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Monday, January 7, 2013

Couple Thoughts About Les Miserables (for Musical-Theater Nerds Only!! Not for You, Everyone Else!)

Posted by on Mon, Jan 7, 2013 at 4:24 PM

Anne Hathaway is the only good thing about this movie.
  • Universal Pictures
  • Anne Hathaway is the only good thing about this movie.

PLEASE NOTE: As the headline says, this post is for musical-theater nerds only. For people who already know the show. Otherwise stop reading. Don't scream at me about spoiler alerts because Russell Crowe kills himself!! OK? Kills himself. He dies. He's dead. Dunzo. Along with almost everyone else. Although some of them come back from the dead to sing about Jesus.

1) Going to see Les Miserables with someone who doesn't realize it's a musical is a hilarious experience. "Wait, is this a musical?" said my friend about one minute, five seconds in. He was the one who chose the movie. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

2) Goldy's totally right, it's klutzy, it's all close-ups, all "giant heads in dreary circumstances," and Hugh Jackman's giant head is particularly out-of-control giant, and veiny, and ugly, and never once does he take off his shirt or become a wolverine, which is ridiculous.

3) Russell Crowe's stiffness puts taxidermy to shame. It's like Russell Crowe wasn't available so they got Madame Tussauds' Russell Crowe to play Russell Crowe playing Javert, and the wax statue was all, "Yeah, I can sing. I can sing!! LET ME SING." Also, how satisfying is it when his body, post-jumping-off-building, lands on the side of that fountain and makes that crunching sound? Gah! That was so satisfying. And possibly an inside joke from the sound effects people about his stiff performance.

4) Anne Hathaway is amazing. As in, one is amazed how much better the movie gets when she's in the frame. I could watch her just standing there sewing for the rest of my life. Also amazing: how much better a song gets if she sings it. Who knew Fantine was even a character? Who in history has listened to "I Dreamed a Dream" all the way through—the most skippable song on the original cast recording, which has, let's be honest, a lot of skippable songs? "I Dreamed a Dream" is the worst. Until this movie. Where it is the best.

5) Helena Bonham Carter + Sacha Baron Cohen = not funny. They play the Thenardiers, the "comic relief," but in this case the comic relievers have been relieved of their comic relief duties. Or something. Mathematically, they cancel each other out? It's weird. It's almost riveting how boring their performances are.

6) Sweet battle scenes.

 

Comments (32) RSS

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1
I'm not a musical theatre nerd who's seen Les Mis, and I've never read the book. But you know what? I wasn't gonna see it anyway. It's billed to be a miserable experience, so miserable that Victor Hugo used it as the title. And I'm not into grand, cinematic masochist experiences. There's enough misery in my life without paying $13 bucks, or whatever, to sit in a room and be clobbered for two hours with the different ways life sucks.

Goldy's review with its warnings of extended extreme close ups of ginormous heads singing songs of misery sealed it for me. I wouldn't watch it if it was free on cable.
Posted by floater on January 7, 2013 at 4:48 PM · Report this
kk in seattle 2
Worst. Musical. Ever. W-a-y too long. Dreary songs. And the awful, awful rotating stage. Decades later, the horrid grinding of the rotating stage continues to haunt me, like a fantastical Poe concoction. The movie simply couldn't be worse than the stage version.
Posted by kk in seattle on January 7, 2013 at 5:08 PM · Report this
MacCrocodile 3
I had to bite my tongue to keep from screaming "Just fucking jump already!" during Crowe's last song. Hell, I would have accepted it if he'd jumped during "Stars".

I cannot conceive of the casting director who auditioned him and said "Yes, you'll be perfect!" or said to his assistant "You know who's hot right now? Russell Crowe, because it's 2001 right now, right? Bring me Russell Crowe."
Posted by MacCrocodile http://maccrocodile.com/ on January 7, 2013 at 5:17 PM · Report this
4
I have to agree with every review that says Russell Crowe can't sing to save his life. But am I alone in thinking Amanda Seyfried can't sing either? She's got that strained fluttery thing going on with her voice that you typically hear from Middle school girls. ugh.
Posted by UNPAID COMMENTER on January 7, 2013 at 5:19 PM · Report this
MacCrocodile 5
Otherwise, I couldn't find serious fault with anything else in this movie. Maybe I was just blinded by my disappointment in Javert.

