Maggie McMuffin feels a deep and unshakeable shame for once loving Andrew Lloyd Webber’s campy-but-not-campy-enough Phantom of the Opera.
This fucking movie.
I’m 15 or about to turn 15 when it comes out. I see it three times in theaters. It is a masterpiece to me and gets me really into musical theatre. I am a 15-year-old drama kid who hasn’t yet discovered Rent and decided that that must be the best musical ever.
Phantom leads to Les Mis, leads to Miss Saigon, leads to Cats, leads to all those overblown ‘80s musicals and some of the ones in the ‘90s. I even listen to Aspects of Love, which is a terrible Andrew Lloyd Webber musical but I feel it has some great solos. ‘There is More to Love’ is one of my favorite musical theatre songs to this day.
I’m trying to think of anything I can say about how much I used to love this movie but all I can say is that, in my defense, I was 15 and desperate to sing well. I was frequently involved in love triangles. I worked so hard on school plays that one day I passed out in the bathroom during fourth period from malnutrition. And me and my friends left offerings to the ghost of our cafetorium, who we blamed for the curtain getting stuck, props going missing, odd noises, and that day that the lights turned off and every door in the vicinity slammed shut.
No really. That last one was pretty scary. Non-automatic doors just slamming shut in quick, rhythmic succession? There may be a scientific explanation for it about wind and air pressure but a simpler explanation is just GHOST.
It didn’t take me long to realize how dumb this movie is because the musical it’s based on is dumb. The book the musical is based off of is dumb. Not as dumb as the Susan Kay prequel-sequel-retelling but close.
And yes I read that. I read that and watched multiple shitty adaptations of the original book and god help me I even wrote fan fiction and did roleplaying on Neopets for this.
I was 15. I was entranced by the magic of theatre. Or something.
Loyal readers, feel free to vote on if this is better or worse than my obsession with werewolves. Because this? This isn’t a story a young girl should get wrapped up in unless it’s jokingly. I mean, this is a musical about stalkers and daddy issues. It’s about people tossing an ingénue around and leaving her traumatized. Or more traumatized because Christine is clearly not over her father’s death that happened YEARS AGO. Like, this is a young woman who men need to leave the fuck alone because she’s working through some stuff.
So I’m not expecting much from this movie except to laugh and to still love the supporting cast. Because Minnie Driver playing an opera diva? I am here for that. But mostly I’m thinking about how at 15 it was really exciting to see a 14-year-old playing a lead in a major musical. Now that I’m 25 (I did the rewatch on my birthday and the day after. Seemed fitting to do a retrospect then) all I can think is WHO THOUGHT IT WAS A GOOD IDEA TO CAST A 16-YEAR-OLD IN A FILM WHERE SHE HAS TO MAKE OUT WITH TWO 35-YEAR-OLDS.
WHAT THE FUCK, HOLLYWOOD.
THERE IS META AND THERE IS UNCOMFORTABLE.
Okay. Let’s start this trainwreck.
We open on Black and White Paris in 1919. The movie starts super quiet. It’s a trick so you turn up the volume and then once the overture starts your entire apartment floor knows you’re spending Christmas Eve watching this awful movie.
But before the overture starts we have old man Raoul getting wheeled into the opera house which is…maybe operational again? It looks awful but they mentioned workshops so I don’t know? And there is a Madame Giry there but it’s probably Meg but we don’t know because she never speaks. Her and Raoul have a bidding war over some monkey music box and Raoul wins. I guess he wants it because Christine talked about it once? Even though this prop does not feature in the story in any significant way AT ALL.
Then they lift the chandelier and the overture actually starts AND IT IS ON. WE GOT COLOR. WE GOT LOUD SOUNDS. WE’VE GOT EVERY AUDIENCE MEMBER BEING EAR-FUCKED BY SYNTHESIZERS. REMEMBER MUSICAL THEATRE IN THE ‘80S? WELL YOU FUCKING WILL.
