"Why Does My Heart Cry?"

23 Years Ago, This Tragic-Love Musical Defined My Preteen Years

I had to know if the fever-dreamy film held up.

20th Century Studios

There are few movies that I would say "defined" my preteen years as much as Moulin Rouge. The glitzy 2001 musical had everything my 12-year-old self could have asked for. Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor singing their hearts out in an over-the-top love story in Paris — what else could I have wanted?

McGregor and Kidman star in the tale of a young, poor English poet, Christian, who falls in love with cabaret actress and courtesan Satine, the star of the Moulin Rouge in Paris in 1899. Unfortunately, Satine has been promised to a Duke in return for funding for the next production at the Moulin Rouge, leading to a forbidden romance between Satine and Christian. To complicate matters further, Satine is dying from tuberculosis. Oh, and this entire story is told with modern musical numbers, featuring renditions of everything from "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" to "Like a Virgin."

Like all preteens, I found the idea of forbidden, tragic love an incredibly compelling trope, and adding bright musical numbers made for the perfect recipe. For goodness sake, I was so enamored with Ewan McGregor's rendition of "Your Song" that I made it my first dance song at my wedding. When a Moulin Rouge musical began its initial previews in Boston, my friend and I went to one of the first shows.

However, despite being obsessed with this movie in my youth, I admit I hadn't watched it in years. That is until recently, when I decided to replay the film that had meant so much to me growing up. So, would it hold up? I was kind of terrified to find out.

The movie is completely bonkers (in the best way).

Let's get this right out of the way: This movie is bonkers. The exposition of the first 10 minutes feels like a fever dream, with the characters speaking so quickly you'd think you were watching an Amy Sherman-Palladino show. Director Baz Luhrmann uses these first few scenes to try and fit as much story in as humanly possible, to the point that you may blink and miss a Kylie Minogue cameo as the absinthe-induced Green Fairy (yes, you read that right).

However, even more so than I did as a kid, as an adult, I found the level of bonkers for Moulin Rouge to be absolutely delightful. Oftentimes, Luhrmann's films seem to be hit or miss with people — you either love his incredibly distinctive style of directing or can't stand it.

Despite the overwhelmingly sad storyline behind Moulin Rouge, the movie is just plain fun. It's bright, colorful, and will have you immediately pulling up the soundtrack on Spotify. There are parts of the film that may make you wonder what in the world you're watching (the Duke partaking in the "Like a Virgin" number comes to mind), but the moment Ewan McGregor belts out "El Tango de Roxanne," you are pulled right back into the magic of the movie — bonkers though it may be.

The story is wildly different through adult eyes.

As with many movies enjoyed by '90s preteens, I probably had no business watching Moulin Rouge at the age that I did. Now, watching it in my 30s, I can confidently say I had no idea what was happening in so much of the movie.

You know the scene where Christian thinks he's giving Satine a poetry reading, and she thinks he's talking about sex, and lots of innuendos ensue? Yeah, as a preteen, I fully did not get that. While I enjoyed the movie in so many ways when I was younger, I was able to enjoy it completely differently as an adult who… gets sex jokes.

In all seriousness, as an adult, I was able to comprehend the more serious and darker themes. Because the thing is, as bright and beautiful as the movie is, at its core, it's a tragedy. And while I obviously understood that at the most basic of levels in my youth, it took on a much different meaning once I was older and had experienced more of life.

The movie is peak Baz Luhrmann in its visual beauty.

Director Bas Luhrmann is a distinctive artist; you will know his work as soon as you see it because of his unique directing style. While he has had plenty of critically acclaimed films (as recently as 2022's Elvis), I would argue Moulin Rouge is his crowning achievement. The colors, the set, the costumes, the music choices — everything is next-level gorgeous.

The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture. While it didn't win, the legacy of the movie has lived on. For the past few years, fans have been able to see Moulin Rouge on Broadway. While some of the music choices have changed for the on-stage rendition, the stylistic choices that Luhrmann made for the movie have made a clear mark on the Broadway production.

There are a lot of movies I loved in my childhood that I later watched as an adult and wished I hadn't. Moulin Rouge was not one of them. While it may not be for everyone, this absolutely breathtaking musical held up for me decades later as a completely unique ride. So, let me just put it on the record: Hollywood, never remake it.