Oh wait, no. You're right about the Thenardiers.
Posted by MacCrocodile http://maccrocodile.com/ on January 7, 2013 at 5:19 PM · Report this
Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In 6
In other spoiler news, Hamlet dies after killing the King, the Titanic sinks & D'Artagnan becomes the Fourth Musketeer.
Posted by Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In on January 7, 2013 at 5:22 PM · Report this
7
Oh, and when Russell Crowe hit the wall and made that jarring 'CRAAAAACK!', I busted up laughing so hard that 3 people in front of me turned around to glare.
Posted by UNPAID COMMENTER on January 7, 2013 at 5:27 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 8
Would it have killed them to get real singers to dub the voices? Casting Hugh Jackman as the exceptionally strong Jean Valjean is bad enough.
Posted by keshmeshi on January 7, 2013 at 5:30 PM · Report this
9
Jackman grew on me and, while hardly great, was passable.

Crowe just about destroyed the whole thing. Painful to watch and listen to.

Don't understand casting a weak singer like Seyfried. She's not a big enough star to attract audiences, and the role demands a strong voice.

The Carter/Cohen duo should have sung "Master of the House" and disappeared. Their act got old fast.

"I Dreamed a Dream" is hardly the forgettable song you claim. It's always a highlight of the show. And just about everyone in the world has seen this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnmbJzH93…

But Anne Hathaway is indeed a superstar and utterly mesmerizing.
Posted by bigyaz on January 7, 2013 at 5:41 PM · Report this
10
@6 Damn you! I was reading Hamlet. And I had just gotten to Act V, too. I know it's a Shakespearean tragedy and, therefore, all the main characters die by the end, and happy endings are inconceivable, but still.
Posted by floater on January 7, 2013 at 6:02 PM · Report this
11
Once you get over the oddness of a musical movie it is probably one of the best out there. Had Crowe been replaced with a functioning human actor it could have been amazing.

But I am seriously tired of Helena Bonham Carter. She plays the exact same character in every fucking movie and it is not a very good one. The only saving graces was that Johnny Depp was not there playing his go to goth character.
Posted by giffy on January 7, 2013 at 6:05 PM · Report this
Bub 12
The kid playing Gavroche was amazing! Although it was a bit odd to have him voicing the entire female chorus parts of "Drink with Me to Days Gone By."
Posted by Bub on January 7, 2013 at 6:08 PM · Report this
Josh Bis 13
Without defending Russell Crowe's crunchable performance, isn't Javert just a terrible non-dimensional character in a not very well-formed musical (that I haven't seen)?

Hathaway is great. Oscar guaranteed. But Aaron Tveit as Enjolras, Samantha Barks as Éponine
and little scene stealing Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche -- Broadway/West End ringers were pretty good, too.

Posted by Josh Bis http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/Author.html?oid=3815563 on January 7, 2013 at 6:15 PM · Report this
Gordon Werner 14
I thought Samantha Barks did a great job as Eponine ... But then she's played the role in London and at the O2 (just as we'll I might add having seen her in both performances)
Posted by Gordon Werner on January 7, 2013 at 6:21 PM · Report this
15
Thank you for pointing out how awful the Thenardiers were! I truly don't understand how people enjoyed their performances- when I saw the movie, not a single person laughed during Master of the House. The two of them were both dreadful.

However, though I agree about Anne Hathaway's perfection, I did really enjoy Eddie Redmayne. Maybe it's because I find him completely adorable, but I really liked his performance.
Posted by Will from PA on January 7, 2013 at 6:51 PM · Report this
16
@13 Kind of. That's the way he portrays himself, but he is a character with a fair bit of inner conflict. He came from poverty to a position of power in a time where such things were even rarer than today. He did so buy being ruthlessly disciplined and sees order as this thin line between chaos and security. But order becomes a goal unto itself instead of something that advances justice or good.

