A-List: Recent Musicals Since Moulin Rouge!
By Sean Collier
July 17, 2008
By the late '90s, the movie musical was something of a lost art. Broadway was seen as the territory of sentimental theater buffs only, and no producer was betting that moviegoers would pay seven bucks to take in three hours of Sarah Brightman doing Phantom of the Opera at the local multiplex. Then, the first high-profile musical aimed at adults in years hit theaters, to critical raves and an Oscar nomination.
It was called South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut.
Despite Robin Williams' inspiring live-action performance of "Blame Canada" at that year's Academy Awards, Kyle, Kenny, Cartman and Stan failed to revive the genre; it seems there's not much audience crossover between South Park and, say, Godspell. Two years later, however, Baz Luhrmann made a musical, and that changed things.
Moulin Rouge!, long irritating writers with its infuriating built-in exclamation point, is a fairly bizarre film. Long, imaginative, and soaked in absinthe, the film was something of an unlikely hit; while the film had a marquee cast, audiences were basically presented with a bunch of brightly-colored dancers and that cover of Lady Marmalade that had Lil' Kim in it, and told to come to the theater. Despite this, the film found its way to $57 Million in the US and around $200 million worldwide, and a handful of Oscar nominations.
As a musical, Moulin Rouge! is a misfit as well. Mostly comprised of intensely stylized medleys and renditions of pop hits, the music sometimes seems unrelated to the plot at hand, and at other times takes the place of conversation. At all times, however, it's impossibly cool and irritatingly catchy – if you don't already have that damned Can-Can song in your head, you do now. (I could've spared you that, but the thought of a bunch of random people wandering around humming that silly thing for the rest of the day because I wrote this is just too delicious to pass up. Have I begun to go mad with power? Check this column every two weeks to find out!)
After Moulin Rouge!, big-budget musicals started popping up in theaters fairly regularly. The list of misses is probably longer than the list of hits, but there have been a number of keepers in the past few years. In honor of Mamma Mia's ABBA-drenched bubblegum, and so that there is exactly one piece of content on this site unrelated to The Dark Knight this weekend, The A-List presents the best movie musicals since Moulin Rouge!
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
I'm cheating a little bit here, as this was released more or less right on top of Moulin Rouge!, but it's too good to pass up. Hedwig isn't just my favorite recent movie musical, it might well be my favorite musical ever, stage or screen, no exceptions. John Cameron Mitchell's beautiful film about a struggling ungendered rock star has brought legitimate tears to my eyes on more than one occasion. The music is perfect, delightful rock – one of the few musical soundtracks that never gets old – and the film is just as unique and engaging as the songs. Mitchell is just as talented as a director as he is as a performer (see his sexual fantasia follow-up film, Shortbus, as evidence.) If you haven't seen this film, you're missing out; find it now, whether you're a fan of musicals and drag queens or not.