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Movie review-Les Miserables

Yes, I realize this is massively late. I saw the movie back in March and its Oscar season has already come and gone. It's just that I've been in a slump for a month and I've got some energy right now, so I figure I better get as much catch-up blogging done as I can while it lasts.

I know there are people who consider the show practically a religious experience and treat the songs with a reverence that they are clearly asking for, but in my opinion do not deserve.

Let me start by saying that I've never actually seen a stage production of the show or read the book. Pretty much everything I know comes from Zeitgiest and twenty odd years of hearing the songs done in Karaoke and elsewhere. The first time I heard "Bring Him Home" was on Barry Manilow's Showstoppers album. I first heard Stars sung by a KJ named Billy the first week or so I was hanging out at the Mint. Without context, I definitely had some strange impressions of what was going on. For instance, I always thought the line, "And though I know that he is blind," in On My Own was meant to be literal. (I also somehow thought the singer was singing about Jean Valjean, rather than a different character.)

When I was growing up, the idea of a "cult" musical was typified by Mack and Mabel and Follies. Shows that had rabid followings and passionate devotion to the Original Cast Albums, but were considered failures due to short runs and financial issues. Jonathan Schwartz, the DJ on WNEW 1130AM in New York would devote hours to his whispery odes to Mack and Mabel and play the songs.

I think we all know how financially successfull Les Miz has been....so how does THAT signify a cult?

Now I've seen it...I still don't get it. For one thing....it really is miserable. That was the most forced attempt I've seen at any kind of an "uplifting" or "happy" ending since I saw Boogie Nights and Muriel's Wedding in the same week or so and was consumed with rage at the bullshit endings of both. I'm sorry the ending doesn't work as "happy" either dramatically or historically.

I was not moved by the story. I didn't care. I didn't cry. I certainly didn't worked up over poor Anne Hathaway and her close-up mucus because of course she's still Anne Hathaway and they couldn't mess her up enough to make the degradation believable. In fact, all I could think was, hey, if you're going to become a prostitute anyway, you might as well hang on to the teeth and hair, so you can make a better living at it.

OK, I did get a little sniffly during her appearance in Valjean's death scene. That was a nice moment.

Russell Crowe wasn't half as bad as expected, and I thought he did what he needed to do vocally. The fact that he wasn't emoting as hard as Hugh Jackman actually made him more sympathetic and let me tell you folks, it's been a long time since I found Russell Crowe sympathetic in anything....let's say it was before LA Confidential. That long ago. Jackman's vibrato was just unpleasant, but of course the part is nearly unplayable because the motivation is rubbish.

I was also unmoved by the young lovers plot. All of their "dialogue" and music made think it was time for a Nelson Eddy/Jeanette MacDonald revival. What is "Do You Hear The People Sing" but a rehash of "Stouthearted Men?" Anyway, I wanted to slap freckle-face boy and send Amanda Seyfried back to Mamma Mia where she could sing better songs and be happy. I did definitely catch the slash vibes between freckle-faced boy and his friend who wanted him to (ahem) man the barricades instead of running off after blondie, but I still think there could be more potential in the hate!sex thing that Javert and Valjean have going on, simply because it is two Aussie hunks who generally spend more time shooting people or beating them up than singing...at least in movies. I do greatly respect Jackman's stage work, especially Boy from Oz.

The girl who sang On My Own was good, but there may be no song in the Karaoke pantheon of tedium that I am more sick of, so her rain-soaked theatrics were lost on me.

I did like "Master of the House" and I was happy that the Thernardiers were the true survivors of the piece. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter were perfect in the roles, although MAYBE a little too perfect since especially HBC could have been parachuted in directly from Sweeney Todd, although allow me to say that Boublil et al are not even remotely near the talent of Sondheim. I've always considered them second rate Andrew Lloyd Weber and ALW is a second rate Oscar Hammerstein.

I also did not shed the slightest tear when Gavroche bit the big one. Sorry, guys. If you are trying to evoke emotion by killing a child, you have got the wrong reviewer.


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 31st, 2013 08:11 pm (UTC)
I adore Les Mis, and everything else is a fair cop, especially if you spend a lot of time in karoke bars. I agree that "Master of the House" is one of the best scenes in the film.

I do end up judging people if they don't get a little teary during Jean Valijean's death scene. And it actually worked better in the film than in the stage production. Having the Bishiop instead of Eponine works a whole bunch better.

