Rob Marshall’s Chicago is a delightfully entertaining glimpse into a world of scandal, fame, greed, corruption, and of course, jazz. Chicago follows Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly (Renee Zellweger & Catherine Zeta Jones), two 1920s women from completely different worlds who both find themselves on trial for murders (Velma for her husband and sister who she discovered were having an affair and Roxie for the man she was having an affair with). Both women obtain legal help from Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), a wealthy lawyer known for his overly confident persona and success at having never lost a case. As Flynn weaves false tales for his client’s upcoming trial, Roxie and Velma find themselves competing with each other for the spotlight and Flynn’s attention.
Zellweger's portrayal of Roxie is furiously comical and it makes it very easy to look inside her head. Roxie is a spoiled entitled little brat who’s not the least sorry she killed but very sorry she got caught. To her, it's always someone else’s fault, her lovers, her husband, her lawyer, the police, Velma, everybody but her. She's initially petrified when she arrives at the prison but realizes upon hiring Flynn that the publicity he provides her can help her reach her fairytales of stardom. She sees murder as an art form and sadly, she's not really wrong about that perception. The media eats up Scandal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and Roxie sees herself as head chef for them.
Zeta Jones’s Velma is like a block of ice the boiling sun can't melt. Chicago sees her through many mindstates, fear is not one of them. She found her ticket out of the mess she made for herself, she just has a hard time keeping it. Velma’s a famous vaudeville star so she’s used to being in the public eye. She's also used to sharing the spotlight but only with her sister. She sees Roxie as an annoying bug she can't squash. She has much more in common with her than she'd care to admit. She has a brain that tells her “if I'm ticked off about something or I'm mad, it's obviously your fault, it's not my fault.”
Gere portrays Flynn as a parent who continuously rewards his children's bad behavior. He sees Roxie and Velma for what they are: Spoiled children who want their independence but still expect him to take care of them. He’s only good at what he does because Chicago is pathetic enough to devour every image he sells them. Chicago sees and accepts the image he presents of Roxie and Velma because that's what they want to see.
Queen Latifah’s Mama Morton is the prison matron and she indulges herself with the status that gives her. She sees herself as a mother hen. She nurtures and disciplines and everything she does for the inmates has to be paid back. She's a taker but not in the way Roxie and Velma are. What she has is enough for her and she enjoys seeing those under her control dream for things she probably gathers they'll never get.
The musical numbers, cinematography, and costumes all raise Chicago to the high level of quality that made it win Best Picture. Every moment is a moonbeam of excitement and thrills. We all currently live in a society that is so consumed by the powers of fame. For too many reasons to explain we all seem to want someone to follow, to admire, to envy, to look up to denounce, and even take down through criticism. Unfortunately, many that are followed end up being not the healthiest people to follow - certainly many are not role models. Chicago was really interesting because it's about people who did this way before social media. This sort of following whoever is currently relevant trend has always been here, it just looked different and that's fascinating to think about. Chicago has selfish characters but it's not a selfish film. It's a film that's sole objective is to provide audiences entertainment just like it did on Broadway and that's what it does with the brightest of colors.
Picture credit: Dreamgirls on sale | AKA London