Moulin Rouge: Looking back at Baz Luhrmann’s musical spectacular
James R | On 04, Jun 2021
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Nicole Kidman, Jim Broadbent
“Spectacular, spectacular! No words in the vernacular can describe this great event, you’ll be dumb with wonderment!” Those are the words of Spectacular, Spectacular, the song made up by the cast of the fictitious musical of the same name, as they attempt to convince a sinister duke to invest in their show. That all of this takes place inside a giant elephant in the middle of period Paris, while two lovers attempt to hide their tryst, is par for the course in Moulin Rouge!, a film that’s never anything less than extravagant.
The jukebox musical, which was less written and more spontaneously erupted from the mind of Baz Luhrmann, is a gorgeously eclectic mix of Hollywood stage show, cabaret dance numbers, opera and Elton John, with a slice of Lady Marmalade slipped in for good measure. It follows a writer, Christian (Ewan McGregor), who is penning his memories of his time at the Montmartre, where he falls for Satine (Nicole Kidman), the star of the Moulin Rouge, run by Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent). While Zidler wants to use Satine to woo a Duke (Richard Roxburgh) into investing in a reinvention of the venue, Christian and a band of penniless artists are hoping to get her to back their bohemian project. A case of mixed opportunity later and the stage is set for a love triangle, a secret romance and a lot of rehearsals.
It sounds a lot, and it is, with Luhrmann pulling every impossible influence together in a smorgasbord of colour, style and swooning sincerity. The cast respond in kind. Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman have rarely been better, both demonstrating not only wonderful singing chops but sparking some beautifully heartfelt chemistry that zings through every opulently choreographed sequence. Between them, Broadbent is hysterically over-the-top as the manic ringmaster, while Roxburgh is deliciously creepy as the petulant, jealous Duke.
The soundtrack is mesmerising and inspired, from El Tango de Roxanne, sung with gravelly intensity by Jacek Koman, to Your Song belted out over Parisian rooftops by McGregor. And, underneath that ever-changing beat, lies a witty screenplay that uses its myriad genres – from Bollywood and Madonna to farce and Nirvana – to explore elements of sexism and classism woven into the fabric of the performing arts. But above all, it’s an earnest celebration of theatricality itself, and holding every unlikely curtain stitch together is a disarming lack of guile, with zero hints of self-awareness – a wonderfully sincere quality that would never be possible today, yet also makes it instantly timeless.
The result is an eye-popping, heart-melting wonder, a unique showstopper that’s funny, sweet, moving, surprising, energetic and entertaining. It’s spectacular, spectacular – and decades later, it’s lost not of its sparkle.