Monday, January 21, 2013

REVIEW! Les Misérables: Miserable, But Enjoyable

If there's one thing you must know about me, it's that I love pasta. If there are two things you must know about me, it's that I also love Les Misérables the stage musical (which I shall henceforth refer to with its gangsta abbrev "Les Miz").

Les Miz is my jam. I grew up listening to the soundtrack nonstop. I relish the (repetitive?) melodic themes, the moments when the rhymes don't quite work ("I am warning you Javert / I'm a stronger man by far!" --oh, Valjean). I can sing the final soprano note of "One Day More" so piercingly that all within earshot dash to their stoves to see if they've left a kettle on. I've seen the live show ten or some-odd times -- on Broadway, on tour, when my little sister played Eponine in her summer camp's epic production -- the last of which froze me in a downturned-lipped ugly-cry face for at least two weeks thereafter.

In other words: I'm a fan. Oh, I'm a fan.

So I went to the movie theater today (alone -- I'm not ashamed!) wanting to like the movie. I was prepared to weep openly. I was prepared to hum along to certain songs when the speakers were loud enough to mask it, lest someone throw me out onto the street. I was prepared to move seats several times to avoid the people who kept taking out their blindingly bright cell phones every five minutes, which was impossible, because everybody does this now?

In short, I was prepared to like it. And -- for the most part -- I did! I liked it!!!

I really did! It was not a walk in the park, but it was worth seeing!!

If you care to hear what I thought, please read on! If you don't, well, poop on you!

To start, let's talk ISSUES!


1) It was really, really, really, really heavy.

On a general note, I usually prefer to see films not so chock-full of heaving, dying, pleading, suffering, wet-faced individuals with cracked lips and startlingly small waists (Samantha Barks, WHERE is your ribcage!). In other words, happier films. Maybe something fun could have happened? Like, a game of hop scotch between Gavroche and Little Cosette, even though that would have voided the space-time continuum?

I'm kidding, of course. The story is not-fun, and there's no getting around it. This is France in the 19th century, when shit got DARK. If you don't want to accept that, don't go see the movie.

Because Les Miz is as epic and wrenching as they come. Straying from this conceit would have been unfaithful to the original work. So it's sort of not a real qualm because I can't really imagine the story being told any differently.

2) Movies are much more literal than staged musicals! This made some scenes hard to film!

Many of the epic songs/scenes in Les Miz ("One Day More," the finale) culminate in glorious, communal expressions of Big Themes! Like Freedom, or Love, or Home! These expressions often unfold onstage with the characters gathering together in a glorious, otherworldly, we're-all-in-separate-places-but-somehow-together Limbo Clump!  And they can sing to the rafters about Freedom, or Love, or Home! and watch the audience erupt in a fit of tears!

On screen? Not so much.

On screen, there is no "Limbo Clump" option, unfortunately. Or at least not one that's good? I guess Tom Hooper could film everybody flying up into the sky (like the end of Blades of Glory?) from which they could sing their parts, simultaneously separate and together.

But that would have made zero sense.

3) Les Miz loses something when it's so procedural!

So, like, even though I've seen Les Miz on stage a billion times, seeing the movie made me realize that I don't reeeeeeeeeally know what's happening? Like I know, at certain plot junctures that there's, like, a dude, and he's stuck under a wagon, and then Valjean helps him, and then the dude appears later and helps Valjean, and then Javert keeps appearing? But I don't always know how or why or where anybody is coming from, and it's always like "whoa!"

And I'm weirdly really okay with that?

To me, in the realm of a musical, these plot-device coincidences, run-ins, and fortuitous developments seem more miraculous and less same-old, same-old on stage. I'm not sure why. Maybe because we're not there with Valjean every step of the way, following him down alleys, witnessing his thought process as he's forced to escape over, and over, and over, and over, and over....again. So each time (during the staged musical) something miraculous or suspenseful happens, it's like, "Wow, I didn't expect that?"

Because I didn't always know what was happening in the first place?

in summary, there is a sort of Les Miz stage-plot/Les Miz movie-plot dichotomy. In the Les Miz movie, I understood the plot, because it was spoon-fed to me. Which was good, because I understood it, but bad because it was too procedural.