ALSO IT’S 1861 NOW. SO YOU KNOW.
The dust is all blown away and things rebuild themselves and okay this isn’t so bad. But much like the opening credits of Watchmen, everything is just downhill from here.
We sweep through backstage, visually meeting everyone important and totally not important, as the company rehearses for Hannibal, an opera that is sadly about the historical figure and not an adaptation of Bryan Fuller’s brilliant TV show.
The old manager interrupts to say that rumors of him leaving are true, here are his replacements, he’s going to Australia. Things get sabotaged. The Phantom sends a letter saying hi to the new managers, demanding money, and requesting his private box be left open as always. Carlotta, played with great ham by Minnie Driver, throws multiple tantrums.
I am…unsure what to call how Carlotta is portrayed. Is it old school racist against Italians? Because she speaks fractured ‘English’ (in quotes because technically these characters are speaking French) in a heavy accent. What’s weird is the one line we hear her speak on stage, unsung, is very precise and perfect. But a lot of things about Carlotta don’t make sense. Like why everyone seems to think she’s a bad singer but she’s been the lead soprano for five seasons. Or why people put up with her if she’s apparently untalented. She’s not. She’s maybe not the best actor or the most grounded performer but she’s not bad.
But it doesn’t matter because Madame Giry is like ‘hey, my almost daughter can sing’ and the manager are like ‘she’s very pretty’ (actual line) and she does. And…wow. I remember Emmy Rossum’s voice being much better. Like it’s not terrible. She’d do fine at karaoke. But this is not the voice of someone who could play Christine on stage let alone someone who should be playing any character who can believably carry an opera.
But what do I know. Christine is a hit. At the premiere Raoul, dashing patron of the opera, recognizes her from their childhood. They were sweethearts.
Meanwhile the Phantom, having earlier mentioned he has a private box at all shows, is listening to Christine from the sewers because that makes sense.
Later on he abducts her with help from Madame Giry. Earlier Madame Giry wouldn’t let the managers near her daughter or Christine but the creepy recluse who lives in the basement and has been giving her voice lessons because Christine thinks he’s a literal angel? Oh that’s fine.
Here we hit one of the big changes from the stage version. In that one Madame Giry knew who the Phantom was and she delivered letters but she wasn’t so complicit in things. Here she’s leading Raoul into traps and locking Christine in rooms. It’s not a good change by any means. On the other hand, we get Miranda Richardson playing her and a fun game is to take a shot every time you can see her regretting the life choices that led her to being in this film.
Anyway, after Christine has given her best friend Meg exposition about the Angel of Music and how even though he father died years ago (I’m gonna guess 7-10 years prior to this) she fully believes his death bed promise of sending an angel to watch over her. Because when she got here there was this voice coming out of the walls and then it started giving her voice lessons and isn’t this great?
Meg, played by some Australian actress who is really committed to making Meg as aggressively doll like as possible, tells Christine that’s banana town.
Christine also tells Raoul about the angel and his reaction is ‘cool story, babe, let’s get dinner’. He won’t take no for an answer and while he goes to get the car, the Phantom shows up in a mirror and chastises Christine. She is obviously frightened so he relaxes her by…hypnotizing her with his voice?
I don’t know. There’s suddenly smoke. Christine has changed into a sheer dressing gown for some reason. She goes all blank faced and walks super slowly as he sings to her. Raoul bangs on the locked door as this happens and she doesn’t notice.
AND THEN WE GET THE THEME SONG AND A TRAVEL MONTAGE.
WALL SCONCES SHAPED LIKE ARMS.
WIND BLOWING THROUGH THE UNDERGROUND.
THERE’S A HORSE. THE HORSE LEADS TO A BOAT.
CHRISTINE’S HAIR HAS GOTTEN BIGGER AND SHE’S SUDDENLY WEARING MORE EYE MAKEUP.
THERE ARE GREEK STATUES BUILT INTO THE SEWERS.
