Wednesday, December 25, 1996 (NY/LA)
Friday, January 10, 1997 (wide)
First things first: Madonna makes a terrific Eva Peron, but don't bet the farm on any Oscar nods.
As Andrew Lloyd Webber's fancified rendition of Argentina's most popular politician's wife, the chameleon of the music industry has successfully reinvented herself yet again as heroic diva and gives a memorable performance in the title role of "Evita."
But even with gorgeous art direction and cinematography, strong performances and a commendable directorial effort from Alan Parker, the blemishes that "Evita" brings with it from the stage weigh on the film.
I should tell you right now that I have an active loathing of Andrew Lloyd Webber's work. I find his music uneven at best. The way he writes duets like two completely different genres of music having an argument, for example, grinds on my ear.
The rock music elements of "Evita" have all the dignity of a "Rocky Horror" production number and Tim Rice's lyrics have very little poetry and even less rhythm. He has a tendency to cram four sylable words into one or two beats.
Having said that, this "Evita" is the best film that could have been made from the material -- sumptuous, sensual and conseptual in it's vision, it may be the single biggest boost to the Hollywood musical in a generation.
Webber's Eva Peron starts life as poor, illegitimate peasant girl who moves to Buenos Aires to seek her fortune. She works as what those in L.A. call an MAW (model-actress-whatever), sleeping her way through Buenos Aires society until she latches on to rising politician Juan Peron (Jonathan Pryce), marries him and becomes a symbol of Argentineans' hopes.
She is "one of the people" and as a national icon becomes so popular that when she dies of cancer at 33, the whole country mourns. Although she is portrayed as someone who used her power to improve the lives of her people, any implied dignity is based entirely on her impoverished background and not on any deeds, but the film manages to convince one of her passion and heart nonetheless.
The story is narrated by Antonio Banderas as Che. An omni-present everyman, Che is a bartender in one scene, a revolutionary in the next and is the thread that binds the story from the observer's point of view.
With all the talk of Madonna, it is Banderas who really deserves accolades. With his seductive unwashed charm, his piercing black eyes and his enticing facial mannerisms -- thoughtful frowns, knowing winks -- he is the most charismatic character in the film. From the first reel, he has a grasp on the audience without being overwhelming. And he sings beautifully.
"Evita" is fantastically cinematic. It fills the theater with it's atmosphere, especially during the trademark numbers "A New Argentina" and "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina," and is worth seeing for the production quality alone. The sets are awsome, the costumes as extravegant as a musical calls for and the sepia-toned quality of the lighting lends the film an old-fashioned flavor that helps settle an audience unacomstom to film musicals.
In spite of the fact that it is nearly three hours of Andrew Lloyd Webber, I was well impressed and just couldn't bring myself to dislike it.
Director Parker accepted a huge challenge when he signed on to "Evita" -- even with his experience in film musicals that includes "Bugsy Malone" and "Pink Floyd: The Wall." He did a grand job, but let's hope this doesn't lead to an onslaught of films from Webber's Broadway works. The last thing this world needs is "Starlight Express -- The Motion Picture."