Evita: The Movie Starring Madonna, Antonio Banderas, & Jonathan Pryce
Synopsis from IMDb
A movie version of the highly successful musical by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice, "Evita" is the story of Argentina's most controversial First Lady, Eva Perón (1919 - 1952.) Her awe-inspiring funeral, attended by seven million devoted followers, is the opening to the musical, with the narrator then brining the story back by over a decade, explaining how a B-movie actress became the object of such controversial devotion.
Trapped and bored with her family in rural Argentina in the late 1930s, Eva Duarte (Madonna) convinces a womanising musician (Jimmy Nail) to take her with him, back to the capital city, Buenos Aires, where she is determined to become a star. After being abandoned by the musician, Eva endures humiliations and poverty before using her feminine wiles to climb the ladder of the city's entertainment scene, eventually becoming a well-paid radio and film actress.
At a benefit to aid the victims of an earthquake she meets Colonel Juan Perón (Jonathan Pryce), an ambitious politician with designs on the presidency. They fall in love and Eva encourages his plans to become dictator of the country, even using her star power to get him released from prison when his enemies order his arrest. On February 24 1946, Perón is elected president with a huge majority, but it quickly becomes apparent that its his glamorous wife who's the focus of the people's love.
Affectionately nicknamed 'Evita' by her millions of devoted followers, Eva founds a huge charity to alleviate the suffering of the nation's poor. Throughout it all, the beautiful first lady is dressed in the latest high fashion and she is accused of being a distraction for the people, rather than an aid, by the embittered and cynical narrator (Antonio Banderas.) With millions of people still utterly devoted to her, Evita continues to appear in public, dazzling her supporters and enfuriating her enemies, despite being secretly consumed with terminal cancer. At the end of the musical, she dies, aged 33, resulting in hysterical mourning throughout Argentina.
The musical is famous for a number of songs, including the satirical "Oh what a circus!" "Buenos Aires," "Rainbow High," "The Money Kept Rolling In" and the show's signature solo, "Don't cry for me, Argentina." For the movie version, a new solo was added for Evita, "You must love me."
Genre: Drama , Musical & Performing Arts
Directed By: Alan Parker
Written By: Oliver Stone , Alan Parker
In Theaters: Dec 14, 1996 Wide
On DVD: Mar 24, 1998
Runtime: 134 minutes
Madonna | Eva Perón
>Antonio Banderas | Ché
Jonathan Pryce | Juan Perón<
December 31, 1999
With one of the most dazzling screen chassis in years, Evita is definitely worth a look -- maybe even two. But don't look under the hood.
June 24, 2012<
Webber's music is hauntingly original and effective, while Rice's lyrics manage to convey the information that's missing without a standard narrative and scenic construction, while also incorporating a constant sense of interpretation.
April 26, 2015
Antagony & Ecstasy
20 APRIL 2015
SHE DIDN'T SAY MUCH, BUT SHE SAID IT LOUD A review requested by K. Wild, with thanks for contributing to the Second Quinquennial Antagony & Ecstasy ACS Fundraiser.
The 1996 feature film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's musical Evita is, generally speaking, just fine. It's biggest limitation, frankly, is that it's an adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's musical Evita, but that show and preceding concept album was neither man's worst hour, at least. There are alternate universes where they got a much better film Evita, though: one directed by stylistic madman Ken Russell in the late '70s, or even the same exact one we got in our universe, directed by Alan Parker, only it stars Michelle Pfeiffer. And I must confess that I am jealous of the musical lovers in those universes. Because our Evita is just fine... it's just fine.
That being said, adapting Evita into a movie was always going to be a hideous amount of work, and it was perhaps never going to turn out right. The source material isn't a dramatic play with passages of dialogue set to music to demonstrate intensified emotion or particularly important scenes; it's really more of a staged song cycle, much like Webber and Rice's earlier collaboration Jesus Christ Superstar. Compared to the utter dog of a film which that show was turned into in 1973, Evita looks like an uncompromising triumph. But it still leaves the movie with a structure that won't construct, and while Russell made a song cycle into the crazyfucker masterpiece Tommy, as Parker himself did with Pink Floyd: The Wall, both of those movies got to cheat. They both had concepts that not only permitted, but outright demanded a psychedelic treatment, and so both of those films get to turn into florid visual trips hung along the spine provided by an arty rock group's concept album. Now, I'm not saying that there could not be a psychedelic Evita, and if there was, nothing in this world would have kept me from it. But it's no surprise at all that Evita isn't psychedelic in the least.
