Making the Grades
The Vaudeville theaters in Chicago are the platform for both rising and falling stars during the roaring 20's. Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) dreams of making her way to one of those stages, and constantly admires the current reigning queen, Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones). When the celebrity is arrested for murdering her husband (Velma discovered he was having an affair with her sister), her absence leaves room for Roxie's hopes. Relying on a man who claims he can take her to the top of the biz in exchange for some "casting couch time," Roxie is disappointed to discover his entertainment connections are no better than her own - so she murders him.
Finally able to cross Velma's starry path on death row, Roxie is met with a cool reception from the songstress. Represented by slick lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), who is more agent than attorney, Velma has turned her deadly deeds into a media sensation. With a story even more likely to generate public empathy, Roxie (with help from her naive husband) pulls together the five-grand required to hire the smooth-talking solicitor. Putting his newest client on a pedestal as a poor helpless girl caught in the allure of lights and fame, Roxie anticipates not just escaping the gallows, but a whole new post-incarceration career.
Chicago is undeniably one of the best attempts at turning a stage performance into cinema. Using a splendid technique where many of the musical numbers become delusions within Roxie's imagination, the lyrics push the plot and avoid the "stop everything while we have a song" problem that this genre usually suffers from. And Richard Gere is obviously having a great time singing and dancing.
Unfortunately, if ever there was a movie where consequences for illegal behavior were diminished, this is it. Also included is sensual-coated choreography featuring scant costumes for many popular tunes like All That Jazz, verbal sexual references and a couple of religious comments that could leave Christians (especially Mormons) offended. It's a likelihood that many families will opt for a musical that plays a different tune.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Chicago.
How do musicals affect the way a story is presented on film? Would it be more difficult to present a lighthearted story about a murderer using standard dramatic techniques?
This movie illustrates how circa 1920’s media was able to manipulate the public and the justice system. Can that still happen today? Can you think of any examples?