Movie Or Stage? A 'Les Miserables' Review by its NUMBER ONE FAN
Number one fan! Number one fan!
Okay, maybe tied for Number One along with blogger friend Erika (who posted her review here), or my sister (who at one time talked about getting a 24601 tattoo), or hundreds of other nut-job mega-fans like myself.
My history with Les Mis is long. So long, that when I loved it as a child, I thought that when Eponine was being quite literal when she said "Though I know that he is blind". Until I was in high school, I believed that Marius was actually blind. This was reinforced when he said in the song, "Dearest Cosette, my Eponine, brought me to you, show me the way...."
I thought he was blind. I believed a lot of things about Les Mis that were wrong, all because my love affair with this story and with this music started so early. Musicals were my drug of choice in middle school Through ages 12-14, I was in love with three people: Marius, the Phantom of the Opera and Brock Storfa.
I passed that love of musicals, particularly Les Mis on to my sister. I encouraged her enchantment with it. We are both obsessed with Les Mis, and have seen it live, between the two of us, probably a dozen times. When we go on car trips - wait, when I can FORCE her to go on car trips - we will pop the soundtrack in, assign parts ("I'll be Cosette, you be Eponine! I"ll be Javert, you be Valjean!") and sing for about 3 hours, seeing if we can't mess up a single lyric. This is why it took me so long to see this movie. Because I waited, and waited, and WAITED to see it with her, to find a time when we could go together.
Finally one morning, at 9am, we went. And it was glorious.
The review: I'll break it all down. You know this has got to be through. I mean, this is like a thesis paper. It's that serious people. First, I'll review the cast:
Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean: He was fantastic. His acting was top-notch, absolutely Oscar worthy. He broke my heart, and I felt that he fully embodied the grace that Jean Valjean represents. There were some songs that felt a bit rushed or underwhelming - Bring Him Home being the main one - but his singing voice is lovely and it was more than up to this daunting task. He played the religious scenes beautifully.
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures
Anne Hawthaway - Prepare for her to win the Globe tomorrow night. And mark my words, she WILL win the Oscar. Anne was amazing and her raw, unflinching portrayal of the misery of the "miserables" is a performance that will have people talking for a long time. "I Dreamed a Dream" is one uncut shot of Anne singing, and by the end, I was emotionally exhausted. That's how good it was. Bravo, Anne, bravo. She's the only one who had an easy time of stealing the show from Hugh.
Russell Crowe - Sigh. First, the good. His acting, as always, is rock-solid. His bright eyes show the simmering, unflinching law. He was more than enough to go toe-to-toe with Hugh Jackman's Valjean in the acting department. The singing...uhhh...I didn't hate his voice, like some critics. He wasn't terrible, but his voice was not strong enough to be Javert. Javert has two of the best songs in the whole musical (Stars and Javert's Suicide), and they were both lost in his strange, talking/singing tone. That was disappointing, but it didn't really affect the beauty of overall movie or the feel of Javert. And I'm just going to put this out there - was anyone else really distracted by his Captain Crunch hat?? It's literally the same hat.
Amanda Seyfried - Is she beautiful? Stunningly so. Does she look just like what Cosette should look like? Absolutely. Was her acting quality? Sure. Was her voice weak? YES. YES. YES. It was so small and weak, and to quote my sister, "Her falsetto sounds like a goat bleating." Cosette doesn't need to have the huge voice of Javert and Valjean, but she also needs to hold her own with Marius (blind?) and she doesn't, because Marius has a gorgeous tenor and is played by...
Eddie Redmayne - Fantastic! Marius is naive, darling and bright-eyed, just like he should be. He's a fantastic actor, lovable from the moment you meet him - he clutches your heart in his fumbling, clumsy hands. He's great..yadda yadaa...but let's talk about that voice. Oh my, the voice. His tenor soars. It's Broadway quality for sure, and I got more out of "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" than I ever have before. It had a new depth and despair for me.
The rest of the cast round-up: Eponine, played by Samantha Barks, was great, a skinny wretch (was her waist like non-existent or what??) with a big, powerful voice, and that heartbreaking look she gave to Marius. Well, who wouldn't give Marius that look, really?
The Thenardiers (Borat and Bellatrix), were the perfect comic relief, and promptly stole any scene they were in, particularly, the Master of the House :) Enjolras is my new favorite person and has a whopper of a voice. Aaron Tveit - I'm a new fan!
Gavroche can never die fast enough, in my opinion. "Little People" is totally a low-point for me and a good place to run to the bathroom in this three hour movie.
The production looked stunning, but at the same time, it wasn't overly done. Paris looked miserable, as it well should during that time. Filth was everywhere, whether it was the oozing sores on the faces of the poor, or the disgusting sewers, which made me gag, down to the rickety barricade, which looked so much smaller (and sadder) than on a musical stage. It was true to the musical, and there was very little dialog, which I appreciated. Why talk when you can sing? There are so many movies where people just talk.
The line "We'll be ready for these schoolboys - they will wet themselves with blood!" was clearly demonstrated here. These boys were so, so painfully naive. So heartrendingly deceived by their own youth and passion. I never truly understood it until the movie.
My reaction? Well, I started tearing up during Valjean's conversion scene, and I stopped when the credits rolled, three hours later. I went through an entire box of tissues. The last time I cried that much at a movie was at the final Harry Potter, where Ryan looked over at me, concerned and I think a bit scared, and said "Um, are you going to be okay? You are crying sorta loud."
It was like that today. I was crying partly out of my heart being ripped out of my chest by the final scene (any scene that delves into the deeply religious themes of the story just kills me), but partly because I was so overjoyed to see this on screen. Somtething that I have loved for so long, up there for everyone to enjoy, and to love. It must have been how my husband felt when Lord of the Rings finally came to the theaters and it was everything he hoped it would be. I think I need to only see it like, 4 more times.
I dreamed a dream that Les Mis would be a once-in-a-lifetime movie and would find millions of new fans. Unlike for Fantine, this dream actually came true. I feel the lyrics below could apply to those lucky few who are just finding their way to the music, and the story of Les Miserables.
Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people
Who are climbing to the light."
And PS - Marius...not really blind.