"Chicago" (2002) Is One of My Favorite Musicals of All Time
Chicago is a 2002 film adaptation of the musical of the same name. It won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and with good reason.
I'm sure people who are familiar with my articles are wondering why I'm not going into a frothing feminist rant about sexual objectification in films.
In case you're wondering, it's because I know the difference between women being portrayed as sexy and women being portrayed as sex objects.
The women in this film were not treated like objects. Instead, they were depicted as fully three dimensional human beings with lives and desires of their own.
Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly didn't solely exist to arouse males in the audience, and they didn't solely exist to further a more important male character's arc.
Their lives didn't revolve around men or how to please them. Roxie and Velma both had zero interest in marriage. They didn't want to be some guy's domestic slave or to depend on his money. They wanted to make their own money doing what they loved.
There's nothing wrong with a woman wanting to get married to a man. I'm saying that women are often depicted as solely wanting to marry and have kids and become housewives, as if none of us ever dreamed of anything else. As if we were just baby-making machines who existed to clean up after men. And that prevalent narrative is sexist.
Roxie (Renée Zellweger) married her husband because she lived in a time period where it was difficult for a woman to make a living on her own. She basically married a man she didn't love in order to survive while trying to get her dancing career going.
Roxie misleading Amos (John C. Reilly) reminds me of gay people who married straight in order to survive a society that denied them the human rights and privileges they needed to exist.
What Roxie did was out of necessity, but at the same time, you feel sorry for Amos. If Roxie had been free initially to live the life she wanted, Amos wouldn't have wound up in that codependent relationship with her.
Because of this, he spends the film being used, manipulated, and mostly ignored. His "Cellophane" routine really makes you feel for him. He is little more than a sad clown.
Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) likely found it easier to survive than Roxie simply because she had her sister. While Roxie was all alone, Velma had the option to pull in two incomes with her sister at her side, and this is likely how they funded their dreams to eventually become vaudevillians.
Once Velma murdered her sister, however, she realized she was going to have a harder time surviving on her own.
It was like she and Roxie switched places.
Roxie became a celebrity after she murdered her deceitful and abusive lover, while Velma -- once so adored on stage -- was now fading in obscurity.
A desperate Velma spends the rest of the film begging Roxie to dance with her, and because they both know that a woman can't survive on her own in a sexist world, they eventually team up.
That was another thing I loved about this film. Velma and Roxie started off hating each other but learned to work together in order to survive a misogynistic world.
If more women did that, think of all we could achieve.
The dance numbers in this film were also amazing. I love musicals, I love theater, and I love ballet, so nothing thrilled me more than the first time I saw this film.
Aside from We Both Reached for the Gun, Cell Block Tango is probably my favorite number. The women in this film owned their sexuality. It belonged to them and no one else -- not the men in the audience, not the people who paid for a ticket to see the film.
These dancers weren't treated like objects by the narrative. They were treated as people. And they used their dancing to tell stories that humanized them.
My favorite is probably the murderess, June (Deidre Goodwin) who said, "And then he walked into my knife. He walked into my knife ten times."
It was also great seeing Mya in this as Mona. I grew up with her music.
And Queen Latifah was wonderful as Mamma Morton.
The first time I saw her gyrating, I was shocked. I grew up with Queen Latifah, so I see her as this sweet, modest, funny person.
I mean, she is so sweet that she couldn't even come off as mean when doing the part where Mamma Morton is telling the women on death row to shut up and stop whining. She came off as more funny because I just don't think she had that meanness in her.
Even in Set If Off, where she was playing a hard, badass bank robber, her natural goodness shone through.
I'm basically saying, I always had this view of her as sweet and innocent. She never played up her sexuality in any of her roles because she has so much talent, she doesn't need to do that (she can sing, she can act, she can rap -- so she's a great poet).
But this movie makes it pretty clear that Queen Latifah can be very sexy if she wants to.
Another thing I love? Aside from Amos, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) is the only male character who gets to live and be remotely important.
Almost the entire cast is women.
I'm not sorry for loving that. With so many films that prioritize male characters and/or have only one token female character, it's great to see more women in leading roles on screen, outnumbering men for once, getting to be fully three dimensional characters instead of being treated like background props and sex objects.
Everyone likes seeing people who look like them on screen, so this movie is, for me, a godsend. Especially given that I love musicals so much.
You don't see a lot of musicals with black lesbians in them, so seeing Queen Latifah in this musical, lowkey hitting on women was also pretty awesome.
I also love the ending, where Roxie and Velma are both acquitted and get a second chance to live glamorous lives as dancers. I mean, they are murderesses, and I'm not condoning murder (it's wrong), but do you really feel bad for the people they killed?
All they wanted to do was dance and live as celebrities.
Having their own desires and goals made them fully human compared to the more two dimensional female characters in other films, who only seem to exist for the male characters.
They also didn't have gratuitous scenes where the actresses were exploited and their bare bodies exposed -- In fact, Roxie Hart's sex scene in the beginning of the film is pretty tastefully done compared to some of the films today, which amount to little more than p**n.
So, yes, I am a radical feminist and I still love this film.
I'm anti-po*n, casual sex is immoral (using someone as an object is immoral), sex work is not work, the sex industry degrades women by treating us like things to be purchased for the use of men (this includes, yes, strip clubs).
But this movie is not sexist in my eyes.
It's not empowering either, because dancing women in lingerie are not going to get me abortion rights or proper healthcare or equal pay or respect as a human being whose life has intrinsic value . . .
But the movie isn't really contributing to sexism either.
And that's enough for me.
Own one of the greatest musicals of all time!
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© 2019 Ash