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Let’s Talk about the Les Misérables Movie

Written By: Colleen - Feb• 23•13

les-miserables-movie-posterNote: I started writing this back at the end of December and was going to finish it during my 8 hours of downtime when I went to Minnesota.  However, not having Internet in my hotel room and the lure of the Mall of America prevented that from happening.  Thanks to my insane workweeks in January and 1/2 of February, I’m only now getting a chance to really finish it up, just in time for the Academy Awards.  I hope I can do it the justice that I intended to do it back when I first wrote it in my head at 3:00am on December 26, lol.

On Christmas Day, my sisters, Jay, and I went to a later night showing of Les Misérables.  I had a lot of thoughts about it, so I thought rather than trying to assemble something from my constant stream-of-conscious, I’d just list out certain points that I thought were good, bad, and whatever.  SPOILERS AHEAD AFTER THE JUMP!

The Good:

  • Colm Wilkinson – The most pleasant surprise of the entire movie for me.  I had no idea that the original Jean Valjean would be in da house, so when he showed up as the Bishop who changes Valjean’s life, I FREAKED OUT.  Then, when he came out during the epilogue to usher Valjean into the afterlife while singing the most beautiful line of the show, “And remember the truth that once was spoken: To love another person is the see the face of God,” I pretty much lost my shit.  Okay, I did lose my shit.  There was heavy sobbing.  A large part of it was the poetic beauty of the old Jean Valjean escorting the new Jean Valjean into heaven.  And that voice, that exquisite voice.
  • Hugh Jackman – I thought Hugh Jackman did a wonderful job as Jean Valjean.  Honestly.  It’s a really tough part that a lot of beloved men have played.  Would I put Jackman in the same league as someone like Colm Wilkenson or Alfie Boe, the English tenor who performed the role spectacularly in the 25th Anniversary Concert in 2010?  Yes and no.  While there were some misses (“Valjean’s Soliloquy”/”What Have I Done?” had me a little underwhelmed), there were more hits (“Epilogue – Valjean’s Death”).  Acting wise, he excellently embodied the role; I really felt that he was Jean Valjean and not some Hollywood actor playing a part in a musical.  But the true Valjean test is how well one can perform “Bring Him Home” and for me, Jackman was a 8.5/10.
  • LESMISERABLES-hughjackman-annehathawayAnne Hathaway – I can’t say with a good conscience that Hathaway didn’t do a spectacular job as the movie version of Fantine.  I sobbed like a baby during “I Dreamed a Dream” and “Fantine’s Death.”  Girl was singing, acting and emoting her heart out.  She set her sights on that Oscar from the second she got that script in her hands.  She does an amazing job.  BUT…then some time passed and I listened to the Original London Cast Soundtrack (it’s the one I grew up on) and remembered that Patti LuPone is the reason I cry when I hear Fantine sing, “And tell Cosette I love her and I’ll see her when I wake.”  It’s Lupone who gives me chills, who I try to imitate when I sing, “But the tigers come at night” in the shower.  [Note: “I Dreamed A Dream” has always for some reason been one of my go-to sing-in-the-shower songs, for as long as I can remember.]  I can’t knock Hathaway’s performance, but I must admit that she’s my 3rd favorite Fantine after Lupone and Lea Salonga (holler).  Yes, I put her above Ruthie Henshall.
  • Samantha Barks – I was so happy when Barks was chosen over Taylor Swift as Eponine.  She had to live up to my beloved Lea Salonga, and I think she did an outstanding job.  She brought Eponine’s spunk and voice.  Surprisingly, I didn’t cry during “A Little Fall of Rain,” but I think that’s because I was wondering why earlier songs were done out of order.  My one nitpick: NO WAY was that her real waistline!  It wasn’t even close to being in proportion to her hips, bosom, and head.  It was distracting.
  • Eddie Redmayne/Aaron Tveit/Daniel Hutterstone – As Marius, Enjolras, and Gavroche, respectively, I was pleased.  Some of Enjolras got to be a little bit over-the-top, but they were trying to hammer home the spirit behind the students’ grassroots uprising.  “Drink With Me” was a highlight, though it came at a point in the movie when I personally felt it was getting a little long.  Hutterstone was a fiesty force as Gavroche and I’m glad he didn’t let me down.  “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” didn’t let me down either, thought it wasn’t the best version of it I’ve ever heard.
  • The Thénardiers – Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter were brilliant casting choices.  The Thénardiers don’t need to be the best singers in the group (though each held their own); they just need to have the best comedic timing.  I loved them.  I wish we had the “Dog Eats Dog” song, but it wasn’t necessary.
  • The Candlesticks – Did anyone else notice that the candlesticks that Valjean stole from the Bishop were shown in his home later on in the film, when he starts to pack up to flee the city with Cosette?  I thought that was such a lovely touch.  If those candlesticks were also there in the stage show, I never noticed them in the 4 times I’ve seen Les Misérables on Broadway.
  • One Day More – Love this song, loved watching it on the big screen.  The end.
  • The Finale – They killed it.  Like I said above, I sobbed like a baby.  I was a little disappointed at first that we didn’t get the “Take my hand and lead me to salvation…” harmony between Eponine and Fantine because it’s one of my favorite moments of the entire soundtrack, but having Colm Wilkinson replace Eponine made it all better.  Also, I liked the little detail that Fantine stayed with her daughter to comfort her at the end.  That was a nice touch and stayed true to the character and theme of the show.

