Themes of passion, sensationalism, sexuality and murder are almost
distinctive characters in Miramax’s remake of the dazzling musical
Chicago. The life story of the play - turned silent film, turned
Broadway musical, turned contemporary Hollywood cinema - commenced
in 1926 when a Chicago Tribune court reporter adapted the many sensationalized
trials she had observed into a play. The seductive success of Chicago
has since evolved into a Broadway production that every self-describing
“sex idol” dancer/actress/singer wants a piece of and now a long-awaited
and much anticipated holiday film.
Renee Zellweger is Roxie Hart, a cutely woman with a heart of sin
teetering on the edges of sanity in the colorless world of working-class
Windy City circa Prohibition-era. Roxie dreams of being a vaudeville
star complete with the bling bling costumes, song and dance skits
and her face all over the news rags. Catherine Zeta-Jones is tough,
scheming Velma Kelley, an actual vaudeville star whom Roxie idolizes.
Through a collection of darkly humorous and cruelly ironic events,
the two women end up in the slammer and on hangin’ row together,
both desperate for simultaneous exoneration and fame at any cost.
The sinister tale of the two paradoxical women with the commonality
of obsession with celebrity makes for an interesting, fantastical
drama that actually has an underlying critique of contemporary media
sensationalism and legal corruption. The brilliance of the film
is not only in the extreme escapism and entertainment factor already
inherent in a musical, but also in the complex reworking of structure,
cinematography and logistics to reincarnate the musical as a cinematic
venture. Director Rob Marshall uses his cinematic paintbrush to
create a surrealistic experience of dual planes of reality or lack
thereof. The “real” story of Roxie’s life and trial is juxtaposed
against Roxie’s subconscious interpretation of her life through
vaudeville fantasy tinted glasses. Each scene is replayed in a musical
psychological tantrum of Roxie’s wants and passions and that is
the key to watching this production not on a stage but in a theater
on a one-dimensional screen.
The dance numbers are just really fun to watch and choreographed
with a flow that contains an innate seduction of the viewer and
makes you want to take some sort of lessons. On that note, Zeta-Jones
dances her ass off and, yes, Zelleweger can hold a note pretty well.
Richard Gere, the official Renaissance man, does an excellent tap-dancing
sleazeball. With the addition of supporting cast members, Queen
Latifah, who holds it down for black women just trying to survive
and get theirs, and Taye Diggs as the cool piano-man narrator, the
film is a great representation of the theater legend and a sure
success in the holiday movie wars.