With a well-deserved 13 Academy Award nominations, Chicago is my pick for pretty much Best Everything this year. The only exception is Queen Latifah's nod for Supporting Actress. Her performance was stilted, in a role that could have been one more fabulous quirk in a film that is a quirky rush.
I loved this film. I wanted to see the opening number again, immediately after it was over. The storytelling here is great - first time Director Rob Marshall has obviously graduated from the MTV school of showing what things mean as opposed to how they look.
The editing here is also astounding. The filmmakers masterfully set-up the whole movie and the two major characters in just the first musical number of the film, principally with intercutting. (Oh, am I talking about that opening number again?)
The performances are wonderful and fun. In the screening I attended here in Hollywood, the audience burst into delighted applause at two different moments. I joined in. Part of the surprise of Chicago, is actual having stars entertain us. We're unused to watching actors work to make us happy. The cinema of the last thirty years has mostly been a series of close-ups of beautiful people scowling or looking pensive. This movie has them spinning and shuffling, working their tails off for our enjoyment. It makes the stars our servants in a way that is fascinating to watch, and is good for the actors too - the kind of sacrifice John Paul II refers to as the priesthood of the artist. (Letter to Artists, 1999) It's also good for us who get to be on the receiving end of their sacrifices.
This isn't a movie for kids. There are lots of scantily clad women, leering lasciviously at the camera, backgrounding themes of murder, adultery and the abuse of women. However, despite all this, Chicago isn't a negative film (for adults). The sexuality here is not gratuitous or erotic. It is strangely true to the fantasy underworld that is created in the film. This is a sad world, but the light-handed style of the film allows us to look at it's seediness without superiority or disgust. It is a delightful example of what Dickinson meant when she said, "Tell the Truth, but tell it slant, or all the world be blind."
From a story perspective, the most interesting part of Chicago is that all the characters are, well, bad. There isn't one virtuous person in the lot. There isn't one character whom we trust, or more importantly, in terms of movie conventions, whom we would like to be. The closest thing to a good man in the film is the hapless husband of Zellweger's Roxy, played by the talented John C. Reilly. Yet, he is completely ineffectual here, aptly describing himself in his solo number as Mr. Celophane.
Generally, a film without a hero would be a recipe for a box-office bomb. But here they manage to pull it off. Can't figure out how they did that.
Definitely worth seeing.