CHRISTINE’S GOWN SPLITS OPEN, REVEALING ALL THE LEG AND ALSO THAT SHE IS WEARING WHAT APPEAR TO BE MODERN THIGH HIGH STOCKINGS.
CANDLES ON THE FLOOR.
CANDLES ON THE WALLS.
CANDLES RISING FROM THE WATER ALREADY LIT.
GOT THAT BITCH SOME CANDLES. BITCHES LOVE CANDLES.
We dock. The Phantom sings ‘Music of the Night’ and again, Gerard Butler isn’t a terrible singer but oh man it is clear he’s a smoker and had no vocal training before this film. But he is trying so hard. And I guess if Emmy Rossum also can’t sing as well as someone in this role should at least they match?
Too bad Patrick Wilson is better than both of them, being the Tony nominee and all. But he’s still a weird choice because the musicals he’s done are nothing like Phantom stylistically. But I don’t care because I would tap that and also this has given us a film where you can imagine King Leonidas and Nite Owl fighting over a lady.
Anyway. The Phantom sings his big song and Christine is all hypnotized (you can tell because she’s slack jawed and her eyeliner gets even thicker) and he shows her around.
LOOK MY CANDLES.
LOOK COVERED MIRRORS.
LOOK A DIORAMA OF YOUR PERFORMANCE TONIGHT.
LOOK A REAL DOLL VERSION OF YOU WEARING A WEDDING DRESS.
She passes out and he takes her to a bed shaped like a swan (admittedly quite cool and I want one). It’s pretty creepy but he closes some curtains around her. But then he watches her through them. Creeeeeeeeepy.
Meanwhile, back above ground, Meg is investigating. She’s still in costume for some reason even though it’s clearly hours later. She finds the dressing room empty, a mirror open, and a dark passage. She goes in and the hallway is not full of smoke and fancy candle holders. Just rats and dampness. Her mom finds and stops her and at this point it becomes clear that Meg is the only person to give an actual fuck about Christine’s well being so of course we will be seeing far less of her from here on out.
Back to the sewers, Christine has woken up. Her lip gloss is fresh and her stockings are missing and I remember writing fan fiction in high school to humorously explain this continuity error. I’m guessing it was an error rather than an implication of things I don’t want to think about.
Our fair damsel sings of memory loss and cheerfully goes up to the Phantom and just takes his mask off. He flips out and terrifies her. We get a quick glimpse of the disappointing makeup job of his ‘abhorrent face’ and this is about the time I really start regretting volunteering for this.
We cut back to the future, as this film does several times to show Raoul taking a car ride somewhere and glancing out the window at things that give him vague memories. And I’m just wondering how much money was tanked on putting people in old age makeup, making additional costumes and sets, and shooting these sequences rather than, I don’t know, just editing in a transition?
But I guess there’s a plan for the end which isn’t a good plan but it means there was thought or something. And I’m using ‘thought’ loosely because a lot of things in this movie seem to lack thought and care.
Which reminds me, the characters are doing stuff again.
There’s a sequence where EVERYONE got a letter. CARLOTTA GETS A LETTER. RAOUL GETS A LETTER. MANAGERS GET A LETTER. EVERYBODY GETS A LETTER.
And it’s all demands and junk about Carlotta getting demoted and Christine getting her roles. Carlotta throws a musical tantrum this time and the managers grovel and there’s a whole song about it where Minnie Driver gets to wear a big poofy pink outfit and I love it and nothing in this number makes sense, as I mentioned before. Because if the public prefers Christine and the technicians prefer Christine and the managers prefer Christine and the new patron wants to fuck Christine THEN WHY DO THEY CARE IF CARLOTTA QUITS.
But they do for some reason and she goes on in the lead and this leads to the Phantom crashing the performance, messing with Carlotta’s voice, and killing a dude who followed him and then dropping him onstage while the ballet dancers stall. In the mayhem Christine finds Raoul and is like ‘the roof is safe!’ and they go up there and Christine fills him in on getting abducted and aroused but mostly terrified. And how his sewer home is super dark even though he has a bajillion candles. They declare their love with a duet as the Phantom listens from behind a gargoyle and then gets super pissed when they’ve left. He cries and weeps and whines and then runs up another gargoyle and declares vengeance.
