The film is, it must be admitted, burdened with a nearly overwhelming sentimentality, but, because it is also fairly sorrowful and Charity is such a quirky, likeable character, Fosse actually manages to make such excesses work. The viewer is, consequently, able to engage with the movie's protagonist and entangle himself in the various adventures in which she becomes involved. He sees that Charity's dreams are unlikely ever to be realized, but he also smiles when he sees how the character never succumbs to the harshness of the world's realities. While Charity's exuberance may often keep the viewer from noting the sense of melancholy that runs through the film, it is always there, even if not overtly, and always reappears clearly without too much delay. Sweet Charity is often maudlin, but the director does not present a candy-coated vision of life.
Undoubtedly, Sweet Charity's best moments are its musical numbers. I will concede that I have never been enthralled by Fosse's style of choreography, or by the way he prefers that songs be sung, but, even so, I did enjoy every routine in the movie. The series of dances performed in a nightclub which Charity visits with Vittorio (Ricardo Montalban), an Italian movie star, each of which is given a name displayed as a subtitle at the beginning of the number, are especially well done and a real joy to watch. They are hardly the film's only accomplished routines, however. In another, for example, a star struck Charity expresses her joy at the way Vittorio dotes upon her after he has invited her to dine with him in his vast and elegant apartment. In a third, she revels in Oscar's love by dancing and goose-stepping through the streets of New York dressed in a brilliantly red majorette's uniform in the company of a marching band, and, in a fourth, Big Daddy (Sammy Davis Jr.), an outlandish hippy preacher, sings and cavorts wildly with his stoned congregation. The list goes on and on. Even if none of the numbers are either particularly sensitive or inspired, all are tremendously fun to watch. In fact, the movie is absolutely filled with joyous, lively, and colorful songs and dances that are sure to amuse and delight the viewer.
Finally, I should note that while I am not a great admirer of Shirley MacLaine's work, she really does excel in Sweet Charity. She gives her sad but hopeful character such life, such an awkward, inelegant charm, that the viewer is quickly involved in the young woman's world and made to feel her joys, her love of life, and the truly sorrowful realities of her existence.
Sweet Charity is a genuinely pleasant movie. It is far from perfect, but it is well worth watching.
Review by Keith Allen
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