The 1972 film Cabaret is the musical starring Liza Minnelli that won eight academy awards and seven BAFTAs. It was nominated for other awards, including Best Picture, and it has gotten good reviews, with a rating of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. Wanna know why?
That’s it. It has an odd look, a couple of daring subject matters, an off-putting feel, and an unconventional plot. Artsy.
Artsy is fine, unless that’s all that the movie has to offer. Annie Hall is reasonably artsy, as are many Woody Allen films, but on the whole, they tend to be good. That’s because he has a strong high concept, strong characters with interesting lives, clever humor, a decent story, a nice soundtrack, and other simple things that make a movie good. Cabaret is lacking in so many of these areas.
The high concept is weak, the characters are boring, the story is pointless, there is no humor present, and the musical numbers don’t do their basic jobs (telling the story, developing a character, exciting the audience, making the world of the movie bigger, etc.) very well at all. The music is one of the strong elements in the film, because I really enjoy “Willkommen” and “Cabaret.” Some of the songs are indirectly expressing what is happening in the story, such as “Money, Money” and “If You Could See Her,” but since they happenafter we already see what’s happening in the story, they are merely unnecessary echoes rather than tools to move the plot along in an interesting way.
In terms of characters and story, this is yet another film that has more of a series of events than an actual plot. A series of events can work okay, as long as there is a clear progression in the conflict, and each event is a situation, meaning that the audience wonders what’s going to happen next. I don’t understand the conflict in this film (although a conflict would be more present had they simply had the Nazis in the film actually do something that greatly affects the main characters) and I don’t care about the characters, so the story was doomed from the start. Sally is a reasonably likable character, but the other characters feel flat to me. Oh, and the ending is rather stupid, because so little progress has been made, if any.
The film looks interesting, with lots of the kind of colorful, theatrical lighting that I love. The people in the film, however, are what make it a rather ugly film. The solution to the problem that Liza Minnelli looks strange was apparently to make everyone else look stranger, with the most ridiculous make up I’ve ever seen. I would prefer it if a movie made me want to look at it, and maybe even made me want to be a part of its world, rather than use visuals that push me away from it. You can create an ugly world that is still not too terribly off-putting, but this is not it.
While the movie makes some decisions that are smart, bold, unique, and artistic, it is very overrated. I know that it is based on a stage musical, and once again I debate about whether to criticize the film or the original show upon which it is based, but I still have to blame the movie for most of the problems. Unless you’re a hipster, or you want to fit in with the elite movie critics, I don’t see why you should enjoy the film. (The soundtrack really does have some gems though.)