As you may know, I’ve been trying to go back and watch the films that I’ve already reviewed for 2019’s TBT section. Last week aside, I’ve been going through them in chronological order. Then I went rogue and watched a film that I wanted to. And the floodgates opened. There is no more order and the rule book is out the window. Maybe it’s because I know the next film coming up is one I’ve watched recently and don’t really want to go there again? Or maybe I’ve just got tired of setting myself these parameters for no reason? Either way, this week I had a craving to watch something random and I went through the films available on Prime and ended up here. Drawn in by Ewan McGregor’s face because, let’s be honest, the early 2000s were the peak time for his face. One year before Attack of the Clones and four years before the beardy goodness of Revenge of the Sith: Moulin Rouge is classic Ewan McGregor beauty. And he’s singing. I don’t know whether it’s the amount of Disney films I watched growing up but, for some reason, I’ve brought myself round to the idea that the ideal romantic partner is one who is an amazing singer. I feel like most people don’t see this as a vital ingredient to love but it is. It definitely is. So, let’s jump in.
Is there a word that means “a movie that you both hate and love in equal measure”? You know, one of those handy Japanese of German words that perfectly say everything you need to sway using only a handful of letters. If there isn’t then we need one. There are so many films out there that I can’t work out. Like Mama Mia. I absolutely hate that fucking film but, at the same time, the soundtrack (as shitty as the singing is) gives me some joy. I love how much I hate it. I know that probably doesn’t make sense but it’s true. I think the same can be said about Baz Luhrmann films. His movies are so over-the-top, garish, messy, and very naive in sentiment that they really annoy me. Yet, at the same time, they appeal to that small part of me that loves pageantry and pomp. That part of me that loves bright lights, loud noises, and pretty colours.
Probably, the minute part of me that always dreamt of being an entertainer. Who watched Disney films when she was younger and wished she could sing. That mini part of me that isn’t an introverted and shy 30-year-old-woman who hates too much attention being placed on her. Yep, she fucking loves everything about this film. It’s a silly, violently romantic, and crazy film. With a love story so tragic but sweet that it’ll give you toothache and make you shed a river of tears. It’s the same ole Baz. A celebration of love that mixes old timey stuff with modern motifs. This time we have a film set in Paris in around 1900 but the characters sing songs from the 1970s and 1980s. It is full of CGI and never feels grounded in any reality. But it all kind of works.
The story is simple and comforting because we all know where this is going. Writer meets prostitute and falls in love. Prostitute is promised to an evil Duke who finds out about their love and threatens them both. Prostitute leaves writer only to change her mind in time for the emotional final act. It’s the stuff of fairy tales, right?! But it does everything is needs to do and it uses the word “love” a whole bunch. If you like love and incredibly dodgy relationships based on lies, jealousy, and possible sexually transmitted diseases, then you’ll bloody love this.
And, let’s be honest, it’s hard not to get caught up. But that’s mainly because you don’t really have time not to. This film never stops. It’s like a crazed, high-speed nightmare that never gives you time to think about how ridiculous it all is. Baz throws so much stuff at the screen in the hope that nobody really examines the film. He repeats the word love so much that all you really focus on is the couple. He shoves two beautiful actors with great chemistry and surprisingly good voices into the lead roles so that all you care about is them getting together. He includes as many popular songs into the mix as possible so that you get that nostalgic hit every time anyone starts singing rather than thinking “why is this supposed to make sense?” It’s very shrewd.
But is it any good? I kind of think no. Nothing is ever really developed. The characters are so basic that you never get to know them. Paris is a horrible computer generated background that doesn’t give you the feeling Paris should. You don’t get the complicated story that this film demands. You’re just rushed along to the final destination at such breakneck speed that the sights just rush by in a blur. You know where this story is going from the opening and Baz doesn’t really give any thought to the journey. He just wants to make it brash and as emotionally manipulative as possible. This is a film that wants to confuse you so much in the first two-thirds before trying to utterly destroy you emotionally in the final one. And I kind of hate it for that. The ending is so ridiculous and the opening line of “the woman I love is…. dead” has always been so fucking stupid.
There is so much of this film that makes me angry…. and yet so much of it makes my heart soar. I know I shouldn’t like this film and I know that it could be so much better. But then I see Ewan McGregor’s face and hear him sing and, suddenly, none of that matters any more.