On Broadway the musical Chicago is sexy, energetic, fun, and flashy. When fans heard that Hollywood was bringing it to the big screen there was a lot of head shaking that went on. Many believed that justice could not be brought to the musical. With Rob Marshall (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Memoirs of a Geisha) behind the camera and Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Queen Latifah, Richard Gere, Taye Diggs, Chita Rivera, Dominic West, Colm Feore, Mya, Christine Baranski, Lucy Liu, and John C. Reilly in front of it the film was a winner. Audiences loved it.
In the 1920s the United States was deep into the Jazz Age. No female was bigger in the city of Chicago than showgirl, Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones – Traffic, Ocean’s Twelve). Her career, however, is on hold as she is in jail after murdering her boyfriend and sister after finding them in bed together. The younger Roxie (Renée Zellweger – Cold Mountain, Bridget Jones’s Diary) aspires to be in the spotlight like Velma. She wants to sing and dance. Unfortunately for her she goes too far in her emulation of her idol and ends up killing her boyfriend, Fred (Dominic West – 300, John Carter). Despite everything pointing to her guilt her loving husband, Amos (John C. Reilly – Wreck-It Ralph, The Aviator), believes in her innocence and stands behind her.
Instead of regretting her crime Roxie is reveling in the attention brought to her. Velma finds herself pushed to the background due to the fickle public’s new sweetheart and plots ways to return to centre stage. As she is not going to give up the attention she has craved for so long, Roxie, under the guidance of her hotshot attourney, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere – An Officer and a Gentleman, Pretty Woman), becomes a pro at media manipulation. Velma sets her sights on the young murderess. Hell hath no fury like a woman whose spotlight is stolen.
“Roxie”, “Cell Block Tango”, “All That Jazz”, “Razzle Dazzle”, “I Can’t Do It Alone”, “When You’re Good to Mama”, and “We Both Reached For the Gun”. The great musical numbers just keep coming. It is not an exaggeration to say this is one of the most fun musicals ever put to film. The vast and talented cast do it justice. Their acting is strong whereas their singing is uneven (Richard Gere – tsk, tsk!), but not enough that it brings the film down. Catherine Zeta-Jones shines and gives one of the best performances of her life and despite my initial doubts, Renée Zellweger held her own as Roxie. Zellweger’s career has been very uneven. As good as she was in Jerry Maguire, Cold Mountain and Bridget Jones is as bad as she was in films like Me, Myself & Irene, Case 39 and Nurse Betty. While she did not knock my socks off Zellweger did well enough to earn a generously awarded Oscar nomination for her turn as Roxie. Zeta-Jones was rewarded with an Oscar for her strong singing and dancing. She also managed to ooze sexuality without allowing the character to become cartoonish.
While Rob Marshall’s direction falters at times the art direction, costumes, sets, sound, and cinematography were all great. In the beginning his editing is rather choppy though it does get better as the film goes on leading me to believe that he shot the film in sequence. He does make up for the stumble with his superior handling of the dance numbers and (sorry for the pun) bringing the razzle dazzle.
While watching this rousing musical with all its great song and dance numbers you’ll have to resist the urge to get up and sing and dance along with the cast. Don’t hold back! Fosse, Fosse, Fosse your jazz hands off!
-Chicago in the Spotlight
-Deleted Scene: Class
-From Stage to Screen: The History of Chicago