December 2002
Chicago

Reviewed by Niija Kuykendall

Chicago

Director: Rob Marshall
Screenwriter: Bill Condon
Producers: Martin Richards, Craig Zadan, Neil Meron
Distributor: Miramax Films
Music: John Kander, Fred Ebb
Choreographer: Rob Marshall
Cast:

Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, Taye Diggs, John C. Reilly, Lucy Liu, Chita Rivera, Mya Harrison


Renee Zellweger and Richard Gere in Miramax's Chicago - 2002

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger in Miramax's Chicago - 2002

Queen Latifah in Miramax's Chicago - 2002

Richard Gere and Catherine Zeta-Jones in Miramax's Chicago - 2002

Richard Gere in Miramax's Chicago - 2002

  

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.

 

 

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