You had to know this was coming, right? Blogger + biggest Les Mis fan in the world = inevitable written review of the movie. So, why the delay? 4 kids + 2.5 weeks off school = 17 days of deep, cleansing breaths and chanting the Serenity Prayer. Now that the house is quiet and I’m slowly regaining the ability to form coherent sentences, I will attempt to express my thoughts on the 2012 movie version of Les Misérables.
It took me a few minutes to get my bearings when the show opened with the chain gang pulling ropes in a shipyard instead of swinging pickaxes and sledgehammers in a rock quarry. I would be interested to know the thought process behind that directorial decision. It worked adequately, but didn’t have quite the same impact as the clangs of metal striking rock accentuating the beat through the opening song. “Look down. (Clang!) Look down. (Clang!) Don’t look ‘em in the eye. (Clang!)” That startling difference piqued my OCD/drama queen tendencies. Everything’s different. It’s all wrong. The whole show is ruined! But fortunately, I was so excited to be sitting there in the audience, sharing this treasured moment with my husband, that I was able to overlook the discrepancy without verbalizing my judgement right then and there.
That out of the way, I can move on to casting. I already had high expectations for Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman, but I was fully prepared to be underwhelmed by Anne Hathaway. I’ll blame the previews; they just didn’t have enough context and build-up for me to be fully engaged with her depth of emotion. Those brief snippets of song and anguish came across as cheesy in the trailers. (And I confess, there may have been just the teensiest bit of lingering bitterness on my part that it was her instead of me up there on that screen.) But I was delighted to discover that she was actually brilliant in the role of Fantine! (And when we got to the close-up shots, I – and everybody else, I’m sure – was relieved that it was her 20-foot-high face instead of mine up there on that screen.)
Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman were all that I imagined them to be. The tension between these two indomitable forces was electric. And yet they both displayed such subtle vulnerability and internal conflict that we couldn’t fully categorize either one of them as good guy or bad guy. For me, there was also the underlying stress of knowing that Colm Wilkinson – the original and eternal Jean Valjean – was on set. Oh the pressure! I imagine that if anyone could make Maximus Decimus Meridius and Wolverine quake in their boots, it would be Colm Wilkinson. Seriously, would YOU want to attempt THIS while HE is standing there watching? But since it wasn’t me, I’ll just be thankful that dear Colm was included in this project. And of course he played the Bishop perfectly. As for Russell and Hugh, they held their own quite admirably in the illustrious Mr. Wilkinson’s presence!
I was unexpectedly impressed with Sacha Baron Cohen’s performance. He and Helena Bonham Carter, as the Thenardiers, were impeccably despicable. My concern here is not with the casting choice or with their acting abilities. Again, I question the directorial decision to have their scenes played to that depth of darkness. In the stage show, these characters provide comic relief, and the contrast of that element is what allows the audience to recover somewhat between all the surrounding traumatic scenes. Having the Thenardiers’ scenes heavy and dark in the movie traps the audience into an extended level of emotional tension. This, unfortunately, detracts from some of the other scenes that would’ve been more climactic had there been some relief in between.
The same can be said of the set and costumes. Traditionally, the Thenardiers’ scenes offer a colourful respite from the constant grey. Those visual breaks, though brief, are uplifting enough that the whole show doesn’t feel depressing. A few splashes of colour in the movie would’ve gone a long way in infusing a bit of joy into all the misery.
Amanda Seyfried was a typical Cosette – a little too much of a simpering damsel-in-distress for my tastes. I always feel that if Cosette was played just a little bit stronger, I would be conflicted about whether to root for her or Eponine. But Eponine (exquisitely performed by Samantha Barks in the movie) consistently grabs my attention and affection. And then she dies, so my residual and half-hearted attention falls to Cosette by default. That’s no way to gain heroine status!
I was also mildly disturbed by Seyfried’s warbling vibrato. It seemed more nervous than intentional. Although I can’t fully blame her on that one. Her Marius, played by Eddie Redmayne, would make my voice do funny things, too.
And speaking of young hotties with voices like melted chocolate, Aaron Tveit’s rendition of “Red and Black” is worth the price of admission right there.
There were a few little crude parts in the film (to be expected, if you’re familiar with the script). I wasn’t about to let my kids see this without me seeing it first, as I didn’t trust the film-making industry to leave the questionable content as “tame” as it is in the stage productions. I am happy to report that they didn’t “Hollywoodize” said content, but you do still need to expect some language and innuendo surrounding the “Lovely Ladies”. I am usually wary of sexual content in movies, as they tend to glamorize and glorify promiscuity, immodesty, pornography, slavery, and prostitution. This production, however, gives us a realistic picture of the desperation and devastation surrounding the issue of prostitution. Anne Hathaway demonstrates what an extreme last resort it is, and the whole scene serves to show the moral depravity of a social climate that accepts prostitution as just a normal part of any functioning culture.
One more thing you have to know before you go: it is a traditional musical. Meaning the whole thing is sung. I am okay with that. Okay, I actually love that! I loved the whole film. I heartily (heartily as in strongly AND heartily as in little hearts added as mental decoration) endorse this movie!
So there you go. Those are the thoughts that have been tumbling around in my overtaxed brain this week. I’m eager to watch the movie again and see what I missed the first time. Don’t worry – I’ll refrain from writing another whole review.
Have you heard the people sing? Have you dreamed a dream? Is your heart full of love? I’d like to talk in person, but it’s all empty chairs at empty tables here in the world of virtual conversations. It’s like a castle on a cloud. So instead of sharing a drink with me, look down to the comments section and add your thoughts to those that I’ve written on my own.