Here it is, folks: the love-it or hate-it motion picture event of the year. I'll come right out and align myself with those who love it – although I was skeptical at first.
Moulin Rouge! is a dizzying ride, a ridiculously melodramatic love triangle set against the infamous Parisian nightclub at the turn of the 20th Century. Penniless writer Christian (Ewan McGregor) falls in love with exotic singer/courtesan Satine (Nicole Kidman). But, oh dear, the club's oafish benefector (Richard Roxburgh) threatens to destroy everybody if he can't have Satine to himself.
In case you haven't heard, Moulin Rouge! is also a musical, with its cast breaking into song, or snippets of song, every couple of minutes, much of it consisting of campy (and at times very heartfelt) medleys of some of the most beloved and/or reviled pop hits of the last 30 years. Everything from "Like a Virgin" to "Lady Marmalade" to "Silly Love Songs" to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is warbled. Really.
It's hard to just flat-out recommend this film, as it's obviously going to be a subjective experience for each and every person watching it. Although I was afraid I'd get worn out after the first half-hour's relentless MTV-style editing (I don't think a single shot is held for more than 2 seconds), I was completely won over the moment McGregor breaks into Elton John's "Your Song" as he woos Kidman, at which point the pacing slows comfortably and the story truly begins.
It's the first of many goose-pimply moments, but of course that's entirely dependent on one's personal taste. A coworker put it best when she told me that in hip, urbane Hollywood, the audience stood up and cheered; meanwhile, at a movie theatre in Average-Joe San Fernando Valley suburbia, people were walking out left and right.
Still, no one can deny that Luhrmann has concocted a labor of love and a work of art. The costumes, sets, and cinematography literally sparkle. And while you may have to own a PhD in Pop Culture to recognize each and every tune (Luhrmann even throws in a couple original numbers), it's hard not to be moved by so many nostalgic songs recast in a startling, near-operatic light. My only qualms were about the breakneck editing of that first act, as well as the silly shenanigans of the supporting cast, but those disappeared after a satisfying second viewing.
You may hate this film, but please go see it, for I doubt there will be any other studio movie this year that achieves its level of artistry, and even its detractors need to be reminded that there is still some hope left for cinema.