I decide that since this is the act break in the stage version, it’s a good time to take a break. I’m just gonna cleanse my palette and take a break because this movie is bad.
I do not restart the movie for 36 hours. I have other things that are better uses of my time, like it being my goddamn birthday and wanting to do anything other than watch this movie and thinking back to how at 15 I thought this movie was worth seeing in the theater three or four times. Worth paying for even. Speaking of, there’s an issue with my Amazon rental and I have to pay for this thing a second time, unknowingly using up $3.27 off a gift card I redeemed today. That gift card money deserved a better fate.
It’s Christmas now, by the way. I’m spending my last bit of Christmas on this movie.
Now back to the most boring trainwreck ever.
There’s more black and white nonsense before we move on to a masquerade and people saying it’s been three months of peace. Because when a guy who seemingly lives in your theater kills someone and then disappears it’s safe to assume that he’s just gone forever.
Christine and Raoul are engaged now but she doesn’t want anyone to know so she hides a massive ring by putting it on a chain around her neck and letting it fall to just above her cleavage. And then she frenches Raoul on the dance floor anyway. And is every kiss between two French people a French kiss? I think I’ve put more thought into this question than anyone put into this script.
Everyone is wearing masks and costumes that are pretty sweet. Except Madame Giry who threw chopsticks in her hair, a shawl over her shoulders, and is I guess just going as that goth girl who thinks ‘geisha’ is an acceptable Halloween costume. (IT’S NOT.)
Phantom shows up with a fancy new mask that is not as cool as the one from the stage version and a super long cape and says he wrote an opera. He tells Carlotta to learn to act and Piangi to lose weight, which is just…Dude. You cannot complain about the world being rude to you about your little sunburnt face and then body shame a guy in front of all his peers. Not cool, Phantom.
Oh and he also creeps on Christine, says she needs to come back for lessons, and then rips her engagement ring off of her before SMOKE BOMBing out.
Raoul runs back in with a sword and jumps into the trap door Phantom used. He winds up in a room full of spinning mirrors and a noose, which is a reference to the novel. Luckily Madame Giry read the source material because she pops in and gets Raoul out of there. He demands some answers and she tells us the backstory.
When she was ‘very young’ and still in training her and the other ballet students went to a circus show and saw ‘the devil’s child.’ It’s the Phantom, his face gets shown off and he lives in a cage. After people leave he strangles his boss-captor and mini-Giry helps him escape and set up in the basement. But in the walls and junk because I guess getting him a tech job would have been too difficult or something.
Also, this raises one of the most important questions about the cast:
Raoul and Christine were childhood sweethearts.
Madame Giry and the Phantom are childhood murder-accomplices.
Raoul and the Phantom are played by actors of a similar age. Emmy Rossum is way younger than both of them. Miranda Richardson is older.
The ages don’t line up and it bothers me. Because it’s bad enough they tried making the Phantom hot but they could have made him hot and older if that was so important. Because he should be older. He should be like 50-something. Raoul is less of an issue for me but seriously Gerard Butler just had no business being cast as the Phantom. Apparently Hugh Jackman was going to audition but Van Helsing prevented that from happening. I can’t say I’m necessarily upset by that, especially since Jackman would have made a better Raoul, and it wouldn’t have solved the age problem but it’s a parallel universe I would like to visit and I’m sorry, I’m off-track again I just cannot pay attention to this movie. It’s so bad, you guys. It’s so boring. How is this film not campier?
Anyway, we cut back to black and white again and this time Raoul is watching a deer running alongside the road. Deer + arrogant, abusive European geniuses just makes me think ofHannibal and I wonder if we could get the show’s cast to sing songs from the musical version and I am so sorry I keep doing this.
