The greatest film truth you’ll ever learn…
Love makes you want to sing, your song about love in a film about a show within a show.
Moulin Rouge! (2001) – 20th Anniversary Modern Trailer, kbros9698
Join me as I wallow in a tragic movie love story, a musical and with a young
and therefore less annoying, Ewan McGregor, in probably his most credible role. Moulin Rouge (2001) was made just over two decades before McGregor and his very wee co-star really, really irritated me in that origin Star Wars story for a certain streaming channel. In this Star Wars series, McGregor tried and failed to convince me as a younger version of Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi. But then to be fair, any actor would have had a similar effect…
His on-screen love interest in Moulin Rouge in an OMG she can blxxxdy sing moment is Nicole Kidman at her most vampy, trampy and loved-up best. Moulin Rouge is a musical by Baz Luhrmann. Luhrmann is the man who put the glitz into The Great Gatsby (2013) and the romance into Romeo and Juliet (1996). In Moulin Rouge, he kinda combines these storylines with a writer telling his story in the past tense (as in The Great Gatsby) about his first love (see Romeo and Juliet)… Then the conductor strikes up a tune, and the curtains open… this opening reminds me of a completely different film musical, Gypsy (1962).
Then it’s a dramatic and apt opening song… with a little bit of help from the lyrics of Nature Boy. This song was also sung by Nat King Cole / Celine Dion or Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. This sets the scene and is sung by a diminutive Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo). Toulouse-Lautrec tells about a man he met, got to know and who told him about how he learnt that “to love and be loved in return” really is the greatest thing… in fact, he told him that love is a many splendoured thing too and that all you need is love.
It’s 1900, and a dishevelled bearded and depressed man sits at a typewriter. The man is Christian (MacGregor) and he tells his love story with a gorgeous redhead, Satine. Satine and he met in Paris, one year before when she was a performer – and lady of the night – at the Moulin Rouge. The Moulin Rouge is described as “a nightclub, a dance hall and a bordello” and you’ll discover that true love is found in this unlikely place. As he speaks with a wee sad voice and about her in the past tense about his true love, I sob. After he adds that she died, I sob a lot more… as we go back in time.
Then it’s back to 1899, and this writer, a now clean-shaven, writer and penniless Christian moves from London to Paris in the hunt for a Bohemian lifestyle. As a “child of the revolution,” he wants to write about “truth, beauty and freedom” and love. He confesses he’s never experienced love, but a total romantic.
He’s all set to start writing at his typewriter when fate intervenes. An unconscious – and narcoleptic – Argentinian falls through his ceiling and then a dwarf dressed as a nun appears from nowhere. Christian ends up standing in for the Argentinian as a poet goatherder in their play rehearsal. Purely by accident, he helps these men co-write their “Bohemian revolutionary show” play for their musical Spectacular, Spectacular as then Paris is alive with the Sound of Music.
Christian and this theatre company toast their musical ideas with Absinthe. Then the green fairy in the form of Kylie Minogue appears… When you learn this cameo was supposed to be Ozzie Osborne as a strong man, this is an image you can’t not see especially as he leaves his voice behind.
Anyway, the men go en masse to the Moulin Rouge to talk about their play with their financial backer, Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent), the head honcho at the Moulin Rouge. The penniless Christian is now – and their urging – wearing a top hat and tuxedo and is to be touted as a famous English writer to this nightclub owner…
Zidler is also the entertainment compere – and owner – who we then meet enticing those top-hatted gents with his girls and their charms galore. Then Satine (Nicole Kidman), aka The Sparkling Diamond literally swings in in a top hat and very little else. Christian is immediately smitten by this performer. This shy man is told by his new friends that he must talk to her about his poetry. Little does he realise that Satine has been promised to spend the night with a very rich, Duke (Richard Roxburgh). Toulouse-Lautrec arranges a meeting for Christian with Satine…
In a case of mistaken identity, Satine believes Christian is the Duke and dances provocatively with him. She sings, swings and then coughs up some blood and then collapses and falls off her swing mid-song, and backstage is given smelling salts… After she and Christian meet backstage, both talk for mixed purposes.
Satine vampily tries to bed Christian thinking he’s rich, a Duke and will fund her acting career, while he tries to tell her about his poetry. Then just after she discovers Christian is a penniless writer, the real Duke turns up.. so Christian tries to hide in comic scenes while Satine vamps it up big time.
After discovering Christian, the pair convince the Duke they were rehearsing their play. With the help of Christian, Toulouse-Lautrec, Zidler and their buddies – who accidentally burst in – they all come up with a play. In this play, the wannabe actress Satine plays the centre of a love triangle set in India.
You will find this play within the film, mirrors the plot in this film… as life follows art. The story of their play tells of a courtesan (= Satine), a maharajah (= the Duke) and a lowly sitar player (= Christian). Christian and Satine fall in love, both not realising that she’s dying… as the Duke has a plan to make her only his…
For those who like crazy casts, you know who you are this is a real treat with Ewan McGregor and Jim Broadbent who teamed up in Little Voice (1998) starring with an ethereal, Nicole Kidman. Roxburgh hams it up as a treacherous villain, John Leguizamo convincingly plays a shorter version of himself and that wee cameo from Kylie makes this one of the most fantastic pop-culture moments of all time.
This film set predominately in 1899, has a more modern soundtrack with songs and tunes from every decade. As Satine proclaims she’s a woman who can’t fall in love unless money changes hands singing Marilyn Monroe’s Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend… Broadbent as her pimp trying to convince the Duke of Satine’s sexual innocence with Madonna’s Like A Virgin… and Ewan McGregor as his most love lorn with Your Song. These are just a few of this well-chosen song list where the lyrics and the play within the play tell this love story. All these musical tracks are convincing sung, acted and add credibility to those characters and their lives.
Ewan McGregor is no stranger to singing in the movies. He followed this film up with a musical number with his on-screen love interest, Renee Zellweger in Down with Love (2003). He also sang to Zellweger in her titular role Miss Potter (2006) and sang and danced with Cameron Diaz in A Love Less Ordinary (1997). One day I might just return to these songs in a list… But here McGregor is at his most credible and endearing in a heartfelt performance where I enjoyed his performance much more than that one set in a galaxy, far, far away.
Nicole Kidman is however the real star of the show, and I’d love to see her in more musical films. She’s the perfect Satine, vampy and vulnerable, then equating love with money and then giving her love completely as she falls in love with Christian, and then as a dreamer who must make a choice that hurts her. She is mesmerising in all her scenes and she is clearly empathetic to Satine and her story.
It’s no spoiler, to say Satine dies and when she does it feels much more tragic than those endings to other film love stories. But as Rita says in Educating Rita (1983), there are new songs to be sung (for Christian)…as Satine asks her lover to tell their story. But I insist you take a one-way ticket to this musical, which deserves its own sing-a-long version. And travel to a post-revolutionary Paris, with musical numbers galore, and Nicole and Ewan sing about love in a Spectacular, Spectacular way.
Weeper Rating: 😦😦 😦 😦 😦😦 😦 😦 😦😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Fifth Broadway Bound Blogathon 2022, No 19
This post was entered into Taking Up Room‘s Fifth Broadway Bound Blogathon. Ewan McGregor stars in Spectacular Singing Actors, Down with Love, Tales from the Crypt, Little Voice and Miss Potter. Nicole Kidman stars in The Others. Jim Broadbent in Hot Fuzz, Eddie the Eagle, Bridget Jones Baby and Little Voice. John Leguizamo in John Wick and John Wick 2. Kylie Minogue in Neighbours and Street Fighter.