4) The songs/motifs got sort of redundant. (And I love the music!)

I think this is another stage versus screen problem: I find that, in the hazy, limbo-world of the staged musical, melodic motifs that cycle in and out of a plot have a very grounding effect in the theater, one that provides context in an otherwise murkier, more abstract experience. Whereas, in the Les Miz movie, I always knew exactly what was happening. As such, the returning motifs (be it the Bishop's theme, or "On My Own," or whatevs) seemed at times to be too much of an EXCLAMATION POINT at the end of everything! And I was like, "okay, okay, I get it. You're an honest man. We get it. Stop singing about it."

5) Did I mention it was really heavy? So much death and despair! I guess I never realized how taxing it is to watch a million people suffer and die UP CLOSE? But, also, I'm not complaining; I understood and accepted it, and ultimately was okay with it. I was just like, WHOA. By the end I needed to go and, like, listen to some Miley Cyrus.

6) Russell Crowe. WOW. I'm sorry, but... I can't. I just. Wow. [Scene.]

Okay! Now let's talk AWESOME STUFF!


1) I loved Hugh JackmanI've always been a fan, and he did not disappoint! Way to go, Hugh! Even though you had hair like Susan Boyle* and an occasionally super-grating vibrato, you still made me want to stand up from my seat and cheer! When it comes to leading men, you're the 2-4-6-0-1 for me. (I had to, I just had to.)

Right? Right?
*I must credit little sister Tessa and her friend Casey for making this amazing observation.

2) Anne Hathaway! Whoa! You really made me appreciate just how much Fantine's life sucks!

3) Aaron Tveit! I don't know how to pronounce your last name, but I know how to pronounce your face, which is "it's very beautiful." Okay, that made no sense, but whatever -- Aaron Tveit is a beautiful man with a stunning voice and my GOD could any role be cooler than Enjolras? The answer is no.

4) The little ones, i.e. Gavroche and Cosette! WHERE did they get those little-bitty dirty-faced cutie patooties that I just wanted to squeeze???

5) Samantha Barks! Ribcages be damned! Who needs a ribcage? You were amazing! (Also, did anyone notice that one of the rebel students had her exact face, except manlier?) (Which is a compliment to the dude, not an insult to Samantha.)

6) Colm Wilkinson! I heart you! I love the weird way you wrap your lips around words when you sing them!

In summary, I would definitely recommend this film, for all its flaws, but especially for its strengths! It's a beautiful staged musical, and I'm glad there is a film version that at least holds a candle to it. It may be a small candle. Maybe one of those tea lights. But a candle, nonetheless. If you go, keep an open mind and don't be a hater!

Just relax and let the misery overtake you.

What did you guys think? Comment below!



  1. Agree pretty much on everything. Though I would say at least a taper, not just a tea light. I too went to see it "on my own" on Dec 26th. Hubby isn't into it, and I'm a solo-Broadway-buff in this part of the country. :o) Miss you! xoxo TKH

  2. You crack me up. Though it's a musical I wasn't familiar with going in I agree with most of what you had to say. My fave part was Hugh Jackman at the beginning. I also really loved Helena Bonham Carter and Sascha Baron Cohen, though I thought it was weird when they came back at the end lol. The end was pretty too.

  3. great review! i'm avoiding seeing it in the theater for two reasons: i don't think i can handle russell's singing in dolby surround sound. just thinking about it gives me a headache. and two, i'm a crier. i've seen the musical, but i have been warned that i might be making the ugly cry face during the WHOLE movie. from the opening scene. so i'm gonna wait for the DVD. thanks for confirming my suspicions!

  4. Les Mis was the first touring musical I saw. My French class went when it came through town and it became one of my obsessions in high school. It's the first soundtrack I ever tried to sing (and did, as all the roles, beginning to end, often in the shower when I THOUGHT the rest of my family couldn't hear me). I got to take my stepmom to see it this past year when the tour came back through San Antonio and loved it just as much. So I was alternately excited for the movie and ready to be disappointed.

