Film: Chicago

Chicago, based on a musical originally choreographed and directed by the legendary Bob Fosse in 1975, is the story of Roxie Hart, a wannabe cabaret star in 1920s Chicago. She sleeps around unknown to her husband, Amos, but has a falling-out with one of her lovers, shoots him and is arrested for murder. In prison, she develops a rivalry with the star Velma Kelly, who killed her own husband and sister.

Roxie, through bribing the prison warden, Mama Morton, gets the best lawyer in town, Billy Flynn. Billy is a smooth-talking trickster who has never lost a case. As tensions mount and the media make Roxie a star, fame begins to get to Roxie's head. But the press will love her even more if she is found guilty...

A biting satire of celebrity trials, the press and show business in general, Chicago was released in 2002 and won that year's Best Picture Oscar.

This film contains examples of:

  • Accidental Misnaming: A Running Gag in the film is Flynn repeatedly calling Amos "Andy". He does get it right once or twice, during the "We Both Reached For The Gun" number and during the trial when Amos is in the witness box, much to the latter's delight. He also does it to Roxie at one point.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: In the film, Roxie is blonde and Velma is a brunette, the reverse hair colors of what most musical productions give the two characters
  • Alliterative Family: Velma and her sister Veronica that she killed.
  • Alliterative Name: Matron Mama Morton, the supervisor of Murderess Row.
  • All Take and No Give: Amos and Roxie's marriage, with Amos as the Giver and Roxie as the Taker.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Word of God is that Mama Morton is "kind of dykish" and there's a memorable scene where she calls Roxie "a pretty one" and strokes her hair. She also slips a pack of cigaretts into the garter of an inmate and slaps her thigh.
  • Amoral Attorney: Billy Flynn, who manages to acquit two murderers that we know of and likely dozens that we don't.
  • Anti-Hero: So many good examples, even though you usually end up liking their personalities.
    • Roxie killed a man for lying about having connections.
    • Velma killed her husband and sister when she "caught them in the kip together."
    • All Billy Flynn cares about is money.
    • Matron Mama Morton shows extreme corruption.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Invoked; in "The Cell Block Tango" the first proper lyric is "He had it comin'!" although at least some of them (especially the guy who received 'two warning shots' for chewing a gum) are extreme cases of Disproportionate Retribution.
    • You probably won't feel very sorry for Fred Casely (though Roxie is no better person than him) or Lucy Liu's husband either.
  • Attention Whore: Roxie
    Roxie: And the audience loves me. And I love them for loving me and they love me for loving them. And we love each other. 'Cause none of us got enough love in our childhoods...
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Billy Flynn gets both Roxie and Velma acquitted in the end.
    • Though they're quickly pushed out of the news by another similar crime, and driven into poverty while Roxy can only fantasize about the two of them teaming up to be a success.
  • Berserk Button: Apparent in "The Cell Block Tango," especially with the woman who shot her husband for popping gum too loudly.
  • Betty and Veronica: This could describe the relationship between Roxie and Velma towards Flynn's Archie.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The Hungarian is left untranslated. For those wondering, her monologue translates to, "What am I doing here? They say my famous lover held down my husband and I chopped his head off. But it's not true. I am innocent. I don't know why Uncle Sam says I did it. I tried to explain at the police station but they didn't understand."
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Mary Sunshine has hints of being this — she passes herself off as naive and optimistic, but she has a very shrewd expression a lot of the time, and, with the rest of the media, ditches Roxie when a hotter story comes along.
  • Black Comedy: Throughout.
    "And now, presenting Katalin Helinski with the famous Hungarian Disappearing Act!"
  • Black Vikings: Queen Latifah as Mama Morton. In 1920s America, there's no way that an African-American (no matter how smart and capable) would have been allowed to hold a position of authority over white people (no matter how dim-witted and degenerate).
  • Blasphemous Boast: Billy Flynn has a nice one to Amos.
    Billy Flynn: I don't like to blow my own horn; but, believe me, if Jesus Christ had lived in Chicago today and he had five thousand dollars and he'd come to me things would have turned out differently.
  • Blatant Lies: Most of Billy Flynn's role.
  • Bowdlerise: The soundtrack cover had the above picture... with the handguns digitally removed.
  • Broken Bird: Poor Katalin...
  • Brutal Honesty: The reason why Billy forbids Roxie to talk to the reporters.
