A Look at Les Miserables
Recently, Les Miserables has been the subject of every other facebook status I have read since Christmas. There is no real general consensus, some people really hate it, REALLY hate it, some didn’t mind it, and some actually liked it-like me. WHAT? You say but-Russell Crowe! But-awful vocal technique, but -lack of character depth, but-obnoxiously emotionally manipulative storyline. I know. None of these things have escaped me. While we are on the subject of everything that is wrong with this movie, let’s just go right into it.
First off, a lot of the actors are big stars, people that will bring in a certain demographic because they are devoted fans to this actor, and not necessarily Les Miserables. This has proved fatal in some movie musicals, such as Sweeney Todd, and then surprisingly good in others i.e Chicago. Les Miserables for me was a mixed bag. The wool was not pulled over our eyes, we all know generally who was really on it, and who was not.
Hugh Jackman. I say good! I felt there were some moments that were delivered wrong,for example, belting out Bring him home, a song typically done with a sense of spirituality and usually pianissimo, nope Hugh Jackman would have none of it, It’s all gonna be Forte and I am going to demand you bring him home or I will come up there and….wait. Vocally, sometimes his timbre was not pleasant to listen to, but a lot of it was pretty, and there were a lot of really great moments as well. Jean Valjean is an enormous responsibility, because he holds up the entire show, and I think Hugh Jackman did that, given that he’s a big name and able to do as well as he did, I was really impressed.
Ok Rusell Crowe. He has been getting a really bad rap to the point where I feel really bad for him and a little protective. Russell Crowe oh Russell Crowe. The real problem is he just has a very nasally voice, and it’s not something I really want to listen to for 3 hours. Something unusual about his performance, is that he opted to sing EVERY single note written, every single one! Everyone else would go into this sing speech every now and then, sometimes they’d not sing notes at all and just say the phrase. Not Russell. The problem with this is, he didn’t put inflection in anything he said, he sang the entire role monotonously, which did not make for an interesting character. I also got a sense that the singing made him nervous and he kind of backed down acting wise. Russell Crowe is a really great actor (watch a Beautiful Mind) he’s perfect for the role of Javert, the menacing, stoic vicious vulture of the law Javert, but not the singing Javert. Beneath the nasally voice, the monotone, and the silly hat lies a great Javert, just one that doesn’t sing.
Anne Hathaway.Good.The best in my opinion. Though she’s only on screen for about 20 minutes, I thought she totally killed it. She sang her stuff really well, and she acted everything very well. There’s nothing I feel I need to pick apart really so I’m moving on.
Marius-don’t ask me his name, I don’t know it. He was great too! However, his full body convulsions to create vibrato, really bugged me after the first 5 minutes, this hasn’t seemed to bother anyone as much as me though….
Aaron Tveit- What a voice! He did an awesome job too! He made Enjolras assertive and strong, but he wasn’t an asshole, which is a common trait among Enjolrases…es.
Samantha Barks- I thought she was good too, I just don’t understand why she didn’t belt the final note in On my own. It sounded like she couldn’t do it, but she totally can-we all saw her at the 25th Anniversary! She also lost her waist somewhere, if found I’m sure she would greatly appreciate it if she got it back.
Amanda Seyfried, not my favorite. She acted Cosette well, and I guess she hit all the notes but her voice is pretty shallow. But I think she fit the Cosette requirements just fine.
The Thenardiers, I was underwhelmed. They were funny but not funny enough for me. I think the problem was Helena Bonham Carter’s, general nonchalance and apathy for everything-which she does in every movie. I couldn’t tell the difference between her Mrs. Lovett and her Madame T. Sasha Baron Cohen, I thought was really funny, I loved all the little lines he added. As a team they were funny, but I think Les Miserables needs it’s comedic reliefs to be extremes, because on the flip side the show is an extreme, things need to be kept in balance, and they were too subtle for me to make it work.
Phew…and after all that I still say I like it! I knew Les Mis before it was a movie, and my main fear about the movie was that it would not do justice to the stage play, but I think it did do it justice. It told the same story, the changes that were made were all good, and most of them improvements on the show. Song placements made more sense and there was so much clarification made for the audience, which was much needed. The scenery was great though some of the specials effects looked like a computer game, the close ups got a bit annoying, some of the actors intentions were wrong, the voices were not the voices of the West end I am used to, but you know what it did what it had to do and still used “big names”, it did good by me.
