Les Miserables Adds One Miserable One to Its Audience (Not Me)

Here’s my journey with Les Miserables. I originally read the book in French in college. I loved it. Victor Hugo’s way of describing a situation just took my breath away. (I highly recommend checking out the book.) It is lush with detail and description, as books of that age were, and I have fond memories of the scenes playing out in my head as Hugo wrote them.

Then, when I first saw Les Miserables onstage, I was somewhat stunned and shocked at how much they endeavored to get onstage in such a short time. Of course, when you are condensing a massively intricate book into a few hours of stage time, some thing are going to have to go. So, I mourned them, but I cried throughout watching the show. At the big rousing number at the end, I was on my feet with the rest of the crowd, crying and singing along. It remains one of my most treasured theatre experiences.

Now, we get to the movie. And I have heard many rumblings from various people and critics. This one today prompted me to write this review:

http://themattwalshblog.com/2012/12/28/les-miserables-taught-me-how-to-hate-again/

It all really seems to boil down to this. If you are an avid reader and/or an avid theatregoer, preferably one who loves musicals, preferably one who loves and/or has seen this musical,  you’re going to enjoy the movie. A lot.

This poor man was way out of his element, and frankly, I don’t know why his wife didn’t just leave the poor sod at home.

Here’s what the experience of the movie was for me.

First, the whole “they’re singing live” is really, truly groundbreaking. For me, it was one of the most exciting things about the movie. It really was like combining the best elements of the play with the conventions of filming a movie. Maybe average theatregoers (like our Mr. Walsh) can’t understand that, but it’s truly a big big deal.

Let me explain a bit more. One of the greatest things about live theatre is that you are right there. If the actor forgets a word or is a bit off-key, it’s real. It’s in the moment. It’s life, it happens. In our saturized, prepackaged worlds of perfection (TV, film, magazines), all of that has been airbrushed out, sweetened, autotuned, so that ALL we have are sappy singers who can’t sing but with a few turns of a button they sound fantastic. ****COUGHTaylorSwiftCOUGH*****

And here we have a musical with VERY difficult songs, and the actors are singing them right there. What you see is what you get. And, I might add, NEVER been done before. Never, in any musical ever filmed. What it produced, for me, was a really stunning work of film that moved me nearly as much as the musical version. And that, for me, has never happened before (I usually always prefer the stage version).

A lot of people made fun of Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter (saying they were out of place in the film). Well, this segment of the musical (which of course is nonexistent in this fashion in the book), is meant as comic relief. Every musical has to have some comic relief, or it’ll be dreadfully dreary. Especially this one.

In the musical, these two characters were the most fun, and were one of my favorite moments of the production. Their song was light and airy and funny. However, the movie lays bare the truth of how they are picking pockets and bamboozling people, and up close like that, it’s really not so funny. These two actors, precisely because of their quirks and known peccadillos, are absolutely perfect for these two roles. But these parts were not my favorite parts of the movie.

The “obligatory tragic love story” as the man wrote is, indeed, there. And yes, in movies, and even moreso in movie musicals, the whole love thing is a glance across a room. This is nothing new. The whole Sharks-Jets war was fought over Tony spying Maria for a moment at a dance, too. Falling in love, according to this theory, happens the moment you see someone. You know it instantly, and there it is. Now this magic occurrence doesn’t happen for everyone, you may never know it in a lifetime, but certainly those who’ve experienced it describe it this way.

Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne, while not standard movie choices for these parts, perhaps, were just wonderful, both of them.

The average moviegoer review I referred to commented how Inspector Javert and Jean Valjean have their fight in “one neighborhood.” I’m not sure where the fault is with this. That Americans don’t know the difference between the city of Paris and a suburb of Paris or a city far in the country? Dunno. It’s QUITE clear in the book that they traverse many miles of distance in their battles. Even in the stageplay, it’s clear that there is a chase at hand.

But let me just clarify a bit. When Jean Valjean leaves Inspector Javert at the beginning, he has traveled FAR to get away from him. You see him on a mountaintop in the movie, whereas he was originally in Paris. OK? That’s far. So far away that he becomes another man, with another name.  So much so that when Javert sees him, he doesn’t recognize him. He has heard of his fame and benevolence, and doesn’t connect the esteemed mayor before him with the lowlife convict he is chasing. Actually, I would have to check again, but I believe in the book, it’s a short visit to this town, and then back to Paris.

Valjean travels back to Paris to give away his identity AND to take care of Cosette. When he finds her and realizes he can’t leave her, they flee, but it is again to the country. So there is a bit of chasing going on, which you really have to know the book or the musical to fully realize. Also, in the movie, when Valjean realizes that Javert is again on to him, he mentions to Cosette that they have to flee again. He mentions another home they have in another city. But this was in French, so maybe it flew past our poor beleaguered audience member.

As far as Russell Crowe’s singing (and portrayal of Javert)… I was glad it was Russell Crowe. I can’t imagine anyone else in movies who both sings and can stand toe to toe with Hugh Jackman in a menacing way. That said, he was the one weak link in the movie to me. He just wasn’t mean enough. You really have to feel Javert’s meanness to your core, and he was way too nice. Also, you have to really know two things about Javert: One, he takes pity on no one, ever; two, he is a soldier who lives and dies by his rules (one of his rules being that he takes pity on no one, ever). If you don’t understand this about him (and Crowe really didn’t convey that), you won’t understand with full gravity why he does what he does late in the second act. But as a good soldier, he feels he has absolutely no other choice. The song is supposed to explain it, and the cinematography goes a long way toward this, but… still…

People have also taken issue with Tom Hooper’s direction (especially the continued use of close-ups). Here’s what it is. He filmed the stage musical, nearly exactly. There was very little of the magic that you look to a film director for. A new take on it, an inspired way of staging, etc. It was just the musical, straight-up. As close as possible. And, in that context, the close-ups on the actors, singing their solos kinda makes sense. It may be, and is, annoying to an audience expecting the distance of a movie; but if you are only expecting “the movie version” of the musical, you’ll be fine.

I’ve been saving for last the things about this movie I loved the most.

I want to give credit to all the technicians: the costumers, the makeup artists, the set designers, who made this version of 1800s Paris look as gritty and dirty and loathsome as it probably was.

But the gems of this movie to me were two people.

First, the luminous and amazing Anne Hathaway. She has one big number, and she is phenomenal in it. I am among the chorus of people who truly believes she is looking at an Oscar for this performance. I was sobbing at the end of her song (like many, I am sure). Sadly, she’s not in much of the movie (as she wasn’t in much of the play).

But the real, true revelation to me of the movie was Hugh Jackman. I’ve long admired him as an actor. And a singer. And a stage showman. He’s won an Emmy for his hosting of the Tony, but that’s about it for awards for this man. Well, that has to stop.

Of all the people who had really the weight of this movie on their shoulders, it was mostly Hugh Jackman. Of the people who would cause the whole “we’re going to sing it LIVE!” concept to sink or swim, it rested with Hugh Jackman. And because he is so knock-it-out-of-the-park awesome in this role, I truly believe that not only will he chalk up his first (so well-deserved) Oscar nomination for this role, but I think he’s going to muscle aside the current favorite, Daniel Day-Lewis, for it.

Singing and dancing is tough. But carrying every scene (nearly), going from scruffy convict to esteemed mayor (convincingly), to father caring for his child–it’s just incredible to watch. And the songs he performs (to perfection!) along the way. It’s truly a tour de force. Added with that, the fact that not only has he never won, he’s never been nominated, I really believe Jackman is going to walk away with the Best Actor Oscar this year.

Boy, is that going to piss that dude off! heh

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