The musical is set during the 1920s and in the city of Chicago. The main character is Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger). She's a former chorus girl who's married to a sweet but not terribly bright man called Amos (John C. Reilly). Roxie dreams of becoming a big vaudeville star like the famous Kelly sisters. In the opening scene of the film Roxie watches with envy as Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta Jones) performs All that Jazz in a Chicago nightclub. At the end of the song Velma is then arrested by the police. She murdered her husband and sister after she discovered that they were having an affair and now she has to go into prison whilst she awaits her murder trial. Roxie soon has problems of her own. She shoots her lover dead after she discovers that he lied to her about having showbiz connections. After unsuccessfully attempting to get her husband to take the rap for her, Roxie is put in prison whilst she awaits her own murder trial. The prison is being run by a woman called Mama Morton (Queen Latifah). She tells Roxie that her best chance of getting a "Not Guilty" verdict is to hire Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) as her lawyer. Flynn has also been helping Velma (who is in the same prison as Roxie). He quickly fabricates a story for Roxie so that she can gain media sympathy. It works and Roxie is soon an overnight celebrity. This makes Velma furious because her own fame is now fading by comparison. A bitter rivalry then develops between the two women. I should point out that this is only the plot of the film. Apart from seeing a few videos from the recent Hollywood Bowl production I've never actually seen the stage version of Chicago. Therefore I can't personally comment on whether this film is a faithful adaptation or not.
I'm not a Chicago fan. Yes, it does have some very entertaining scenes and songs - my favourite songs being Cell Block Tango and Mr Cellophane. And John C. Reilly and Queen Latifah are both really good in the film. But for me the very best thing about the film is Catherine Zeta Jones. She was the only actor in this film to have any kind of prior musical theatre experience and it really shows. Her acting, singing and dancing are all fantastic and imo her Oscar win is the only one that the film actually deserved.
One of my issues with Chicago is that its story is simply nowhere near as clever as it seems to think it is. I realise that the musical is trying to expose the corruption of the 1920s but how could anyone believe in Billy Flynn's obvious lies?! Yes, the musical is set pre-internet but did no-one think to double-check Roxie's background?! Not one single journalist?! And even if they didn't, Flynn's claims in the courtroom reek of so much BS that you'd think it would have made the judge and at least some members of the jury suspicious! I simply can't believe that a real-life courtroom could be so stupid! Renee Zellweger and Richard Gere are both miscast in this film as well. I'm shocked that Renee Zellweger actually won an Oscar nomination for her performance in this film because I thought her acting was really bland and her singing extremely weak. Richard Gere's dancing and acting is surprisingly good but his singing voice is veeery nasal and grating!
However, my biggest issue with Chicago is that there isn't anyone to like or sympathise with. Well, I suppose there's Amos and that Eastern European acrobat but they get barely any screentime. The main character, Roxie, is an immoral bitch. Velma's motives for murder are more sympathetic than Roxie's but she's still a horrible person as well. Billy Flynn is sleazy and slimy and horrible. Mary Sunshine (Christine Baranski) is incredibly stupid. There's nothing remotely likeable about these people! I didn't want them to have happy endings!
I suspect that the main reason for Chicago's success is because it isn't really a traditional musical. Many people, even film critics, simply can't accept the idea of characters singing because of the "lack of realism". It's sad but true. There are people who can watch fantasy films and enjoy them. But characters singing? "Oh no, that's going much too far! That's so unrealistic!" This is just a massive cop-out of course! I get the impression that the reason why a lot of people seem to like Chicago is because the characters aren't really supposed to be singing in the story. Most of the songs in this film are actually taking place in Roxie's mind. They're figments of her imagination. For them, Chicago doesn't require as much suspension of disbelief. But for me, well, Chicago doesn't do anything for me. The film leaves me completely cold. Past experience has taught me that one should never judge a musical by its movie adaptation but I highly doubt I'd enjoy the stage version of Chicago either. Unless it had a really, really great cast I wouldn't be at all interested in seeing this show live.
Film Certificate Rating: 12