    Roxie: I bet you all wanna know why I shot the bastard.
    • And later during the song "We both reached for the gun":
    Mary Sunshine: How're you feeling?
    Billy (voicing the Dummy!Roxie): Very frightened!
    Mary Sunshine: Are you sorry?
    Roxie (herself): Are you kidding?!
  • Butt Monkey: Poor Amos... he even has a song, "Mr. Cellophane", about it.
  • Cain and Abel: Velma kills her sister, because she finds her in bed with her husband.
  • The Cameo:
    • Lucy Liu as an heiress who shoots her philandering husband.
    • Taye Diggs as the man who announces the songs in Roxie's heads.
    • Dominic West as Fred Casely, the victim.
    • Chita Rivera, the original Velma, gets a line in the movie.
  • Casting Couch: Roxie is implied to have been sleeping with Fred Casely because he was lying about having connections in the show biz and finding her an act.
  • Chewbacca Defense: "Razzle Dazzle" is this trope in song form.
  • Chorus Girls: Used in several numbers, All I Care About (Is Love), Cell Block Tango, and Razzle Dazzle being notable examples.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: All of the guilty inmates in "The Cell Block Tango" are shown dancing under blood-red lights and brandishing cloth of the same color. The lone innocent inmate instead has a striking motif of white.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: The play's humor.
  • Coordinated Clothes: At the end, Velma and Roxie perform their singing and dancing routine in matching outfits. They start in a long white robes with fur and then strip it, each wearing a silver sexy dress. They have various props like hats or sticks shaped like guns. Their hair styles contrast wonderfully - both have a bob, but Velma has black and straight hair while Roxie's hair is curly and blond. See the video at youtube.
  • Courtroom Antic: All of Billy Flynn's role. Lampshaded with "Razzle Dazzle".
  • Crapsack World
  • Crocodile Tears: In "I Can't Do It Alone" Velma sings my sister is now, unfortunately, deceased. I know it's sad, of course... with no signs whatsoever of sincere grief. Velma was the one who killed her.
    • See also Roxie on the stand.
  • Cut Song: A few from the stage show, the most notable being Velma's "I Know a Girl", Roxie and Velma's "My Own Best Friend", and Velma and Mama Morton's "Class". The latter was actually recorded for the film and included on the soundtrack album, but cut from the original print for time.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Roxie and Velma get their fair share of zingers in.
    • Roxie: I was there that night you were arrested!
      Velma: Yeah? You and half of Chicago.
    • Velma: [song: I Can't Do It Alone]
      Roxie: So... Where was the part where you blew her brains out?
  • Death by Woman Scorned: A recurring theme in "The Cell Block Tango" — Velma killed her husband and his lover (her own sister), Annie poisoned her boyfriend after finding out he was already married to six other women, and Mona killed her boyfriend after finding out he had three other girlfriends and a boyfriend.
  • Diegetic Music: One of the film's big innovations is that while every number is sung to an audience, none of them are sung to the audience: singers are either in a Show Within a Show, or the song is taking place as an Imagine Spot inside Roxie's head, making her the Surrogate Audience. Every number is diegetic music. By extension, this allows Chicago to have a Fourth Wall and adds to the credibility of the presentation.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: "So I fired two warning shots...into his head." For popping bubblegum.
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: After you watch "Cell Block Tango", ask yourself if they really could have gotten away with playing the song for laughs if it had been a group of male inmates gleefully singing about murdering their wives and girlfriends.
  • Double Entendre: All over "When You're Good To Mama".
  • Downer Ending: No-one in the audience gets what they want. Anyone supporting Roxie or Velma will be disappointed that they stay small-time. Anyone wanting them sent down, will be sad they got off. Amos is still left with nothing, and the only inmate who was innocent is the one who dies. The two most unsympathetic characters, Mama and Billy, get away scot free. Billy Flynn's double-dealing destroys the career of the only non-corrupt ADA in the city.
  • Dream Sequence: Almost every song scene is actually Roxie's imagination. The difference between her daydreams and the reality are underlined a number of times.
  • Dripping Disturbance: A dripping tap is one of the noises Roxie hears as she tries to get to sleep on her first night in prison. It turns into part of the rhythmic accompaniment to "The Cell Block Tango".
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Roxie seems to get this treatment, especially after Billy uses it to improve her chances of getting acquitted.