"Do You Hear the People Sing?" is better than "Stout-Hearted Men."
Mar. 31st, 2013 08:56 pm (UTC)
Karaoke does not do a great service to the show and vice versa. The number of people who THINK they can sing those songs as opposed to the number who actually can....not a good ratio.
Mar. 31st, 2013 08:32 pm (UTC)
I saw it in London's West End with Sam and neither of us got it. The performers did a nice job, but OGL the storyline was so depressing, I just did not get it, it is nice to see someone else who agrees. I had no desire to see the film version, I did not want to go through that misery again.

Thanks for the recap!
Mar. 31st, 2013 08:59 pm (UTC)
Exactly. I realize it's technically an operetta, rather than a Musical Comedy, but the sheer lack of joy in any of the scenes or characters is a major problem.
Mar. 31st, 2013 09:10 pm (UTC)
I saw it on Broadway and didn't like it at all and I generally love musicals. Didn't care for the music, thought the whole thing was boring. The movie preview looked good and then I remembered how much I disliked the show, LOL, so I haven't seen it yet. Maybe I'd like the movie better though.
Mar. 31st, 2013 09:15 pm (UTC)
I don't mind a bit of darkness in my musicals, at least the way Sondheim does it, but Les Miz is just so bleak and sort of refuses to acknowledge it.
Mar. 31st, 2013 10:13 pm (UTC)
I'm going to hazard a guess that the show is a tad dated or the translation to film, no matter how well done, didn't generate the electricity that the theatre performance did. I saw Les Miz around 1989 in San Francisco on its national tour. When the curtain came down on the final act the audience wouldn't stop applauding and I was in tears, along with many others. And it wasn't the plot. Half the time I couldn't hear the words. It was experiencing those beautiful songs live while they were still relatively new. The music and the emotion built on itself as the evening progressed. I don't know, it really touched me. After that, I could never get through the cast recording without a cathartic cry. Because it was such a one of a kind experience, I chose to pass on the movie.
Apr. 1st, 2013 06:04 pm (UTC)
I think it may very much be a "you had to be there," kind of thing and as someone mentions in a comment down thread, it also has to do with when you first saw it.
Mar. 31st, 2013 11:46 pm (UTC)
I'm just going to give my responses in point form *g*

- the movie is just... really, really not the musical. Not to say that you would necessarily care for the musical either, given what I know about your reactions to Teh Angst, but the movie for me was the definition of 'hot mess'

- although I did think Anne H did a good job, for a not really singer. I have no idea who she is or isn't, though.

- I was greatly amused at your reaction to On My Own in context

- I hate Hugh Jackman with the fire of a thousand suns, so that was no saving grace for me. I tried to keep an open mind, but as soon as he started overemoting in his first big soliloquy I was done. He ruined Boy From Oz, and quite frankly made me want to slap him sideways with his almost insultingly swishy all-camp interpretation. His voice is pure Broadway show tune with no true depth, and his acting 90% ham. I also found Russell Crowe dead behind the eyes (although I don't actually mind him in general), and let's face it, anyone going up against Philip Quast... can't.

- I am totally with you on the Thernadiers, though, including the transplant over from Sweeney Todd. I genuinely enjoyed them, apart from the WTFing over the French accent *g*

Tl;dr - when MARIUS is the high point of Les Mis, there's a serious, serious problem.
Apr. 1st, 2013 06:08 pm (UTC)
Even people I know who LOVE the book and/or the movie really arent' crazy about Marius.

Considering that they seem to have carried all the recitative directly over from the musical, I don't see how it could be that different, but I will take your word for it.

I think that the "dead behind the eyes" thing did sort of work for Crowe's Javert. I couldn't help thinking of all Javert references the House fandom threw around during the Tritter arc (and your awesome Tritter fics) and sort of imagined David Morse in the part as well.

I think the problem with Fantine is just built into the conception, because how filthy and degraded can you allow your ingenue to be, and Anne Hathaway. is NOTHING if not pure ingenue, even more than Amanda Seyfried, which is saying something.
Apr. 1st, 2013 08:24 pm (UTC)
Considering that they seem to have carried all the recitative directly over from the musical, I don't see how it could be that different, but I will take your word for it.

While I'm sure you don't care *g*, they actually changed some of the recitative (unnecessarily) into speaking (ie completely different dialogue), added more dialogue on top of that, added a (terrible) new song, cut a heap of lyrics here and there, and actually changed the order of songs around as well. They even altered lines that changed the emphasis of what was being said (like at the end it becomes All About Valjean's love for Cosette and how it changed him... no). Les Mis has a certain structure that holds it together, and they pretty much destroyed that.

Short example: The original Bohemian Rhapsody vs some kid singing a 90 second compressed version on American Idol, changing some of the words around to suit himself. It might still sound pretty good if you don't know the original, but it might hurt if you do. Or you could love both, obviously, which some do. But ow.