Anyway, Raoul is going to a cemetery. In the past, Christine is also going to a cemetery. She sneaks past Raoul who is asleep by her door and pays some dude to drive her there. While she runs back inside to get dressed the Phantom knocks this dude out and takes his place. Christine, probably distracted by the cleavage she’s sporting in her mourning gear, doesn’t notice. Raoul wakes up as they are pulling away and leaps onto horseback to pursue. He must have hit some red lights because he doesn’t show up until Christine has sung a solo to her father, walked slowly up to his MASSIVE CRYPT (How rich of a composer was he? Clearly not rich enough to leave his daughter money for a therapist), and gets vocally hypnotized by the Phantom again who is now just pretending to be the Angel of Music AND her dad AND also admitting he’s himself and Christine is buying it and walking towards the glowing red gate and she really needs some help. She needs professional help because there are layers to the fucked up going on here.
Anyway, Raoul and the Phantom sword fight. Raoul is gonna kill Phantom but Christine is all ‘not like this’ and they escape back to the opera house because I guess running away just isn’t an option when you’re an aristocrat and that is why they all get killed when revolutions happen.
But now there’s a plan! The plan is to do Phantom’s opera and use Christine as bait! They’ll just make sure the cops are there with guns and it’ll all be fine. Christine has some reservations about this plan. Like if she’ll be safe.
Where is Meg? Meg is Christine’s best friend. They’re like sisters. Look, I know you hate passing the Bechdel Test, Film and Theatre, but this is a case where it makes no sense for the women to not be talking to each other. You cannot give your damaged female lead a best friend she’s known for half her life who lives and works with her and is willing to go down some mystery mirror hallway for her friend and not show her being supportive about a rampaging stalker. At least throw in a line about Christine getting too wrapped up in Raoul to pay attention to her friends or something.
Anyway, there’s an opera. It’s awful. The music is harsh and staccato and the scene leading into the duet does not match up with it. I mean, they set it up like the lead is going to take advantage of this young woman who he will basically trick into sleeping with him. But then the music goes right into a sexy duet, no seduction needed.
They sing the sexy duet. It’s the best singing both Rossum and Butler do the entire film. Phantom sings the duet with Christine because he kills Piangi and takes his place on stage and no one seems to notice this for a while. Which is off since Piangi is round and short and older and Gerard Butler is…not. But whatever. Christine and the Phantom sing unsubtle metaphors, Raoul tears up watching them, no one does anything and then Christine tears off the Phantom’s mask again. We see his face clearly for the first time and it is a letdown. Schumacher directed a Batman film that featured Two Face and those effects were better than this. Did you spend too much money on candles to pay a makeup effects artist? Because that is just some red-red blush thrown over some half assed eyebrow putty.
Phantom abducts Christine again. He drops the chandelier (which really does make more sense as a climax thing than an act break thing), Raoul finds Madame Giry and asks for help. Meg tries to help and Madame Giry tells her to stay back. Meg does and stops other people from following but they form a mob pretty quickly so oh well.Madame Giry leads Raoul down some stairs and then says she can’t go further. He thanks her, walks two steps, and falls through a trapdoor and into a water death trap. We get a sequence of Patrick Wilson in his thin white shirt and tight pants fighting to free himself. And he does!
And I hate this whole thing. It’s a change from the stage musical I do not like. I mentioned Madame Giry just handing Christine to the Phantom but in the stage show she leads Raoul to the edge of the sewer lake and they literally can’t go further but Raoul is like ‘no, I gotta save my lady’ and dives into the water. Because contrary to what a lot of fans of this musical say, Raoul is a goddamn hero.
I mean, aside from making this plan that got us all into this current mess.
Back at the sewer-house, the Phantom has made Christine put on the Real Doll’s wedding gown and is preparing to give her the ring he stole.
YOU’RE GONNA GIVE HER THE RING THAT ANOTHER GUY GAVE HER AND THAT YOU STOLE.
