Film — The Phantom Of The Opera (PG-13)

The Phantom Of The Opera (PG-13)

by Amy Diaz

An “angel of music” appears to an incredibly naive young woman in a Paris opera house, circa 1890, leading to all sorts of tragic trouble in the great big musical Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera.

This movie is big, real big. Big gestures, big costumes, big hammy acting — let there be no mistake, the characters in this movie believe subtlety is for wussies.

Take the Phantom (Gerard Butler). Aside from an itchy-looking skin condition on about half his face, he’s got all the bluster and swagger of Rhett Butler — a singing humorless Rhett Butler. He flutters about the giant gilded opera house in Zorro-like capes, sweeping down to watch the behind-the-scenes goings-on of the ballet dancers and opera singers. Occasionally, he cuts a rope or switches a voice lubricant to help better position his protégée and dream girl Christine Daae (Emmy Rossum) as the house’s star. This means thwarting the career of the melodramatic Italian diva Carlotta (Minne Driver), a showily-accented figurine of a girl who cries with Mexican-soap-opera tragedy at the thought of going on stage in an ugly hat.

Christine on the other hand is a delicate little china doll of a beauty. Her soft brown curls and her ivory skin make her an instant object of male attention, a lucky thing for her because she is almost painfully stupid. It seems that on his deathbed her father promised to send her an angel of music to watch and guide her. When she moves to the opera house as a young girl, such a creature actually begins calling to her, giving her a warm feeling of protection and voice lessons. The “angel” turns his charge into a rare jewel of a vocal talent and, when he succeeds in sidelining Carlotta, Christine is perfectly able to show off her talents.

Her success captures the attention of the theater’s new patron, Viconte Raoul de Chigny (Patrick Wilson), a childhood sweetheart who wants to become something a little more adult and a little less sweet to the clearly easy-to-sell Christine. He romances her but his overtures don’t compare with the “Angel of Music,” who whisks Christine down into his lair where he, uhm, sings to her. A lot. And then she faints.

There’s no sex like musical theater sex.

The Phantom is not everybody’s favorite guy, of course. In addition to Raoul, who doesn’t like so much that his girl has a yen for a masked cape-wearer who leaves skull-encrusted notes for everyone, the theater’s owners rather resent that this shadowy figure wants to weild so much control over the business end of the opera. (The Phantom, come to think of it, is sort of like a smart but pushy studio head, always suggesting cast changes and demanding the production of his own iffy opera.) In fact, the only person other than Christine who seems to feel some sympathy for the phantom is the head of the ballet, Madame Giry (Miranda Richardson). All her murmured comments and sideways glances hint that she has some insight into the Phantom’s identity.

I am not knee-jerk opposed to musicals. Their out-sized scale, their improbability (when was the last time a discussion with your boyfriend ended in a dance number?), their spectacle — done right these things can all be charming, enchanting and exactly the kind of fantasy you go to the movies for.

Done right.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera is the Harlequin romance novel of opera — it’s big and gaudy and full of heaving bosoms and waists encased in brocade-covered corsety things. It’s the 12-year-old-girl version of romance writ large and set to some rather achingly baroque pop-icized classicalish music.

And the music is at least as big and showy as the sets it wafts through. Webber has found a perfect playmate in Joel Schumacher, a man who clearly scoffs at the words “too much.” I think the story and visual style are best described in the scene where the Phantom, having put a nightgown-clad Christine in a boat on the underground lake (which, if you think about it, is essentially the sewer), is leading her to his lair. As he caterwauls about his obsession with her and tells her why she should give herself (career, body, soul, big hair, whatever) to him, they float closer to his hideaway and ornate candelabras rise out of the water. Lit. Candles rise out of the water lit.

Yeah, this movie is like that.

- Amy Diaz

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