  • Evil Versus Evil: The rivalry between Roxie and Velma.
  • Fake Pregnancy: Roxie Hart fakes a pregnancy in order to gain public attention and sympathy leading up to her murder trial.
  • Fanservice: Loads of it.
  • Gainaxing: Matron Mama Morton does this at one point in "When You're Good To Mama". It's...nice, and appropriately timed, too!
    "You put in for Mama, she'll put out for you!"
  • Gilligan Cut: When Mama Morton suggests that Velma suck up to Roxie due to the former's dwindling and the latter's thriving fame, she adamantly refuses... cut to the opening of "I Can't Do It Alone", where she does exactly that.
  • Girls Behind Bars
  • Guilt By Association Gag: The one innocent person in "The Cell Block Tango" is the one who gets killed. It's implied that the only reason she got blamed/killed in the first place is because no one understands her Hungarian, and it's said that she's the first woman in the area to get executed at all.
  • Humble Pie: Roxie is acquitted, but moments later, a new heinous crime is committed and all the reporters rush out of the courtroom, leaving her all alone and without the fame and adoration she had been seeking.
  • "I Am" Song:
    • "When You're Good To Mama" for Mama.
    • "All I Care About Is Love" for Billy.
    • "Mr. Cellophane" for Amos.
  • Implausible Deniability:
    • Two of the murderesses in "The Cell Block Tango" deny things this way:
      "And then he ran into my knife! He ran into my knife ten times!"
      "I was in such a state of shock, I completely blacked out. I can't remember a thing. It wasn't until later, that I was washing the blood off my hands, that I even knew they were dead."
    • The denial is made by a cheating boyfriend while he's still in bed with two other women: "Who you gonna believe, your own eyes or me?"
  • Irony: The only prisoner on Murderess Row to be executed throughout the course of the film is the only one who is innocent of the homicide she's alleged to have committed.
    • Velma Kelly sings a song about how she cannot do her double-act alone - while doing both her and her sister's part.
  • It's All About Me: Roxie, Roxie, Roxie. Velma, too, to a less obtrusive extent.
  • Jerkass: Nearly everybody, but the most prominent examples are unusual in that they're the ones you'd expect to be sympathetic: the murder victim, the detective who arrests Roxie, and the uncorrupt assistant D.A. The victim is a married man with kids in a relationship with a married woman, stringing her along by pretending to have connections, and then abruptly dumps her when he's bored of her. The detective refers to Amos as "Goofy" while he's present, acts rudely to everyone, and flouts the fact that Roxie will be hanged. The assistant D.A. seems to push the death penalty for everyone, gets the innocent Hunyak hanged, and drops all charges on Velma Kelly, murderer of two, in exchange for testimony against Roxie Hart, murderer of one.
  • Karma Houdini: Velma, Roxie, and Billy Flynn.
  • Knitting Pregnancy Announcement: Invoked when Roxie is made to knit during her public trial to play up the claim of her being pregnant.
  • Lack of Empathy: Mama Morton shows this during her song "When You're Good To Mama":
    So if there's something that upsets you, makes you unhappy in anyway...don't shut your fatass mouth off to me, because I don't give a shit. NOW MOVE IT OUT!
    • Billy Flynn also shows this toward Roxie during the trial, which can also double as a sort of Foreshadowing (also being Genre Savvy):
      You are a phony celebrity. You're a flash in the pan. In a couple of weeks, no one's gonna give a shit about you. That's Chicago.
  • Language Barrier: Katalin Halinski doesn't speak English, and it has tragic consequences. She's unable to testify about her husband's murder, is accused of it, found guilty and executed, even though she's innocent.
  • Lovable Rogue: Roxie's a lying, scheming, glory-seeking, Jerk Ass murderess but still manages to be endearing at several points. Ditto for Velma and Billy.
  • Love Makes You Evil Or something like it. We see eleven murders described and ten revolve around sexual jealousy (the other was just Axe Crazy)
  • Madness Mantra: Pop, six, squish, uh-uh, Cicero, Lipschitz...
  • The Makeover: From dowdy housewife to "sweetest little jazz killer in town".
