The love-it-or-hate-it moment in Moulin Rouge comes at the 48-minute mark: On a decadent evening in 19th-century Paris, too-sincere scribe Christian (Ewan McGregor) and resplendent showgirl Satine (Nicole Kidman) cavort upon a fake pachyderm, wooing each other with music. Not just some cheeky French number, mind you—their devotional ditty name-checks nearly every major love song of the last 40 years, from the Beatles to Whitney Houston.
And with that, you’re either in or you’re out. Moulin is director Baz Luhrmann’s second attempt at pop cross-pollination and, like 1996’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, it inspires either fawning admiration or frustrated alienation. But for those willing to surrender to its show-offy charms, it’s dazzling—an invigorating song and dance, with little lost in the small-screen translation.
It helps that the casting is flawless—not only Kidman and McGregor (whose singing voices, alas, grow more underwhelming on repeated viewings), but also Jim Broadbent, who transforms ”Like a Virgin” into a giddy comic lollapalooza, and Richard Roxburgh as a come-undone duke. But Moulin’s most important supporting character is the Moulin Rouge itself. Full of sin and song, with a heart that beats to the time-tripping score, it’s enough to make us party like it’s 1899. A-