I think it’s unfair to judge the movie based on the flaws in the stage show, which I never really realized how many there were until now, after having read many angry blogs about all the fundamental issues with this show.
The show is emotionally manipulative. It’s designed to wrap us up in the unbelievable sadness of each character and take us on this painful journey leaving us all drained and miserable. And we experience a new wave of pain with each character that is suffering-which is like all of them, and there are a lot of them. Plus, it’s the musical of never ending power ballads, Valjean’s Soliloquy, I dreamed a dream, Who am I, Stars, In my life, On my own, Bring him home, Empty Chairs at empty tables STAHP! I’m probably forgetting some too! Can we please have something other than a power ballad? And then it turns into, who can be more emotional, more expressive, more belt-y, more power ballad-y. I’m not watching a power ballad vocal competition (American idol anyone, maybe in this case starving French idol..) I am watching a play, a musical, a rock opera, plus, no one even knows what this show is about. “Well I do” you say, “it’s about a revolution”, ok which one? “The French revvv…” Wrong! This is not the French revolution. Marie Antoinette is NOT alive anymore, the whole guillotine thing is over and done with, I am so sick of this mistake, from hardcore fans too. I couldn’t even tell you exactly what politically is going on in France during this show, even after seeing this show so many times. What is the draw to an irrelevant political issue that none of us can really put our fingers on…I can’t tell you. Maybe the irrelevance and ambiguity is what’s so intriguing, it pulls us completely out of ourselves and wraps us up into this world. Everything I say about the story, I am not at all talking about the novel, the novel is deep, heavily involved, hundreds of pages, well written, but how can you take all the details and nuances, every plot thread, and every character’s thought of a 500 page French novel and set it to music, make it reasonably timed, accessible to everyone, and a mega hit musical? You can’t. It’s not possible. So you cut away details, simplify it and boil it down to a 2:40 minutes show. What you loose are the things that make it rich and deep, and are left with a bunch of miserable French people, who sing about how miserable they are.
Another problem is the music doesn’t really have a lot of depth, it’s popular hit after popular hit. Not much harmonic depth, nothing that challenges the ears, I chord V chord etc. Even the lyrics aren’t necessarily poetic, some of the lyrics are quite beautiful but of Sondheim caliber, I would say not. But what can you expect, Les Miserables, is a translation from a French musical (which flopped in France by the way) and there’s not enough time to get fancy, there is a lot of story to tell here and we need to get out of here under 3 hours please. And another thing, there are about five melodies in this show, I mean leitmotifs are great, but come on.
I have to be honest, I wasn’t really aware of all the problems in Les Miserables, until the movie came out, and everyone voiced their opinions about it. But the thing is, people are extremely passionate about this show, movie, phenomenon. It gets people so angry, I personally know several people who have a reverent and deep love for this musical, people revolve their lives around this show.
Whatever you think of it, I have never seen so many consistent facebook statuses about how this movie makes people feel. What is it that literally drives people crazy about this show? I have just mercilessly pointed out all it’s flaws. It’s based on a type of novel that no one wants to read-ever, the lure of guns and battles isn’t typically alluring to the broadway crowd…what is it? It’s a mystery, I don’t know. I see all the flaws, I feel myself being emotionally manipulated, but I still like Les Miserables. Why the world has flocked to this musical is beyond me, but I know why I like it, sort of love it. Les Miserables preaches beautiful simple love (ok, give me a musical that doesn’t) but love on a spiritual level, “to love another person is to see the face of God”, some of the songs are cheesy, the characters are melodramatic, but that line rings so true, and it’s one of those most honest statements you can make.period. That is what the die hard fans see. What the die hard haters see are all the flaws I mentioned, and won’t look past them. It’s easy for us to connect on this musical because it tells universal truths, in a very simple, accessible way. There isn’t complicated music that deters people away, the story though complicated is told in a very simple linear manner, you don’t even need to understand everything that’s going on, all you need to know is Valjean was wronged but is noble and good. Fantine gives up everything because she loves her daughter, Javert believes the law is God’s will, The students are fighting for a better world, Eponine’s love is unrequited, Cosette wants truth, Marius is torn between love and duty.
Les Mis isn’t perfect, but at it’s core it tells the truth and has elevated it’s audiences on a spiritual level for decades. Did the movie do that? In my opinion it did. So yes, I liked the movie. I like Les Mis. It’s so flawed but it’s also very beautiful. “To love another person is to see the face of God.”