz,” has been made into a music video, and is one of the best songs in the film. And her co-star, Zellweger, sings her high-note numbers lovably and charmingly, creating a distinguishing contrast of these two characters who share the same single desire.

Gere seems to gives a rather weak impression of Billy at first, being sandwiched between two strong actresses who play strong characters. It is evident especially in his first number, “All I Care About,” where he dances in his boxers and undershirt, singing in a mellow voice. Yet, he has a very good scene toward the end, when Billy gives an amazing tap dance performance while defending Roxie at her trial, smoking away everybody in the courtroom. Whether it is or is not Gere who is dancing as suggested by Michael Wilmington of TheChicago Tribune, the number is sure to make the audience “razzle-dazzle,” as it does the jury.

Not only the leading actors, but also supporting actors and actresses give strong performances to the film. Being a singer, Queen Latifah (“When You’re Good to Mama”) is delightful as a prison matron, while a character actor, Reilly, in the role of Roxie’s naïve husband (“Mister Cellophane”), captures the sadness of an empty theater.

However, some in the audience might not enjoy the intensity of 113 minutes with few breaks between numbers, and even though it is appealing in its own way, when Chicago is compared to the recent musical hit Moulin Rouge, it is neither as colorful nor as vivid, creating a much smaller scale of the world it presents.

One possible reason might be where it was shot, as Wilmington pointed out, mostly in Toronto. He wrote, “And though it’s true that the film is a period recreation, it suffers from a lack of any real sense of the city, any open air or any views of Lake Michigan.”

Overall Chicago is too good, too entertaining, and too talked about to miss. Even if it does not win many Oscars, or even if you are not really enthusiastic about musicals, it’s still a worthwhile film to see.

 

 

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