I was a freshman in college when Moulin Rouge! came out, and I had a friend who was obsessed with the soundtrack. Whenever we would go and hang out and play games at his apartment, that CD would be playing. It made watching the movie kind of surreal; the music had seeped into my subconscious without my knowledge. I knew all the music, but I had never seen the movie before (overprotective friends again), so I had a strange sense of déjà vu. I’m not sure that helped my general perception of the movie, which was of noise, color, and oddness.
So what’s the story? Young Christian comes to Paris from Great Britain so that he can write about the Bohemians ideals of truth, beauty, freedom, and love. At the famous nightclub Moulin Rouge, he meets and falls for Satine, a performer/prostitute who has dreams of being a real actress. Will they be able to find happiness in the noisy, colorful life that is Paris?
The Good: There was some good acting. Nicole Kidman did a nice job as Satine, even if I did think she was Amy Adams ninety percent of the time. Jim Broadbent was excellent as Zidler, the owner of the Moulin Rouge, who is sympathetic to Satine and Christian’s love, but who also wants his own dreams to come true. Ewan McGregor is a little bit nondescript as Christian at the beginning of the movie, but he does jealousy and heartbreak well towards the end. Toulouse-Lautrec is played by John Leguizamo, who does a good job of showing the yearning for a love that he will never have.
Before I talk about the cinematography, I want to make something clear. I don’t get carsick. I don’t airsick or seasick or rollercoaster sick. But I have known to get sick from certain visual stimuli. I can’t play first-person shooter games, for example, or any first-person games, really. I have run, not walked, out of IMAX movies because I was about to be sick. Moulin Rouge! did the same thing to me. The jerky, constantly moving cinematography did not make agree with my stomach. Or with my head. So I was watching Moulin Rouge through a haze of headache and stomachache. But just because I didn’t like the cinematography and it didn’t agree with my stomach doesn’t mean the cinematography is bad, per se; it’s creative and different and fits with the whirling gaiety of the nightclub. I just didn’t personally like it. I wish I had a section called “Things I didn’t personally like, but can respect for their artistry.” That would make writing reviews easier sometimes. But I since I didn’t feel it was bad, I’m going to leave cinematography in the good category.
The makeup and costumes and production design were over the top and crazy, but so were the lives of the denizens of the Moulin Rouge. Like the crazy cinematography, it worked for the film and what the filmmakers were trying to do accomplish. Again, I’m not sure I liked it that much, but it was admirable.
The Bad: The music rubbed me the wrong way. Yes, it is very clever to use modern music in a movie that takes place over a hundred years ago, but I feel like the filmmakers were a little too clever sometimes, like they were drawing attention to their own cleverness. I feel like they were saying, “Look how clever we are! We used ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ to show how immature all these men are who frequent nightclubs! Aren’t we smart?” It became more of a gimmick than something meaningful.
The Ugly: The story was terrible, unoriginal, and uninspired. It was kind of a cheap rip off of Cabaret combined with La bohème. (Possible spoilers ahead) Christian and Satine fell in love for no reason at all. The Duke was silly and not believable as a real person. Also, if you were coughing up blood in 19th century Paris, you knew you were dying of consumption. Tuberculosis wasn’t uncommon then. And while I’m no expert, I’m pretty sure that if you are about to die from tuberculosis, you don’t have the energy to appear in a musical theater production, especially not one based in India with lots of high-energy dancing. The ending is curiously flat. The movie as a whole feels more like an excuse to do crazy musical numbers with modern music than a movie that has anything meaningful to say.
Oscars Won: Best art direction-set decoration; best costume design.
Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actress in a leading role (Nicole Kidman); best cinematography; best film editing; best makeup; best sound.