In the religious allegory of the story he represents something akin to puritanism or Lutheranism. The idea that the law is sacrosanct and any violation risk collapsing the whole artifice and a return to barbarism. That one must always be on gaurd for temptation from the straight and narrow.

In modern terms he is the libertarian that rose from poverty to wealth via will and does not see why things like social welfare are needed since he was able to do it without them. Who sees everything in the most black and white terms possible.

That's contrasted with the Bishop who helps out Valjean after Valjean steals from him. The Bishop is not concerned with the law, but with redemption and character. He sees Valjean for what he is, a good man caught up in a system that is unfair and unjust. He sees that good and tries to nurture it. Javert can only see him as a challenge to the tenuous order he seeks to maintain.

Valjean is simply caught between these competing views of society and human nature. He knows he has done wrong, and it shakes him to his core, but he pursues redemption with an almost single minded purpose dedicating his life to protecting the life of the daughter of a woman he barely knew and had no real responsibility to.

At the end, the realization that Valjean has done more good than him, despite not embracing total order, and that he, in pursuit of that order, has hounded a man trying to give a young girl a better life, destroys him. The breaking point being when Valjean shows him more mercy than he has ever shown anyone.

So yes, he is supposed to be pretty stiff, but in a way that conveys this constant battle within him between order and the dawning realization that the order that he pursues may not be as just as he thinks.
More...
Posted by giffy on January 7, 2013 at 7:09 PM · Report this
Banna 17
Ditto @ 14. I'm no nerd or critic, but Barks was the best part of the movie for me. As far as Hathaway, all I could think is, "that girl from Devil Wears Prada can sing". Finally, ditto on HBC in the only roll she's ever played in any movie and the annoyance of Sifried (sp) and her chirpy vibratto. Finally, I thought Crowe's character was meant to be a stiff, one-dimensional character and so he fit it well.
Posted by Banna http://www.ucp.org on January 7, 2013 at 7:19 PM · Report this
18
I'm not sure how you take a loved but very flawed musical and turn it into a decent movie, but I don't think they did a particularly bad job.
Personally I would have tossed the musical's awful book and gone back to Hugo to reinstate some important bits (e.g. the key theft of the 40 sous piece from le petit Gervais, Jean Valjean's escape by burial, etc.). The through singing is all crap scored anyways. You could have had a decent screenwriter fill in the bits and then have a monkey add notes at random using a toy piano.
Posted by kinaidos on January 7, 2013 at 7:27 PM · Report this
19
I finished reading 'Les Miserables' about a month before the movie came out. I was SO excited until I realized the movie was a musical--a fucking musical? It's an epic book and story, but the idea of Valjean, Fantine, Cosette, Marius, or the Thenadiers, fercrissake, breaking out into song makes me cringe. I do like Anne Hathaway's short hair, though.
Posted by gracey on January 7, 2013 at 7:30 PM · Report this
20
I love your comments about Russell Crowe. This is what I read Stranger movie reviews for.
Posted by I have always been... east coaster on January 7, 2013 at 8:11 PM · Report this
TheMisanthrope 21
Wait...they let Helena Bonham Carter into another musical after Sweeney Todd?

Why?!
Posted by TheMisanthrope on January 7, 2013 at 9:57 PM · Report this
22
@4: No, you are most definitely not alone. I thought Seyfried was on par with Crowe in horribleness, and not to sound like a snob, but all my friends from music school agree with me. I think because all the other women in the musical (like most musicals) are mezzos, by comparison it just sounds impressive that she can hit high notes, and people forgive the fact that she's so jittery and flat.

