30 Movies in 30 Days: Moulin Rouge

Had I seen it before: Yes, but it was long enough ago that I pretty much forgot the entire thing.

What IMDb says: A poet falls for a beautiful courtesan whom a jealous duke covets.

Requirements fulfilled: 

– At least one musical

Why I picked it: I still hadn’t fulfilled the musical requirement and I remember liking this one A LOT when I first saw it. That was back in high school I think, so it still felt like watching a new movie even though it wasn’t.

What I liked about it: What’s remarkable about Moulin Rouge is how the individual pieces of it are all things we’ve seen. The plot is familiar as hell, as depicted in such masterpieces as A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum or the Mr. Brightside music video. With the exception of “Come What May” the songs are all borrowed from pop culture both past and present. The aesthetic is pretty standard burlesque. Yet somehow, while watching the movie, it’s really hard to shake that feeling of “I’ve never seen any movie like this before.” Cases like this are why I’m so fascinated by the arts. On paper it sounds so stupid, and maybe it still is, but there’s something about the movie that just works.

I think a large part of why this works is that Moulin Rouge is a prime example of a movie that fucking COMMITS. It is not trying to be realistic. It is not trying to be subtle. It is not trying to be anything other than the over-the-top full-throttle explosion of gaudy musical numbers that is. And for that, I think it’s worthy of some respect even though the movie clearly isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. If you want to make this kind of movie, this is the way to do it: by owning it with every fiber of your being.

What I didn’t like about it: This is a tricky one to write about the negatives. In movies, there are flaws and there are “flaws.” Moulin Rouge has “flaws.”

In general, I like to see love stories that evolve a little bit slower, a little bit more believably. I don’t usually like love-at-first-sight in movies and consider it to be lazy storytelling. Moulin Rouge decides to bring our central couple together via a medley of songs with the word “love” immediately after they meet.

In general, I like characters that feel original multi-dimensional. I can’t say those descriptors apply to any character in Moulin Rouge. 

In general, I prefer for stories to be unpredictable. Moulin Rouge is not.

Yet as I mentioned above, part of why the movie works at all is because it wholeheartedly embraces its astronomical levels of cheesiness. If Moulin Rouge had attempted to fix any of these “flaws” it would cease to be the movie it is. I would probably be typing up some nonsense here about how it “couldn’t decide what it wanted to be” or how “it has a cool premise but shies away from it without reaching that premise’s full potential.”

So in this case I’ll give the movie a pass on its “flaws.” Instead I’d rather dwell on the biggest shame of all: that the Killers classic “Mr. Brightside” was released just a little too late to be included in the soundtrack. That is the only way in which the film could be improved.

Will I watch it again: Yes, but probably not for a while. Without the element of novelty, Moulin Rouge has little else to offer. I’d hate to watch it too many times and have it lose that novelty.

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