Hah - I love the idea of David Morse as Javert. Yes XD
Apr. 5th, 2013 11:14 pm (UTC)
I don't care enough that knowing it would really make me re-think the movie or the show, but I care that you care enough to defend what you love about it.

On the other hand, I know that if Sondheim ever lets them do a movie of Follies and they change a single thing I love about it, or case it in some way I object to, I will CERTAINLY be manning my own barricades in defense of my Follies. (You know how I am about my vision of certain canons.)
Apr. 1st, 2013 01:45 pm (UTC)
I'll admit off the bat that we're coming at this from different angles, because I thought Les Miserables was far and away the best movie of last year and the best movie musical of all time.

That being said, I do wonder, however, if how much anyone adores Les Mis depends on the age when they were introduced? I think everyone who loves it discovered the musical or book in middle school or earlier, when they were young enough to lack cynicism and accept 100% pure emoting. Hugo was the last of the true Romantic authors, before the push towards realism. Even by the time the novel was originally published, after Hugo spent seventeen years writing it, it was already out of fashion in literary circles (although it was adored by the public).

I think, despite all the characters being, well, miserable, it's ultimately a hopeful and cathartic experience. However, I would *never* consider the ending a happy one, nor do I think the musical is suggesting it is a happy ending. Two-thirds of the main characters are dead, two of the few survivors are scum, Cosette has lost her only family, and this was clearly not how Marius intended to spend his wedding night.

Ultimately, the finale reminds me of the Martin Luther King quote that President Obama favors so much: "The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice." The world is better than it once was but not as good as it could be; many people along the way have fought for something better, even when they don't necessarily see their dreams come to pass, and it is worth still hoping and working towards something better "when tomorrow comes."

I'm going to stop now, because I could keep going for days about Les Miserables and likely will never convince you to change your mind. Also, it probably helps that I've never been to a karaoke bar.
Apr. 1st, 2013 06:11 pm (UTC)
I'm impressed by your passion and I do understand that it probably has to do with imprinting on the novel or the show at a certain point in one's life.

Trust me, after a zillion overwrought On My Owns, it's really hard to give a damn about the "real" Eponine, especially since Marius is such a tool. I'm even over the subversive thrill of hearing Diva boys sing it with the possible subtext of a gay man singing about his oblivious male friend.
Apr. 2nd, 2013 02:45 am (UTC)
I had less than no impression of the musical before I saw the movie. I'd heard a few covers of I Dreamed A Dream (Glee, Michael Crawford and I think Susan Boyle - am not sure if I heard her or just got all the hype, honestly). I sort of knew Cosette was Fantine's daughter (maybe mentioned on Glee, not sure) and that there was Valjean and Javert.

I honestly thought I was odd for not finding Russell Crowe awful (of course maybe we both are ;)) considering how much backlash there was against him.

I didn't like Jackman's performance much - he was much better in the OBC recording of The Boy From Oz IMAO and I recommend anything from there if you can find it.

I did think Marius was cute and would slash him.

When my biggest revelation in a movie is "the curly haired guy was on something on TV" (I kept thinking Aaron Tveit - Enjolras, said friend who wanted Marius to man the barricades - was Matthew Gray Gubler and I was like, I'm sure I'd have heard of him being in it... oh he's that guy from Gossip Girl when the credits came up).

I wasn't expecting a happy ending and I did enjoy the movie overall, but I get your annoyances.

Was still happy to see Hugh and Russell in a movie together. Their publicity interviews were a lot of fun.
Apr. 5th, 2013 11:05 pm (UTC)
I don't think ANYTHING could have lived up to the hype, but I doubt the movie would have been made if not for the hype in the first place so...

I Dreamed a Dream is another song that has just been ruined by it's place as a Diva's dream, especially since lyrically it doesn't really suggest the context either.

Although Wicked hasn't produced as many standards, it will be interesting to see if that gets adapted for the screen and what the reaction is, since people seem to have a similar emotional attachment to it.
Apr. 7th, 2013 12:47 am (UTC)
I wonder if it is one of those place and time things? I mean I liked the movie but am not really in the fandom or anything - not that I think I'm really in any fandom per se right now.

It doesn't, no. But it was the one song I knew.

I think Wicked is new enough (see place and time thing) that it might not be quite so difficult. I know it's been in development for years - I was reading that Idina Menzel (who incidentally sang on the Glee version of I Dreamed A Dream) and Kristin Chenoweth are a little old now to play the roles, so there would certainly be casting angst.

I do think Anne Hathaway deserved the Oscar, regardless, though I'll admit to having only seen her of the nominees.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )



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