I’ve always wanted to like Moulin Rouge. It certainly looks fun. And most of it sounds pretty great. Baz Luhrmann’s vision for a jukebox musical was a lot more original back in 2001, before Broadway was littered with shows that repurpose pop songs, and before mashups were mainstream. The “Elephant Love Medley” is certainly an earworm, even if it feels a tad too generic and unfocused 20 years later, now that the internet mixes and matches pop culture artifacts like crazy.
Now Moulin Rouge feels a bit like YouTube brought to life a decade or so too early, or a TikTok with insane production value (or at least, some really good filters). There’s so much wrong with the story and its execution at the hands of Luhrmann, which I was happy to pick apart when we discussed it for the podcast. So many scenes drive me mad — I’m finally getting into the story and enjoying myself, and inevitably, Luhrmann speeds up or slows down or does something bizarre to shake me out of it. I can abide style over substance in certain cases, but the style is rather tacky, too — and the story wouldn’t even pass muster in a second-rate Disney animated musical.
Still, I can’t find it in me to absolutely hate Moulin Rouge, as much as I hate so many individual choices. It has oomph, it has gumption, and it certainly has the courage of its convictions. Baz Luhrmann really went for it with this one, and we could use more splashy, insane experiments like this one on the big screen. I’d certainly love someone to give me $50 million dollars, a giant elephant, and the rights to all my favorite pop songs to do with what I wish.
Until that day, I suppose Moulin Rouge will have to do.