The thing that it has as a story surrogate relates, broadly and with dubious accuracy, the life of Eva Perón née Duarte (Madonna), born illegitimately in 1919 in rural Argentina. It tracks her laser-like focus on sleeping her way into modest radio stardom, which put her in position to meet Colonel Juan Perón (Jonathan Pryce, who looks about as much like a "Juan" as I do like an "Ichiro") at a charity gala in 1944. They married, and she threw herself into a fiery populist campaign to get him elected president in 1946. Together they (mostly she) were extravagantly beloved by the people of Argentina, until her stunningly premature death from cancer in 1952 rocketed her to the position that she still occupies of secular saint.
Fleshing that sketch out is where things get a bit rocky because, well, the film really doesn't (I'll plead ignorance as to whether the show does: I've never seen Evita staged, and I'm familiar only with the 1976 concept album that would be considerably re-worked for its 1978 theatrical debut). Parker does what he can with that favorite trick of silent filmmakers, the Zooming Newspaper Headline, but the almost totally sung-through story offers very little room for context or historical depth, and while that might play in the concert-like surroundings of live theater, the trappings of prestige cinema are too concrete, and Parker's directing too drably normal to survive such an abstract storytelling register. Evita doesn't end up feeling like a movie, but a series of music videos stitched together by montages. And, frequently interrupted by montages: one of the small number of brash stylistic tricks that Parker trots out, and probably shouldn't have, is to use impressionistic flashbacks and flashforwards to pep up what would otherwise be static moments of characters just standing there singing for a few minutes, and while I admire the effort, it doesn't land. We came for "Don't Cry for Me Argentina". We did not come to see "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" turned into a repository of footage we just watched, like, 40 minutes ago.
The music videos have the merit of being inordinately handsome, at least; with production design by Brian Morris and cinematography by Darius Khondji (who received his solitary Oscar nomination to date for this film), Evita looks lush and costly, but not at the cost of being stuffy and lifeless. It's a film of much grandeur, with no subtlety about it whatsoever, but it feels Big and Epic and Important in a way that very little Oscarbait actually manages to do. And within that framework, Parker's staging of individual moments - when he and editor Gerry Hambling can be bothered to let the action play out in chronological order, at least - certainly manages to be sure-footed and impeccably dramatic: the quick flow of the story through the flippant "Good Night and Thank You", or the jagged visual rhythm in "And the Money Kept Rolling In (and Out)" even manage to make a virtue of the ragged holes in the story's chronology.
Inasmuch as Evita was going to be primarily naturalistic, then, Parker's treatment of it is as good as it was likely to be. That's still limited by the story structure, and by the songs: though the rock music he relies on is a weird and sometimes unpleasant fit for a story of '1940s Argentina, Webber hadn't yet hit the wall of insipid mediocrity by the time of Evita, but Rice in the '70s was outright deranged, and the lyrics in Evita are baffling as often as not. Nothing matches the swirling vortex of madness found in the loopiest passages in Jesus Christ Superstar - the man who perpetrated "Like a jaded, jaded, faded, jaded, jaded mandarin" set that bar far too high to jump over it again - but there's plenty of choice "what the fuck were you thinking" moments, in places like "I came from the people, they need to adore me / So Christian Dior me..." in the aptly named "Rainbow High" or "Although she's dressed up to the nines / At sixes and sevens with you" from the iconic "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" itself. The film's solitary new song, "You Must Love Me" - specially designed for the purposes of being a hit Madonna single - doesn't quite come out unscathed (the word "must" connotes "are commanded to" too strongly for the line's primary meaning of "I guess you love me, huh" to naturally flow out), but the Rice of '96 is sufficiently calmed down that Evita manages the rare - maybe unprecedented - feat among stage-to-film musical adaptations of having its original, awards-courting composition be the standout number.
