January 10, 1997 in Seven

Uneven ‘Evita’ ‘Evita’ Would Make Fine Music Video For Madonna, But Her Acting Falls Short

Jack Mathews Newsday
 

The first hour of Alan Parker’s adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Broadway opera “Evita” is a stunning success. Breathtaking. The sets are spectacular, the music is fabulous, the script - though its dialogue is almost entirely sung - whisks us effortlessly into its political Cinderella story. The voices of Madonna, as Eva Peron, and, more surprisingly, Antonio Banderas, as Che, are pitch-perfect for the roles.

What happens in the second half is not so much a letdown as a total collapse. The artifice of the story finally overwhelms its style, and by the time it should be hitting its emotional stride - in Evita’s triumphs with the people, and her battle with cancer - we are fighting just to hang on to the illusion.

Parker, whose career has seen a nice mix of gritty dramas (“Midnight Express,” “Birdy”) and musicals (“Fame,” “Bugsy Malone”), appeared to be the perfect choice to direct “Evita,” but he seems to have run out of ideas long before finishing it. Once Madonna was cast, there was the dreaded possibility that the movie would be turned into an extravagant music video, and as images and themes begin to repeat themselves, as music is piled on top of montages, that’s exactly what happens.

But even if you’re game for a long video, “Evita” suffers from a more basic problem. Madonna is right for the soundtrack, but she doesn’t come remotely close to having the presence to carry a movie about one of the most powerful and charismatic women of the 20th century.

No presence, Madonna? Not on film. On the concert stage, she is peerless at creating a dramatic illusion. She stalks the stage with the energy of a cheetah, and has found ways to be provocative long after we thought we’d seen it all. But the camera doesn’t sit in the cheap seats, it moves within inches, and from there we can see right through Madonna, through the transparent poses and her marketed image, and watch the wheels turn as she tries to actually … act!

As the movie wears on into that second hour, and we’ve become used to co-star Jonathan Pryce as Juan Peron, and the enormously strong Banderas, Madonna seems to shrink inside the role - behind the blond chignon, the elegant costumes and the ceremonial pomp of Argentina’s first lady. By the time Evita is laid out, wan and whispery, for her climactic death-bed scene, Madonna’s hardly there at all.

It’s a tribute to the power of “Evita,” the person and the show, that the movie works as well as it does. We expected it to look great; there were all those stories about the location shooting in Buenos Aires, and the mega-millions spent on the production.

But the script, adapted by Parker and Oliver Stone around the music of Webber and lyricist Tim Rice, is also beautifully conceived.

Madonna, for all her erotic showmanship, is nobody’s idea of a femme fatale, and none of the lyrics is backed up by anything we actually see. I’m sorry, but she can’t even do the tango convincingly.

Madonna’s weaknesses as an actress are made more glaring by the company she keeps.

Pryce, the star of “Miss Saigon,” is an old hand at this stuff, and though he could have used a better wig, his stature as Juan Peron seems to shrink Eva all the more.

And Banderas is really wonderful as Che, the ubiquitous revolutionary who provides constant counterpoint to Eva’s political careerism - and to Madonna’s fading presence.

MEMO: These sidebars appeared with the story: “EVITA” Locations: Newport Cinemas Credits: Directed by Alan Parker, starring Madonna, Antonio Banderas, Jonathan Pryce, Jimmy Nail, Victoria Sus, Julian Littman, Olga Meediz, Laura Pallas, Julia Worsley, Maria Lujan Hidalgo Running time: 2:13 Rating: PG

OTHER VIEWS Here’s what other critics say about “Evita:” Bob Fenster/The Arizona Republic: Don’t cry for Madonna, America. She has her baby, her fans, her millions. And now at last she also has a great movie: “Evita.” Bob Strauss/Los Angeles Daily News: It’s here. It’s not all it could be. It’s still too much. “Evita” is such a great, assaultive sensory experience that whatever failings it may have are essentially bludgeoned into insignificance. This is money’s-worth moviemaking with a vengeance: big scale, wall-to-wall music, relentless entertainment value. And Madonna. Madonna Madonna Madonna. Henry Sheehan/The Orange County Register: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s bombast and Tim Rice’s sentimentality get far better treatment than they deserve from director Alan Parker, who has come up with a movie version of “Evita” that actually turns that overorchestrated paean to power into something worth watching. And to top it off, Madonna turns out to be a faultless Eva Peron, an iconographic screen presence who mirrors the scantily talented actress who became a political star. Barbara Shulgasser/San Francisco Examiner: What can you say about a musical that glorifies the life of a fascist whore? How about: At least “Springtime for Hitler” was funny? Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famous anthem “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” must reprise 10 times throughout “Evita,” probably because Lloyd Webber knows it’s the only decent melody he’s ever written.

These sidebars appeared with the story: “EVITA” Locations: Newport Cinemas Credits: Directed by Alan Parker, starring Madonna, Antonio Banderas, Jonathan Pryce, Jimmy Nail, Victoria Sus, Julian Littman, Olga Meediz, Laura Pallas, Julia Worsley, Maria Lujan Hidalgo Running time: 2:13 Rating: PG

OTHER VIEWS Here’s what other critics say about “Evita:” Bob Fenster/The Arizona Republic: Don’t cry for Madonna, America. She has her baby, her fans, her millions. And now at last she also has a great movie: “Evita.” Bob Strauss/Los Angeles Daily News: It’s here. It’s not all it could be. It’s still too much. “Evita” is such a great, assaultive sensory experience that whatever failings it may have are essentially bludgeoned into insignificance. This is money’s-worth moviemaking with a vengeance: big scale, wall-to-wall music, relentless entertainment value. And Madonna. Madonna Madonna Madonna. Henry Sheehan/The Orange County Register: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s bombast and Tim Rice’s sentimentality get far better treatment than they deserve from director Alan Parker, who has come up with a movie version of “Evita” that actually turns that overorchestrated paean to power into something worth watching. And to top it off, Madonna turns out to be a faultless Eva Peron, an iconographic screen presence who mirrors the scantily talented actress who became a political star. Barbara Shulgasser/San Francisco Examiner: What can you say about a musical that glorifies the life of a fascist whore? How about: At least “Springtime for Hitler” was funny? Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famous anthem “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” must reprise 10 times throughout “Evita,” probably because Lloyd Webber knows it’s the only decent melody he’s ever written.

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