I thought the best singers were Aaron Tveit (Enjolras), Samantha Barks (Eponine) and Eddie Redmayne (Marius) in that order. I was really impressed with Anne Hathaway's performance - and I thought her singing was overrated, but that's okay, because that wasn't really the point of her role in the movie. Her Fantine was more emotionally-honest and relatable and heart-wrenching than a million of them with more technically accomplished voices.
Posted by Whoop Di Doo on January 7, 2013 at 10:58 PM · Report this
23
I also agree that SBC and HBC were completely useless in this movie. They made me really hate the Thenardiers (particularly M. Thenardier) which might be truer to the book, but in the musicals they're supposed to be more like lovable villains - you hate them as people but love them as characters. But I didn't feel that way. I just dreaded every time they came on screen. And that bums me out, because they're both actors I like.

The movie in general had a lot of places where they seemed to want to compromise between the plots musical and the book. See also: Marius's relationship with Eponine, and the plot about Marius's rich grandfather.
Posted by Whoop Di Doo on January 7, 2013 at 11:01 PM · Report this
mkyorai 24
@21, yes, but no one told her it was a different movie, so the characters are completely identical (except that she's playing against Sasha Baron Cohen this time instead of Johnny Depp. This is not an improvement.)
Posted by mkyorai on January 8, 2013 at 5:06 AM · Report this
25
I'm surprised no one mentioned "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables". It was my favorite performance after "Dreamed" and Redmayne was nearly as riveting.

Maybe everyone was asleep by then. I thought Valjean's death was very well done, but I was practically screaming at the film to end by the wedding dance. I'm amazed the movie clocks in under 3 hours because it didn't feel like it.
Posted by Lumpmoose on January 8, 2013 at 6:36 AM · Report this
jcsmith2 26
While Crowe might not have been good, for me the most criminally bad part of the movie was the Thenardiers! I've seen the stage production countless times (as in I'm afraid to count how many times), and their scenes are always among the best moments of the show. The characters are written to chew up scenery like it was made of balsa wood, instead they played it quiet.

Just a horrible misuse of the characters and miscasting (it's like the producers saw them in "Sweeny Todd" and said, "yeah, they're serviceable".)
Posted by jcsmith2 on January 8, 2013 at 9:20 AM · Report this
Tracy 27
Yes! Wish I'd had the experience of #1, though. Fantastic! And yes 1000 times to Fantine. Didn't think I had any more tears for Les Miz after 20 years, but I'd also thought Fantine (and Maurius) were the boring characters. Yet Hathaway (and Redmayne singing the other skippable sorry you're all dead song) destroyed me!!
Posted by Tracy on January 8, 2013 at 9:28 AM · Report this
LogopolisMike 28
I enjoyed the hell of the movie. Much more than most. But I do think it's sort of the negative-version of the Les Miserables I knew in my youth. Everything that I thought the show got right was wrong and visa versa. Thenardiers neither evil or funny enough. Fantine the best part. The battle parts actually interesting rather than the worst part of the show.

Eponine will always be awesome, and I thought she was here too. But I'm not far enough removed from my 14 year old self from thinking that any version of Les Miserables that doesn't just kill you with "On My Own" has failed a bit.

Posted by LogopolisMike http://logopolis.typepad.com on January 8, 2013 at 10:42 AM · Report this
keshmeshi 29
@19,

There's a straight film version of Les Mis starring Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush if you'd rather see that.
Posted by keshmeshi on January 8, 2013 at 11:43 AM · Report this
30
I hated the one that sounded like Kermit the Frog. You know, the one that married that chick who's going to play that pornstar later in the year. But, fuck, I hated his Kermit singing.
Posted by Bloated Jesus is Bloated on January 8, 2013 at 12:13 PM · Report this
31
@15, That's his name! Eddie Redmayne! Jesus, I winced after every god damned note! I was wondering when he was going to start screaming "pigs in space!"
Posted by Bloated Jesus is Bloated on January 8, 2013 at 12:16 PM · Report this
32
@29--thanks, I'll check it out.
Posted by gracey on January 10, 2013 at 7:25 PM · Report this

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