Directed by Alan Parker. Starring Madonna, Antonio Banderas, Jonathan Pryce, Jimmy Nail. (1996, PG, 135 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Jan. 10, 1997
That Madonna… she’s voguing again. This time she strikes a pose as Eva Peron, the cultishly worshipped former first lady of Argentina and, not incidentally, the eponymous star of a fabulously successful stage musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. It’s perfect material for the Material Girl and it’s easy to see why she fought so hard for the part. The resemblances between the lives of these two women – each of whom rose from obscurity to become a mesmeric one-name wonder – should be evident to even the laziest of armchair analysts. And clearly, that’s the audience toward whom this film version of Evita is aimed. It’s the “no muss, no fuss” historical approach toward the military dictator and his popularly adored wife, an approach that skims and ignores many of the tale’s darker elements (such as the perverse years-long saga of Evita’s embalmed yet unburied corpse). Experiencing Evita is like watching one uninterrupted long-form music video divided only by different arias or costume changes (of which there are untold numbers). The movie is a wall of musical sound, an unending barrage of sung exposition. Madonna and Antonio Banderas, who serves as the story’s Brechtian narrator Che, perform the difficult, near-tuneless Lloyd Webber music nicely enough, although their vocal skills tilt more toward the adequate than the spectacular realm. The music itself is full of Lloyd Webber’s typical bombast and grandiosity and director Alan Parker’s visual style maintains the tone of the aural onslaught. Visually, Evita is also huge. Yet, for all the teeming crowd scenes and sweeping visual pastiches, the movie still feel bereft of substance and weight. Parker has a substantial history with musicals having helmed the kiddie gangster movie Bugsy Malone, the high school song-and-dance ditty Fame, the sweet, Irish rock band saga The Commitments, and the overblown rock opera Pink Floyd – The Wall. He now probably qualifies as the world’s premiere living director of movie musicals and that may be equivalent to saying that the movie musical is thoroughly dead. There is little about Evita that will leave audiences wanting more.