The American City Diner in D.C. is used to playing classics from cinema’s golden years. On September 4th, however, they will be showing a film that’s an Oscar winner from this century, Chicago (2002). The Diner has screened a few modern films in the past, but none as recent as Chicago. None more appropriate either.
A darkly comic musical that had been a hit on the stage for decades, Chicago is a classic musical satire that has a theme about fame that seems timeless, especially as the news is more and more dominated by the edict of “if it bleeds, it leads.” The film follows one female vaudeville star and one wannabe as they ride the publicity of the fame wave on the lead-up to their murder trials.
The lead is Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger), an aspiring vaudeville star who shots a man who promises to get her a show just to sleep with her. She’s married to a nice, first-class sucker named Amos (John C. Reilly), whom she convinces to take the blame. That act lasts until the police arrive. The other misfit is Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a showgirl who did a double-act with her sister, until she killed her for sleeping with her husband.
Both of the women are represented by Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), a tricky lawyer who knows how to work the press to help out both of their cases. Roxie believes she can parlay her newfound fame into a career when she is let out. Chicago isn’t just about how we make killers into celebrities, it’s also about how the public can determine the fate of the convicted and how the media decides how those people will be perceived. One particular female journalist is who Flynn has to convince to like Hart. This is done in a song in where the media is on puppet strings and Flynn acts as ventriloquist for Roxie.
The one innocent in this, besides Amos, is a female prisoner whose only words in English are “not guilty.” She is also the only one who meets the gallows. Without money or the ability to speak English, she stands as contrast to the white, well-off leads. The prison is run by “Mama” Morton (Queen LaTifah), a lesbian overseer who helps the girls out in exchange for cash. It’s one of the best performances to watch.
A story like this one goes well with director Rob Marshall’s quick editing and flashy visuals. Performances are strong across the board, even with leads Gere and Zellweger who don’t have much experience with singing. A musical that packs in serious social issues is rare. The play was frequently criticized for being too cynical, but if you don’t want intelligence on the stage, you can always visit revivals of many happy-go-lucky musicals like The Sound of Music and A Chorus Line.
Though it’s a recent film, it certainly deserves to be called a classic. Winning Best Picture at the Oscars and Golden Globes has been done before by many a lesser film. It many not be a dramatic powerhouse, but it doesn’t need to be and isn’t trying to be. It’s raucous fun and as close to the stage show as you can get. It’s no wonder that performances of the musical are still being done throughout the country today.
Chicago will play at the American City Diner on Wednesday, September 4 for an 8:00 showing. To see what other films the Diner will be playing this month, you can visit their website here, which will update itself at the start of September. The film is also available on DVD and Blu-Ray.