Monday, February 20, 2012

My Favorite Movie Heroines: Roxie Hart (Chicago)

     One very distinctive trait in actors and performers is this: the ones who are amazingly talented often don't believe they're very good at all, and the ones who are only moderately talented believe that their craft was never fully invented until they were born. These types of performers have an excessively inflated ego without the chops to back it up, and Roxie Hart is one of those performers.
      The 2002 film 'Chicago,' based on the Broadway play of the same name, is about Roxie Hart, a 'two-bit talent with skinny legs' (according to her lover) who dreams of a career as a star on the vaudeville/jazz club circuit. She's married to a kindhearted but dimwitted mechanic named Amos, whom she abuses and virtually ignores. Her lover, Fred, tells her he can make her famous, and when she learns that his boast was only to get her into bed, she does what any sensible person would do: she shoots him, and finds herself on Murderess Row in the Cooke County Jail, right next to her vaudeville icon, Velma Kelly, who has been put away for a similar crime.
      In the jazz age of Chicago, newspapers and radios promote scandals and crimes to sell papers, and soon, with the help of a sleazy lawyer named Billy Flynn, Roxie has become the new, misunderstood darling of the Chicago Tribune, and her cheap, tawdry persona is masked behind a lot of amazing publicity and a good alibi. This certainly doesn't help her already over-inflated ego. Roxie believes that this fame is the break she's been looking for, and starts planning an elaborate stage career just like Velma's.
      The great contrast between Velma and Roxie is interesting. Velma is a showbiz veteran, selfish and conceited, but also strikingly beautiful and very talented. She is the opposite of Roxie; while Velma's attitude is no less unpleasant, Velma has the skills and the looks to back up her sense of entitlement. Roxie, on the other hand, is a common criminal who dreams of a life she doesn't fully understand, and who is of only mediocre talent and beauty.
     Alas, the life of a celebrity is a brief one: once Roxie is acquitted of her crime, she finds that the very reporters who were clamoring to take her picture an hour ago have left the courtroom in search of new stories. As her lawyer quips, "Nothing beats fresh blood on the walls." This realization comes as a cold slap in the face to Roxie; she has built her entire future on the idea that she would be remembered forever, and that she is special. She finds out that neither is true.
     The ending is fairly bittersweet. She does eventually get her fame and her stage act by teaming up with Velma (apparently two jazz killers are indeed better than one,) but we don't really want her to. While we have grown to love her despite her flaws, she did kill someone. Does she deserve to have all her dreams come true on the back of a heinous crime? Well, according to the logic of the film, and often the real world, yes she does. Criminals and murderers who gain notoriety are often paid for book deals, script rights, and various other memorabilia, just relating to their crimes. (See: Casey Anthony, Aileen Wuornos, OJ Simpson, etc.) Roxie's 'fairytale ending' isn't really all that difficult to fathom.
     The character in itself is interesting because Roxie's idea of herself is so grandiose, and it is always fun to watch someone wrap their mind around the fact that they aren't what they believed. Renee Zellweger does add a lot of likeability to a character who could be detestable, and the part is well played. Thanks, Roxie. Apparently murder is, indeed, an art.

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