It had to happen--people were clamoring for it to happen--so here it is, the music of the trite.
Joel Schumacher’s decadent, unabashedly over-the-top movie version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s equally audacious “The Phantom of the Opera,” is now reverberating like a cowbell through theaters. It’s about as far removed from Rupert Julian’s 1925 silent classic as it could be, but that’s no surprise. So goes the culture.
As written by Schumacher and Webber, this ripe, molten bodice-ripper features sets so heroically lavish, they often do the movie a favor, detracting from the muddy lip-synching, Webber’s intrusive, repetitious score, the awkward way the characters weave in and out of song and dialogue--often mid-sentence--and the shaky structure that frames this bastardization of Gaston Leroux’s story.
While no fan of “Phantom” will go to the movie seeking subtlety or nuance, even the most diehard aficionados might be struck dumb by the sheer level of the crescendo and camp Schumacher achieves here. Indeed, there are moments when the movie is brought to such a heaving, crashing pitch, it seems as if the roof might blow off the movie house. Restraint is forbidden here—hell, restraint is damned into submission--so parts of the movie naturally offer up guilty moments of jaw-dropping fun.
But only parts. Beginning in 1919 but set mostly in 1870, the film follows the mysterious phantom of the Paris Opera Populaire (Gerard Butler), a disfigured, caped cellar dweller who covets beautiful young Christine (Emmy Rossum) through a glass darkly, though she doesn’t know it.
A talented soprano, Christine is on the verge of falling in love with the wealthy Vicomte Raoul de Chigny (Patrick Wilson) when the Phantom, in a jealous snit, decides to make a pest of himself. He kidnaps Christine, he drops a chandelier on an audience when it suits him, he murders men at will, he beats his chest with brio--and, in the process, he helps to make Christine a star. He’d be perfect in the WWE.
Throughout, the performances are as uneven as the music. Butler’s Phantom looks good behind the mask, but his voice can’t soar into the stratosphere asked of it. Rossum is a highlight, possessing the sort of presence that suggests she’ll do fine as her career extends into better movies. Less promising is Wilson, who is too dull and generic to ignite a fire with Rossum, and Miranda Richardson as Madame Giry, who is saddled with the sort of thick, rubbery old-age makeup that looks as if they dipped her face in pancake batter and decided to call it good.
That said, you have to hand it to Minnie Driver as the Italian diva, Carlotta. In an effort to give the movie a measure of life, Driver throws herself to the wolves with the sort of raw, jumpy performance that would have suggested counseling is in her future if it weren’t obvious she was having so much fun. Her approach to the material is just right. Why try to be sane in a production so obviously insane? Here, she exists purely to mince, pout, scream, claw. Some will be grateful for the effort.
W I I W I N!