All that was baked in, though, and would have been a problem with any adaptation. But this particular Evita could still have done better with a better cast, and with no other changes been a considerably stronger film. Pryce's crisp British aura was a poor fit for Juan Perón, and he's not believable as a dictator, but the role isn't all that big. The male lead is actually Antonio Banderas as Ché "Not Guevara, Alan Parker Didn't Like That", the mysterious figure who drifts in and out of Evita's life as a host of different characters, always probing her conscience and snottily passing asides to the camera that clarify that for all her goodwill and charm, Eva had some massive limitations as a human being. What with the benevolent dictatorship and all. Though Evita is petrified to death of actually engaging with specific politics, so any attempts to actually analyse the Peróns' effect on Argentina is doomed to die in infancy. But anyway, Banderas is excellent in a role that lacks any interiority and specifically forbids an actor from faking it. It's all attitude and rolling the lines around as he sings them, and he's got that down cold.
But then there is the matter of the superstar albatross around the film's neck. It's easy to see why Madonna identified with the role and wanted it; it's easy to see why the studio wanted her. But she's just not good. The demands of the role tax her range considerably, and the dramatic flourishes all tend to flatten out (her "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" is a particular flat spot, in exactly the place that movie needs to put all its chips on a big showstopping rouser); she hits the notes, but frequently it audibly costs her to do that. That's bad enough, but she is a terrible actress, analysing the words in her songs like a pop singer and not the lead in a work of musical theater, and so her emphases are close but rarely exactly right. Her body language, meanwhile, is utterly helpless; she uses her arms to vaguely indicated and stress thoughts, like a malfunctioning audio-animatronic version of Mussolini. The only time she seems to understand what emotions should be foregrounded on her face is during Eva's sickness, when she adopts a saggy, weary look that almost manages to sell the pathos of the sequence, but without a strong foundation preceding it, it's hard to care.
Evita is so single-mindedly focused on Eva herself that no production, no matter how great all the constituent elements were, could survive the kind of stiff, wholly artificial and forced performance that Madonna gives. And of course, many of the constituent elements here are not great. There are enough individually good parts that I really wish I could fake it and give it a pass - Khondji was in excellent form when he shot this, which counts for an awful lot - but nope. Evita minus Evita is a washed-out slog, and all the lovely settings and handsome staging in the world can't compensate for that.
Even though the protagonist is a flawed, intriguing demagogue, this visually stunning but tiresome (and oversung) musical makes it hard for us to care, given how insufferable most of the songs are (except for two or three), like nearly everything made by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
This film includes the largest amount of costume changes in history, so you already know it's lavish. Taking all the leather and lace away from this production, you're left with no plot, all music, and two hours of watching Madonna spiral into an abysmal performance. Eva Peron, Evita to her people, deserved a bit more of a bang for her buck.
The impressive production by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Tim Rice brought to screen by an impressive cast. There may have been doubt over Madonna being a lead in this film during it's release, when in actual fact I can not imagine anyone else portraying Eva Peron in quite the same way. Antonio Banderas gives a charmed performance as Che (perhaps his best)
Haha! Antonio Banderas' part was the best bit. I think his kind of phantom character/ narrator role was very good and witty. And I thought Madonna did a fantastic job, too bad she hasn't done that since with acting. With a more analytical look, I thought it interesting the two (technically) main characters were white, Madonna and Pryce. But in Madonna's defense,
Aside from the controversial rock musical JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, another one of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's biggest staples on Broadway was this biographical musical about the First Lady of Argentina. It's not a particularly flattering portrayal of the character, either. In fact it's a rather controversial one, which is understandable considering that some could see her actions as manipulative and self-serving while others still see her as an influential figure in Argentina. Arguably the real star of this film version, however, is not necessarily Madonna as the title character (although she DOES do an excellent job), but rather Antonio Banderas, who gives both the best performance and arguably makes the movie worth my highest rating. As the film's narrator Che (who takes a very negative side with Evita from the get go), Banderas sings with robust energy and charisma, bringing a genuinely likable presence to an otherwise grim and heavy movie. Any scene where he unexpectedly pops up is a delight. Even if you may find the story difficult to follow at times (the film is shot intentionally as a music video with lots of quick cuts showing imagery that can be jarring at times), Bandera's performance and Lloyd Webber's legendary score is what makes EVITA. The music may seem schizophrenic to some viewers, though, because, like the film's MTV style, the score bounces back and forth from lilting Latin chorals to Spanish waltzes and, perhaps most incongruously, rock and roll. But all this is Webber's style of writing, for EVITA is, after all, a rock opera. Musicals like this are very rare to find today, and if you're a fan of such material, EVITA could well worth be checking out