The last two years of really exploring Film has opened my eyes to many things and shattered some of my preconceived notions. By far the biggest change has been my view on musicals. I use to blatantly exclaim that I hated musicals or they weren’t for me, but it turns out that there are just some I don’t like. Of course, I know now that dismissing an entire genre is silly, but as a kid, it was a point-of-view that crept in and burrowed itself into my psyche. However, I’ve extracted that and went into Chicago (2002), which is also a part of the February Take 5 Challenge, with lots of optimism.
Chicago cheats at being a musical by having its songs separate from the reality of the film, but it sure is entertaining
Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) finds herself in prison after shooting Fred Casely (Dominic West) who she’d been sleeping with under the impression that he could get her a gig performing admitted to using her. Her husband Amos (John C. Reilly) almost takes the wrap for the murder until he realizes their connection. Once in jail, she meets Velma (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a much more successful performer turned murderer, and Mama (Queen Latifah), the warden of the female prisoners. Through them and the help of her attorney, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), she finds her fifteen minutes of fame.
While Reilly has a smaller role, he definitely has the most heartbreaking story. His musical number is probably the best as he sings the song “Mr. Cellophane”. It, like most of the songs in the film, give lots of insight into the character or the exposition of the story. Here, we see how he feels invisible and that he is overlooked. As with most of the musical numbers in this film, they take place in a fictional world or in the characters heads. They are competently edited with the reality of the film to show an interesting comparison of the real and the imaginary. In this case, Amos is in the guise of a sad tramp as he sings his song.
The most powerful use of this juxtaposition is the first female hanging. It’s shown as a magician’s disappearing act in the imaginary world while going to the gallows in the reality of the film. The moments not only shot extremely well as match cuts are used to show the harsh truth to the much more optimistic illusion, but it has a major character moment for Roxie. She’d not taken her situation as serious as, until this moment, no woman had been hung for murder. Now her future is in peril and it really elevates the film in a multitude of ways.
Chicago is a great example of a cinematic musical. The production is impressive, the cast is excellent, and the songs are entertaining – though not a soundtrack I think I would enjoy just listening to without the visuals. I’m glad I finally gave this film a watch as I had absolutely no idea what it was about. It’s unique in many ways and earns the Must See rating.