The Bad:

  • Russell Crowe – Sigh.  Javert is the most complicated character in the show.  He’s not an evil antagonist, but rather someone who has strong convictions and sees the world in black and white.  He’s intense!  He’s powerful!  He has a great singing voice!  RUSSELL CROWE IS NONE OF THESE THINGS.  Jay had no idea why he killed himself because “Javert’s Suicide” lacked that, oh you know, tortured soul quality that makes a man who just let the criminal he’s dedicated his life to catching escape right after he saved his life kill himself.  (Sorry, read that sentence faster and it’ll make more sense.)  I don’t think Russell Crowe is a bad singer; he was just a bad choice.  Philip Quast, Terrence Mann (who I saw when he returned to Broadway when it closed in 2003) and Norm Lewis he is not.  He was the weakest link and I think it did hurt the movie overall.
  • les-miserables-movie-amandaseyfried-eddieredmayneAmanda Seyfried – In my opinion, Adult Cosette is the least interesting character in the entire show.  She’s so central to the plot, yet other characters are just so much more bad ass than she is.  Anyway, Seyfriend had the 2nd weakest voice of the cast and she just didn’t do much for me.  Her vibrato was too airy and lacked power.  I like her as an actress, I didn’t really care one way or another for her as Cosette.
  • The Close-Ups – Oy.  Here’s where I think everyone differs.  Some people, like my boss, LOVED the close-up shots of every character while they were singing, talking, sleeping, dying, farting, etc.  It didn’t bother me until I realized that in the attempt to make us intimate with the characters, we lost that scene of the grand scheme of things.  That’s why I felt that the movie was moving along slowly and that the revolution part seemed a little bit long.  I know the close-ups were meant to make it more intense, but I felt like the movie lacked an intimacy because there was too much of it.  Does that make sense?  It totally worked during the Fantine scenes, though.

The Whatever:

  • The Changing of the Lyrics – Since I grew up listening to the London soundtrack, yet saw the play on Broadway 4 times with the American version of the lyrics and songs, it really didn’t bother me that some lyrics were changed or songs were shortened.  I think it was my boss who put this in the “minus” column, but it bothered me the least.
  • les-miserables-movie-a-little-fall-of-rainThe Misplacement of Songs – My sisters were a miffed over the songs in the middle of the show being switched around.  If you’re not familiar with the stage musical, the order of the bigger songs once you get into the Revolution era are “Red and Black,” “Do You Hear the People Sing?,” “One Day More,” “On My Own,” “Little People,” and “A Little Fall of Rain.”  In the movie, they were all switched around so the order is “Red and Black,” “On My Own,” “One Day More,” “Do You Hear the People Sing?,” “Little People,” and “A Little Fall of Rain.”  The middle three are out of order.  I don’t like it, but I understand why they did it for the sake of the movie.  That’s why I can’t categorize it as bad, but I did want to acknowledge it.
  • The New Song – Did anyone really think that they weren’t going to put a new song in to try to go for that Best Original Song nomination?  Duh!  It’s Hollywood, a business that’s all about the money and awards.  “Suddenly” wasn’t the best song in the world, but it could have been a lot worse.

