Les Misérables

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Raw but beautiful, gritty but with a heavy dose of spectacle, Les Misérables is an amazing achievement for director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) that largely, but not entirely, lives up to the hype. How's that for nutshelling?

Before I begin here, I have to tell you all something truly shocking. I’ve never seen “Les Misérables” performed on stage. I know, I know. It’s crazy. In my defense, well, actually I really don’t have anything to say in my defense.

This summer I think I made up for it, however, by reading the book. The whole book. Every word of the book including the three chapters about the history and geography of the Parisian sewer system. I’m not being funny. They’re in there. And they’re about as interesting as they sound. I’m very glad I read the book, however, because it got me genuinely excited to see the movie. The story is much more than the handful of songs I’d heard before. It’s beautiful tale of redemption and love, set to truly wonderful music.

This version also boasts a truly wonderful cast including Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Helena Bonham Carter. Also, Russell Crowe is in it. This was the first musical ever done with the actors singing their parts live, not lip syncing to track. It turned out fantastic, particularly for the more emotionally wrought scenes. “I Dreamed a Dream” and “On My Own” were both as amazing as you could expect, and I was surprised at how affecting Hugh Jackman’s performance of “Valjean’s Soliloquy” was.

Other favorite performances include “Master of the House,” which was absolutely hilarious (except the bit with the cat... gross) and the finale which had me crying oh so hard. “Do You Hear the People Sing?” always gets me. I’m seriously misting up just thinking about it.

I don’t think I can overstate how good Anne Hathaway’s performance was. I love how un-actressy she let herself look. Dirty, red, tired, and sickly: most actresses would have balked at allowing themselves to be tossed up on Imax looking thus. Not to mention that she actually shaved her head for the part. More impressive was that fact that Hathaway’s performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” was from one take, with no cutting. Apparently she did twenty of them in a row before Hooper made her stop. They used number four.

Hathaway reportedly did not eat for thirteen days to achieve Fantine’s gaunt frame (in addition to her months of austere dieting). Jackman deprived himself of water for thirty-six hours to make his cheeks look sunken. As much as I hate aggrandizing this sort of self-abuse, I have to say it was kind of worth it. The were both absolutely fantastic.

Amanda Seyfried’s Cosette was relatively vapid and uninteresting, which is how she is written, so kudos to her for that. Seyfried was very good in the final scene, and to her credit, I didn’t once quote Mean Girls in my head. (“There’s a thirty percent chance that it’s already raining”). Eddie Redmayne was a pleasant surprise. He’s been doing theatre in England for quite a while, but, not living there, I’d never heard of him. He did a very good job (excepting the scene where Jean Valjean confesses his past and Marius sits there with a stupid grin on his face). And, can I just say, hello hottie! I mean, seriously. Gorgeous man.

Also new to me was Samantha Barks, who plays Éponine. She was fantastic. There had been rumors that the role might have been taken by Lea Michele or Taylor Swift. Can I just thank whoever made the decision to nix Princess Glee and Princess Teardrops on My Guitar? Don’t get me wrong, I love Taylor Swift (and would kill for her wardrobe and a tailor to fit it to someone half a foot shorter), but the role is a difficult one. I just don’t think she has the raw acting talent the role requires.

I expected to see this film and weep continuously throughout the whole thing, exiting the theater emotionally exhausted and slightly dehydrated. I did cry (a lot). But I also laughed. Hard. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter stole every damn scene they were in. And did so hilariously. I’m not a fan of Baron Cohen’s, but he was perfectly cast in this role. Helena Bonham Carter is always magnificent, even when Tim Burton’s not directing.

Of course, every film has its flaws. May I present to you: Russell Crowe. Unlike many, my problem with his performance wasn’t his relatively weak singing voice. I feel like in a movie with such gritty performances, imperfection in song would have been tolerated. He just added nothing to the character. He wasn’t acting so much as reciting (or rather, singing) his lines. Javert is an intensely interesting and conflicted character, obsessed with the capture of Jean Valjean and obsessed with his position in society as an upholder of the law. Crowe’s interpretation was weak, even boring. It was sad. There were rumors that Gerard Butler was going to be cast as Javert, which I think would have been an improvement. Ah, well, no crying over spilt milk.

