Madonna once said that she was born to play the role of Eva Pern in "Evita." Well, she's probably right. Who could have pictured Meryl Streep or Michelle Pfeiffer, who were both considered for the role, doing the tango or singing "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" on the balcony of the Casa Rosada?
Perhaps the most surprising performance in the highly anticipated movie, however, is given by Antonio Banderas, who plays narrator Ch Guevara. Charming and strikingly handsome, Banderas sings with intensity and passion. The Spanish actor even brings a little lightheartedness to the film with his humorous facial expressions.
Jonathan Pryce, who plays Argentine president Juan Pern, should also be commended for his acting and soothing singing voice. He comes across as a gentle man and has a likable presence on screen.
Filmed in Argentina, Hungary, and England, the two-hour, 15-minute film opens with Eva's death in 1952 and then flashes back to 1926 when she was a girl living in poverty. Evita, an illegitimate child, would grow up to be not only accepted by the middle class, but adored by the people who once snubbed her. But sadly, Argentina's first lady would never be accepted by high-society types because they believed she used men to obtain power.
So, can Madonna act? Yes and no. Since the entire movie is sung, it is difficult to get a feel for her acting. Some scenes are reminiscent of her music videos. She certainly has matured as an actress and a performer, but it would be interesting to see if she could pull it off as a serious actress without the singing. As far as the dancing goes, she nails the tango like a pro, and she sings more confidently than ever.
The Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber score is impressive with its lush orchestrations and powerful choruses. The music provides strength to many scenes that might otherwise be uninspiring. This is especially true when the people are mourning the loss of their beloved first lady. These scenes are chilling to watch as the people of Argentina cry over the death of Evita while loud orchestrations play over thunderous chants.
Some scenes, however, lack depth. Compared with a recent television show on Evita's life, the movie only touches the surface of her struggles, such as her poverty-stricken childhood and the rejection and hurt she faced as an aspiring actress. Some details were left out as well. For instance, despite her confident appearance, Evita was afraid to sleep alone at night. The musical glosses over these interesting facts and moves quickly to her successful life as Latin America's most powerful woman. Viewers may wonder if they have received the full story. So many myths surround Evita, it's difficult to say.
But the film flows well and makes clear why Evita was so special to her country. She brought its people hope and excitement. She was supremely elegant in demeanor and dress, wearing tailored suits, lavish furs, expensive jewelry, and elaborate hairstyles. "They need to adore me. So Christian Dior me," Evita sings with grace. "They need their escape, and so do I."
It's been said that Evita's greatest fear was to be forgotten. But after a successful Broadway musical in 1978 and a major motion picture, the woman who once was, and still is, beloved by Argentinians, is perhaps more celebrated now than ever.
* Evita' is rated PG. It contains profanity and some sexual innuendo.