I would and hope to watch this movie again after it’s out on DVD.  I really liked it a lot.  That’s all I’ve got for now.  After 1,650 words, I think someone else should give their opinion in the comments section.  kthanxbye!

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  1. Elizabeth says:

    I wish I could make it more of a discussion, but I think I agree with you on all points. Oh, how I wish they had chosen someone other than Russell Crow for the role! It was just…flat, I think. Now that I really sit and think about it, the way he portrayed the character might have been fine for anything other than a musical. It’s his typical stoic characterization that you see him play in many roles. It seems like he doesn’t make many facial expressions. There needed to be more emoting or something.

    I loved Anne Hathaway and it should be noted that I hate her in almost everything. She is pretentious and annoys me to no end. But this was great.

    Amanda Seyfried — can people please stop asking this girl to sing? It’s not like she can’t carry a tune, she’s fine at that, but her voice seems so weak!

    I loved Samantha Barks. My MIL leaned over during the credits and said, “You didn’t tell me your doppelgänger was in this.” I retorted, “Doppelgänger? She has a 17 inch waist.” MIL: “Well, I didn’t mean that.”

    Yeah, thanks for clarifying! LOL

    The waist was unreal. And in the stills from the film it feels even worse.

    I don’t buy a lot of movies on DVD anymore, but I’ll be getting this one the day it’s released 🙂

    • Colleen says:

      Elizabeth, who would you have rather seen instead of Russell Crowe? I go back and forth on Hathaway. Sometimes I like her, sometimes I have to roll my eyes at her. LOL at the story about your MIL – I’m sorry!

  2. Melissa says:

    I never made it to the theaters to see Les Mis when it was out. I am planning on getting the DVD and watching it, most likely without my daughter first, then maybe with her. I’ve seen the traveling production, and listened to my soundtrack over and over and over. Watched the anniversary special on PBS and online. I don’t know that I’m as big a fan as you are, Col (Can’t name the song order without the CD in front of me) but I am interested to see how it holds up on the screen.

    I read through because I wanted to get your take. I’ll let you know what I think when I finally do watch it.

    I happen to love Anne Hathaway since forever: Princess Diaries, Ella Enchanted, the young Anne. I know she’s going edgy with her acting and she can either be or not be your cup of tea, but my daughter (7) and I will always be fans.

    Thanks for the thoughtful review!

  3. Peter says:

    Hey Colleen,

    FYI, original Eponine, Frances Ruffelle, was also in the movie, as one of the Lovely Ladies.

  4. Lynn says:

    I’m curious to know people’s opinions on what a light and pretty yet strong voice should sound like when a person is not belting.

  5. Grub says:

    I really loved Russell Crowe’s Javert. Critics have complained of his singing as un- musical. I think it has everything to do with Crowe’s interpretation of Javert’s character. In literature, we would call Avert a flat character, without any ability to change or allow his imagination to work on him. He loves the stars not for their magical beauty, but for their orderliness and lack of change. He is soulless and has attached himself always to the letter of the law, which has replaced religious belief, or faith, or a sense of the miraculous or te Devine. As such, he is the perfect French Revolutionist, and a one-note: There is good, which us following the law, and there is an evil, which is breaking the law. Neither has anything to do with the soul, and there is no possibility for people to change, for him to change. Crowe approaches the role and the music with a brutish lack of nuance, only the brute force of the rightness of the law, which gives him his dogged, un imaginative, compassionless word view. Finally understanding that he is wrong, that in Valjean there is both the law breaker and the good, forgiving, redeemed man, who did not fall from the sky like Lucifer did, and as Valjean should have, Javert cannot accept the fact that all he knew, pursued, and lived for is wrong, and he cannot live in a world different from the one he clung to, and thus killed himself because he could not live with knowing he had been wrong. Crowe sings the role in this full force, un-conflicted way, with no nuance, no heart. I think the voice is very true to the character.

  6. Grub says:

    I don’t understand why everybody raves about Anne Hathaway’s “three and a half minute unbroken one-take shot” of “I dreamed a dream,” which won her the Oscar. Broadway actor/singers do this six n uprights a week and twice on Sundays. It’s called acting. It’s her job in the film.

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