Chicago 1920s: Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is an alluring stage star who kills her husband and sister after finding them together. Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) is a pretender who kills her lover after he tells her that she’s too old and will never be a famous. Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) is the slimeball lawyer who wants to get them acquitted and make them legends in the process. With the help of Matron Mama Morton (Queen Latifah), Roxie and Velma fight to be Illinois’ most famous killer, and that’s the town of Chicago, a place where men run into knives for a fun time.
Whilst The West End has classics like Oliver!, Les Misérables and Blood Brothers, Broadway has Wicked and Chicago. Rob Marshall’s musical masterpiece is one of the most American films in existence. It’s more Broadway than Broadway. It’s eccentric, energetic and electric. This 2002 Best Picture-winner is easily one of my top ten musicals. The songs are captivating and on a scale only matched by Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables, as far as modern musicals go. And they are delivered with expert prowess by Zeta-Jones (Feud), Zellweger (Bridget Jones), Latifah and company.
With the success of La La Land, Best Picture blunders aside, both these musicals show that the musical genre can still sell when the quality is high. Its cinematography shaking hands with the dance choreography makes for a marvellous moving feast for the eyes. Hair and makeup are also nice to look at. The 1920s is brought to life in groundbreaking detail and anybody who loves the Period Drama, the Musical and cinema should have watched Chicago, or intend to, at the very least. Chicago is one more of those musicals that only seems to get better with age. Hear! Hear!
This film shows that we can still root for characters even if they’re murderers. They’re beautiful and they come with smiles. The power of the media is a tool that is used in court trial after court trial, and if you spin something in the right way, you can make a killer look like a beautiful newborn baby to those looking in. It’s all about creating just the right narrative and executing it in a way that appeals to the hearts of the general public. Lawyers do it, politicians do it even more. It’s all about the narrative and the theatrics. The better the performance, the more you believable you’ll look.
Bad guys always elicit my sympathy in films, that’s just a fact. I’m a sucker for those who do all the badness. In comparison to killers, crooks and their like, Good characters don’t really interest me. Why do I care for Oliver Twist when I can have Bill Sikes? Why Bilbo Baggins when I can gaze at Smaug? Chicago pushes us to cheer for those who have committed the most awful crimes, and it’s flipping fantastic. All these characters who have done wrong are surprisingly likeable, including the double murderer Velma (Jones) and the zero fucks given matriarch, Mama Morton (Latifah).
“Do you like jazz?” says Seb in La La Land. Chicago is set in the Jazz Age and the musical numbers have those rhythms too. Along with alcohol prohibition, the 1920s was unapologetically sexual. Chicago goes along with this theme, having almost every song performed by its female-dominant cast in semi-nude outfits. Though, this is not a view of the Male Gaze. If anything it’s the Female Gaze. We are witness to female characters from the point of view of other female characters. And we see what women will do to each other to get ahead. Ruthless indeed.
Writer Bill Condon (Beauty and the Beast) and director Rob Marshall succeed in mashing together two worlds, a surreal La La Land-esque Chicago in the form of Jazz-Age theatre up against the real Chicago of the 1920s, where gangsters and corruption called the shots. Marshall creates images that work well together, as opposites can often attract. Whilst we have realism, we are up against fantasy, such as when Flynn (Gere) is seen to be operating Hart (Zellweger) as a ventriloquist dummy. This is a reflection of reality through fantasy, as lawyers coach their clients in what to say.
The epic cast churn out excellent performances in both the singing and acting categories. Jones has the best voice by a long shot but the others are still brilliant. Songs like ‘All That Jazz’ just show the extent of Catherine Zeta Jones’ abilities. Gere plays the money-loving lawyer like he was born to it. He’s a likeable asshole, and outlandishly charming. Renée Zellweger delivers as Roxy Hart and her musical numbers are enjoyable to watch. Queen Latifah does what she does best, play herself. But when you’re good at something, there’s no need to upset the formula is there?
Chicago is more theatre than movie, yet I still believe it deserved to win Best Picture. The best film won in that category. From the performances to the songs to the period costumes, it is a musical masterpiece from now until the end of time.