    Like you, while I still prefer the stage version, I thought they did pretty well. Even though I've loved the musical for over ten years, I still sob every time (mostly from Fantine's final appearance through the end of the play). Thankfully people were generally respectful during the movie, not taking out their phones (which is more than I can say for the last time I saw the tour of Fiddler come through town, to my utter annoyance). Some did start groaning or snickering every time Russell Crowe started singing, though, and I can't really blame them... :P At least the music was always loud enough I don't think anyone could hear my quietly sing along. :)

    I wasn't crazy about some changes they made to the order of events (Gavroche running the last letter to Cosette instead of Eponine, for example) and the new song "Suddenly" was kind of forgettable to me, though Hugh sang it sweetly. And some aspects of France back then are easier to stomach on stage than on screen, especially the Thenardiers' inn-keeping. (Yuck.) Plus, with the limbo clump issue you described, I don't think "One Day More" can be nearly as impressive on screen as it is on stage with a full cast belting it out.

    Overall, it was an admirable effort and if this movie encourages more people to check out the stage musical, it will have done a very good thing.

  5. Thanks for all your comments, friends! Alayne, I totally agree about the Thenardiers' scenes. Onstage they're broad and silly and comedic. Onscreen they were only *sort of* funny, and mostly just icky and gross. And I'm kind of over Helena Bonham Carter underplaying everything, delivery-wise (ahem, Mrs. Lovett). Give me a big, brassy Madame Thenardier, or give me death! Also, I didn't even notice "Suddenly" was in the movie! At the time, when it was happening, I was like, "this scene is long, what is going on?" and then afterward I realized. Whoops.

  6. I agree with your analysis, except for Susan Boyle hair. Personally, I thought he looked more like Pa Ingalls, especially when he was talking to adult Cosette in her room.

  7. I liked most of it and I was almost a blubbery mess at the end. What was cool to me was how they incorporated parts of the book that weren't in the stage musical into the movie. I wasn't expecting to see Marius' grandfather or Enjolras and Grantaire's death scene (I hated seeing Aaron Tveit get shot...ugh). I just wish they hadn't cut down Eponine's part. Samantha Barks is awesome and we didn't get to see as much of her in the movie as we saw on stage. AND they cut out the beginning of "On My Own". Whaaaat?? Now Russell Who do you think could've or should've played Javert?

  8. I am actually tempted to see it again - and I've never done that with a movie in the theater, I'm normally happy to wait until it comes out on DVD.

    The thing that was different for me, is that I'd never seen Les Miz in any capacity before. I found myself floored by the story of mercy that unfolded. I was a crying mess at the end of the movie, so I was glad I went to see it alone and that nobody sat near me!

    Now, as for the movie itself - I didn't know what to expect out of Anne Hathaway, I don't dislike her, but I wouldn't call myself a fan. However, I was okay with her in this movie. Didn't care for Amanda Seyfried much, but I ADORED Samantha Barks as Eponine.

    The most powerful moment for me, came very early on, when Jean is stealing the silver, and the priest says that he left the most valuable pieces and gives him the candlesticks. Talk about piercing my soul. That is more about the story line rather than the actual movie...

    My local theatre will be doing Les Miz as their season finale this year, so I will DEFINITELY go see it.

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  10. Where should I begin... I saw it 2 weeks ago in London and 2 days later I watched the musical on stage. Yeah I know. It might be better the other way round. Because when I saw it on stage I had all these impressive pictures i my head and the setting was disappointing. Don't get me wrong - I loved it! Both! Espescially how they made the scene where Javert jumps from the bridge.
    I can't really compare the film and the musical. But what they have in comon is that they leave you sobbing and crying like a baby!
    Gonna watch it again next week!

    I hope you understand it all, I'm sorry I'm German :9 Love your book Fel :)

  11. I was amazed that the little girl that played the young Cosette got all the press, yet I thought the boy who played Gavroche did a fantastic job - especially when he has that medal pinned on him & he doesn't blink! He definitely deserved more attention than he got.