Starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger and Richard Gere
Directed by Rob Marshall
Opens Thursday, December 26
Theres nothing more fun than watching performers in their element.
Whether its an acrobat tumbling in a Cirque du Soleil show, a singer-songwriter jamming in an intimate bar or a comedian working the crowd at a comedy club, performers are at their most captivating when theyre comfortable in their surroundings.
Chicago, the screen adaptation of Bob Fosses and Fred Ebbs classic musical, offers its performers the rare venue of the movie musical in which to shine, and its audience a rare chance to see some movie stars at their very best.
The most obvious case of movie musical comfort is Catherine Zeta-Jones as the infamous Velma Kelly. Zeta-Jones has been flirting with stardom ever since she appeared in The Mask of Zorro, but shes never really had that one great role to push her over the top. Velma Kelly is that role. Zeta-Joness unabashedly exuberant performance captures the spirit of the sexy, street-savvy, unrepentant murderer. From the second Velma whispers "All That Jazz" in Chicagos sexually charged opening number, we know were watching an actress who is precisely where she should be.
One of the things that makes Zeta-Joness performance great is that Chicago lets her do all the things she is good at singing, dancing and acting. She shifts seamlessly from the quiet, subtle requirements of the screen to the loud, boisterous requirements of the stage.
Director Rob Marshall doesnt hide from Chicagos stage roots. Whenever the characters break into song, the film shifts to a stage assuming they arent already onstage in a Chicago nightclub. From vaudeville prosceniums and Busby Berkeley-style soundstages to jazz bars and concert halls, Marshall never asks us to believe that people burst into song in their everyday lives something always pulls the singing away from the "reality" of the movie and onto the fantasy of the stage. And Zeta-Jones handles the shift between the two media with the skill and energy of Julie Andrews at her peak.
Equally at home in the movie musical is Richard Gere. His Billy Flynn, the crooked lawyer working to spring Velma and Roxie (Renee Zellweger) from prison, is as smarmy and arrogant as he is confident and sexy all the traits Gere exemplifies. But what makes Geres performance exceptional is his obvious comfort with singing and dancing. In fact, he does them both almost as well as he plays the piano which is no surprise, considering he got his start in off-Broadway musicals.
Zellweger is the only one of the big name actors who isnt entirely at home in Chicago. When shes only acting, shes great; when shes only singing or dancing, shes good; but when shes singing, dancing and acting, all at the same time, she never quite matches the performances of her co-stars. This disparity is most obvious in the finale, when Roxie and Velma finally team up to become the celebrities theyve always aspired to be. Zellweger is simply overwhelmed by the immense talent of Zeta-Jones, like a star caught in the gravity of a black hole. Shes not bad, but the movie musical is clearly not her element.
Chicago has more to offer than one review can contain. Its socially relevant, entertaining, packed with amazing performances that go far beyond its stars and it is one of the sexiest movies Hollywoods ever turned out. So if youre let down by Hobbits, sick of Quidditch and couldnt care less about Romulans, dont worry you can always fly to Chicago and see a good movie.