I love the interpretation of the Friends of the ABC as silly, idealistic boys. It makes the whole June Rebellion much more tragic, and it’s probably more accurate. If you’re off to see the movie and you don’t know much about the time period, I highly recommend doing a bit of research. The politics are somewhat confusing and the film spends much more time on its characters than explaining what Enjolras and Marius were trying to accomplish and why. That would have been a different film, and probably a less musical one. Wikipedia ‘June Rebellion.’ It’s well worth your time.

As for the movie’s much-hyped Oscar chances, I make these predictions: it will be nominated for Best Picture but lose (probably to Lincoln). Hugh Jackman may or may not get nominated for Best Actor but will not win (Daniel Day-Lewis has that wrapped up), and Anne Hathaway will (and most definitely should) win for Best Supporting Actress. Also, they’ll probably win Best Original Song, even though “Suddenly” is not fantastic and did not flow with the rest of the music very well.

I highly recommend the film to everyone with the caveat that you probably will cry, so bring some tissues. Oh, and, because I’m a giant nerd, here’s a summation of the plot I found on the internet:

four out of four dreams dreamt in times gone by


Juliette said...

I'm seeing this on Friday and can't wait! Seems a bit weird that they wrote another song though - very cynical Oscar grab. It's a musical, it's already got lots of songs!

sunbunny said...

I know. It's icky. They did the same thing with Chicago a few years back.

CrazyCris said...

Great review Sunbunny! How on earth did I miss this post when you first wrote it?! :o(

So glad you read the book! Not many people have... and it's pretty amazing! I think I've read it twice, but the last time was at least 15 years ago so I'm a bit foggy on the details.

I haven't seen the musical on stage either, so I went in without any preconceived notions of how it could be. I did know a few of the songs though (I sang the final "Do you hear the people sing" with my choir in High School, always gave me the goosebumps!).

Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman were simply amazing!!! Russel Crowe probably wouldn't have been as disappointing if everybody else hadn't been so awesome...

The main flaw I had issues with (other than Crowe) was the number of close-ups! Too many for me, I would have preferred his opening up the scene a little bit at times! Particulalry for duets...

I can't wait for this to come out on dvd! Will watch it again and again and... ;o)

sunbunny said...

CrazyCris - In general, I'm not a huge fan of the French Romantics. Far too often, they seem too impressed with their own cleverness which leads them on ridiculously long and extremely irrelevant tangents. Generally I abhor abridged books, but I would love to reread an abridged Les Mis with all the random stuff taken out. Plus, it would probably be about 500 pages shorter.

The thing I loved the most about the book was that it was written over a long period of time and it's fun to try to pinpoint which influences and literary movements were going on during which parts of the book. It's fun for me, at least, but I'm a giant nerd. :)

The closeups didn't bother me at all. I actually liked how in their faces Hooper got. It really allowed the actors to act. Particularly during I Dreamed a Dream and On My Own.

Juliette said...

Doing well on the Oscar predictions so far sunbunny! Though I think Skyfall will probably beat this to Best Song.

(I think the best indication of the 'true' 5 Best Picture noms, rather than Best Director which they've done weird things with this year anyway, is Best Editing. No one who isn't an editor knows how to judge it, so they just vote for their favourite. That would make Best Picture one out of Argo, Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln and something else I've forgotten that isn't Les Mis, if I've remembered correctly!)

Anonymous said...

I never saw the stage play or read the book but I thought the film was amazing. Russell Crowe I thought sang very well. It was odd with the french revulution guy ( forgot name ) and Corzete falling in love through the fence but on well pays credence to the love at first sight from those days I guess. Excellent film can't wait for dvd release