This is the one of the movies (the other is Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner) that inspired me to watch all of the movies nominated for best picture. When I saw Chicago for the first time, I was not impressed; it made me wonder how bad the other nominees were for this movie to have won best picture.
So what’s the story? In 1920s Chicago, vaudeville star Velma Kelly murders her husband and sister when she finds them sleeping together. Actress wannabe Roxie Hart kills her lover when he decides to break off their relationship and reveals that he never had the connections to make her a star. Both women are represented by Billy Flynn, a defense attorney who has never lost a case. Will his defense be enough to save them from the hangman’s rope?
The Good: Catherine Zeta-Jones. She is amazing as Velma Kelly. She not only sings and dances, but she acts while she’s doing it. In the scene where she’s trying to convince Roxie to be her partner in a new act (the song “I Can’t Do It Alone”), you can see the desperation written on her face. She’s a proud woman begging for help, and it hurts her, but she does what she has to do. She completely deserved her Oscar for best supporting actress.
The musical numbers were fantastic. I don’t automatically like movie musicals. If the songs don’t add something either to the plot or to the development of character, they feel like a waste of time to me. But I loved the songs in Chicago. “Cell Block Tango” is my favorite. I liked the symbolism of “We Both Reached for the Gun” and Richard Gere’s tap dance. All of the musical numbers added to the movie.
I did like the trope of having the musical numbers be inside Roxie’s head. That was a good way to make a musical believable, because people don’t normally break into song in a courtroom. That meant the editing had to be good, and it was. The movie cut beautifully between what was happening in the real world and what was being sung in Roxie’s mind. Having Taye Diggs as the announcer to tie it all together was a smart choice, too.
The Bad: Renèe Zellweger is not a dancer, nor does she have a voice of the same caliber of Catherine Zeta-Jones’s or Queen Latifah’s. She wasn’t horrible, but when you put someone great next to someone merely good, it makes you cringe. That last dance number is particularly bad. Catherine Zeta-Jones looked like dancing is as natural to her as walking, which makes Renèe Zellweger look stiff. It’s just not good.
The Ugly: This movie has no heart or soul. The theme of the movie is that you can get away with anything if you are famous enough. While that might be true, I don’t feel like it’s something to celebrate.
Oscars Won: Best picture; best actress in a supporting role (Catherine Zeta-Jones); best art direction – set direction; best costume design; best film editing; best sound.
Other Oscar Nominations: Best actress in a leading role (Renèe Zellweger); best actor in a supporting role (John C. Reilly); best actress in a supporting role (Queen Latifah); best director; best writing, adapted screenplay; best cinematography; best music, original song (“I Move On”).