In my favorite movie musical, The Apple, a 1980 crapsterpiece about a future dystopia (1994!) where an innocent folk-singing Adam-n-Eve duo named Alphie and Bibi find themselves enslaved by a record industry Satan in exchange for superfame, a lot of dazzling stuff goes down. They go to Hell for a big Rocky Horror-style number, they wind up in a cave with hippie refugees, they have a baby, they get lost in a 1979 disco-orgy and then God shows up in a huge limousine and drives them up to Heaven. Each one of these incidents is a big musical number, by the way. There's barely any actual dialogue. You just go with it and let the songs string it all together into what you hope will become a coherent narrative. It never does, but who cares. It's an opera somebody dreamed up on Quaaludes and wrote on a napkin and then lost in the cushions of a bongwater soaked couch and it's great.

Les Miserables was not written on a napkin. It was written by Victor Hugo and it took him several million pages to fit it all into a book. Then some guys read the Cliffs Notes and decided to write loudmouth songs to fit those highlights with very little connective tissue in between holleratings. Within the first six numbers (in a musical containing 666 of them) the most beloved heroine of the story, Fantine (Anne Hathaway), has lost her job, her teeth, her hair, her prostitute-trainee badge and her life, but not before she sings the weepiest, most maddeningly catchy Susan Boyle song in the world. And by the 666th song, the second French revolution has exploded and former prisoner Hugh Jackman has broken parole and been chased across time by a huffing and puffing and singing Russell Crowe and Fantine's daughter Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) has grown up and married rich-boy revolutionary Eddie Redmayne mere moments after all his friends get shot and killed and then they all sing that song about the glorious promise of tomorrow and it's great.

Not good. I didn't say good. I said great. Let's keep those terms friendly but not intimate. They don't need to make out or get married.

Good is when the camera isn't always forcing you to count an actor's face-pores. Good is when performances aren't heaving themselves at you like your lap contains the last bit of oxygen the movie has to steal and suck up its nose (in the brief seconds when the camera isn't crowding it for space). Good is being able to understand the words of songs because Hugh Jackman isn't vibrato-ing them into meaningless mush and howling pain. Good is something other than directorial whiplash. Good doesn't live here.

Great, though, that's another thing. Like with the admittedly ruinous The Apple, great is mysterious. Its logic is inscrutable. It's entirely subjective. It hits you where you're vulnerable. Great is when ridiculousness and hammy everything and baffling choices coagulate and spawn another kind of monster altogether. Great is when those damn catchy songs, the ones designed to make you cry about dreaming dreams and standing tall and loving the one you can't have are blasted through giant teeth and wet mouths and pummel you with huge waves of noise until you learn to surf their way.

Great is about a feeling. It's the force that causes you to vibrate with unexplainable happiness after you survive this grimy three-hour spectacle of unhinged melody that makes almost no sense. Great is what happens when you let go and stop caring. Everything's all right after that. Good is a dream that dreams a dream about some other movie. Good is for when tomorrow comes.

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