YOU ARE THE WORST.
Christine also says a line that shows ‘marital rape’ has gone on her list of fears but we’re just gonna gloss over that like we gloss over everything. Raoul shows up and the Phantom ties him up and during the next musical sequence of everyone singing at once so you can hardly tell what anyone is saying the Phantom keeps tying Raoul up and it’s almost comedic because it just never stops.
Phantom blackmails Christine. He’ll kill Raoul unless she pledges loves to him. Raoul uses precious air to say that it doesn’t matter if she lets him live because she’ll always love him and not Phantom and I really admire Raoul’s smarm here.
Christine frenches the Phantom and this makes him happy enough to yell at them to go. He also says to not tell anyone about him and I think it’s a bit late for that, dude. You sort of told everyone about you. Multiple times. Through various means. You sort of wrote a terrible opera and made people perform it for you. People know about you, bro.
Christine comes back quickly to give him the ring (I guess if I were her I wouldn’t want it anymore either) and they share looks and then she runs back to get on a boat with Raoul. She looks back and the Phantom sings one last time before smashing all the mirrors and leaving through a secret hallway.
The mob shows up. Meg rushes ahead and finds the Phantom’s main mask. The monkey music box is sitting next to it and Meg doesn’t take any notice of it because that music box isn’t actually important at all.
One last visit to black and white land where Raoul, his driver, and his nun go to Christine’s grave and lay down the music bow. We learn Christine died at the age of 63 and her and Raoul had children. We also learn the Phantom outlived her because there’s a rose on the grave with the engagement ring on it.
Raoul looks around but there’s nothing so he looks back at the rose. The petals grow red and we pan back to it being on a different sort of…is it a film screen? This is how the movie opened up too. It’s like a movie screen but there’s a candle (seriously what is with all the candles) in front of it? It’s a mini movie screen? Or a painting? But it moves?
Oh thank god it’s credits time.
The original song ‘Learn to be Lonely’ plays. It’s sung by Minnie Driver since she didn’t sing in the movie. Because she knew she couldn’t. Just like Simon Callow and Ciaran Hinds knew they couldn’t sing so they spoke-sang their songs and it worked. There are ways around a lack of singing talent but those really work best for supporting comedic roles not leads. Which is why I hope Emmy Rossum and Gerard Butler are never in musicals again.
This movie was a waste of my time and I want to go back in time and shake my past self. The musical isn’t good. The movie isn’t good. Nothing about this is good. But I’ve seen enough bootlegs of Broadway casts having fun with this show to know it can be enjoyable.
The problem with this movie is that it took itself too seriously when really it should have pushed itself. This film was originally planned in 1989 (making it as old as me) with Joel Schumacher still directing because ALW liked The Lost Boys. Basically this movie could have been super ‘80s coke-fueled magic but instead we waited 15 years and got this watered down snooze fest that could put you to sleep even while blaring organs at you. By the time this movie was made, the musical was past its true cultural relevance and the adaptation of it either needed to be perfect and great (which is nigh impossible because, as I’ve said, the musical is not good) or it needed to poke fun at itself. It needed to go full balls out camp. Really push into so bad it’s good territory, which granted is hard to stumble into by accident but you know who has done that?
If he had taken this film to the lengths he took Batman Forever and Batman and Robin this film could have been hilariously bad. One review said that Schumacher used ‘disco overkill’ on this film but that’s not true. A) Phantom of the Paradise exists so we have a point of reference for a disco overkill adaptation of this story, and B) Batman and Robin exists so we have a point of reference for Schumacher’s overkill.This film needed more overkill. But no. Everyone had to complain about Batman and Robin for YEARS. You all had to make jokes about bat credit cards and rubber nipples, breaking Schumacher’s spirit so that he no longer had the confidence to commit to bad ideas. Now he only makes mediocre bad films instead of stunningly bad films. We could have had an awesome mess with this movie and instead we got this slow moving shit fest.
I hope you’re all happy.