  • Male Gaze: Used intentionally in "All I Care About Is Love": Billy Flynn is singing about how all he cares about is love, and wants a girl with long hair and big eyes who needs him, while the camera is full of gyrating besequined butts.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Played with. Roxie pretends to be pregnant to gain the press and jury's sympathy. Her husband Amos is excited until it turns out that he couldn't possibly be the father of the child and gets very upset about Roxie being pregnant with another man's baby. It's Roxie's disclosure to him that she was never pregnant that prompts him to divorce her.
  • Never Trust a Trailer:
    • Most of the TV promos for the movie made Roxie look like a more sympathetic character whose actions really were in self defence.
    • In the trailer, Velma tells Roxie "keep your paws off of my lawyer," when in fact the real line in the film is "keep your paws off my underwear."
  • Pet the Dog: Mama seems genuinely upset at the Hunyak's execution, and both she and Billy take the time to attend Velma and Roxie's show.
    • Billy also gets a moment; when he sees that Roxie is genuinely afraid, he comforts her and sings Razzle Dazzle partly to reassure her.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero/Villain Protagonist: Roxie calls Billy Flynn a micknote  when things aren't going her way in court. It could be that this is meant to further establish Roxie as a bad, bad person in the audience's eyes, but it's not like anything much is ever made of it.
  • Pretty in Mink: This was the jazz age, so furs were bound to turn up.
  • Refuge in Audacity: "Razzle Dazzle" is practically a hymn to getting away with murder through liberal use of outrageous stunts.
  • Rule of Symbolism:
    • During "Cell Block Tango", five of the six murderesses use red scarves to represent the blood of their slain lovers. The Hunyak, on the other hand, uses a white scarf to show that she's innocent. She is also bathed in heavy white light during her monologue while the rest of the women are bathed in red.
    • "A Tap Dance" is very much a visual representation of Billy Flynn's battle in court. The harder he argues, the harder he tap dances during the number.
    • "We Both Reached For the Gun" portrays both Roxie and the reporters as puppets, with Billy being The Puppetmaster.
  • Sitting Sexy on a Piano: Roxie plays this for all it's worth in "Funny Honey".
  • Smoking Gun: Roxie's diary. Subverted; the diary was modified by Billy Flynn and then anonymously sent to the DA in order to make it seem that he had fabricated evidence.
  • Stripperiffic:
    • The outfits the ladies wear in "Cell Block Tango".
    • Flynn gets it, too - one of his numbers is a striptease.
    • Mama Morton's dress during "When You're Good To Mama" shows off her ample cleavage, and the whole song is an extended burlesque number (so ample, in fact, that rumor has it Queen Latifah almost fell down the stairs because she couldn't see her own feet over her cleavage.)
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Hunyak, the only woman in "The Cell Block Tango" who did not commit the murder she was accused of, is the only person we see found guilty and executed.
  • Trickster: Roxie and Billy Flynn.
  • '20s Bob Haircut: It's the Roaring Twenties after all. A lot of women sport this hair style, most prominently Velma and Roxie.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Amos and Roxie. And he knows it too.
  • Unreliable Voiceover: "All I Care About" is one in song form. In the song spot, Billy claims that he doesn't care about money, just about love. Meanwhile, in the story, he refuses to sign Roxie on as a client until she gets $5000 and outright rejects her proposition for "making an arrangement."
  • The Vamp: Most of the female characters.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Mama tucks some bribe money into her cleavage during her number.
  • Video Credits
  • Villain Protagonist: The main character is well-known to the audience to be guilty of murder and is generally a poor example of a human being.
  • Villain Song: Roxie expresses her worldview and motivations in "My Own Best Friend" and "Roxie"; Billy expresses his in "Razzle Dazzle" and (with such blatant dishonesty that it wraps around to honesty again) "All I Care About is Love".
  • Woman Scorned: All of the murderesses.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Billy Flynn gives Roxie's diary to Velma Kelly, his other client, to give to the DA in exchange for having the charges against her dropped. He's modified the diary to include legal terms so that he can insinuate that the prosecutor wrote the whole thing. With one planted diary he gets one client acquitted and, if nothing else, the other released on a plea bargain.
  • You Would Make a Great Model: A Black and Grey Morality variant. The main character is sleeping with a man mainly because she thinks he's a producer who can help her career. He's not.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Roxie's murder victim was the man with whom she was cheating on her husband. The grounds for Velma, Annie, and Mona's homicides.
    • Inverted with June: Her homicide (self-defense, according to her) was spurred by her husband accusing her of cheating.