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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Will you love or hate Les Misérables? A movie review.

In the past three weeks I'd read so many negative reviews about Les Misérable the film I wasn't quite sure what my ultimate reaction would be. Disappointment? I hoped not. Last Friday I saw it, loved it, and want to see it again.

Post-viewing tips I can share with you are:
  1. Sit further away from the screen instead of closer. Because a lot of the movie is shot close up I think it makes it easier to take in if you're further back in the theater. For me, being a person who loves details I enjoyed the close ups. It allowed more emotion to come through the screen and I wish more movies were shot in this style focusing on the actor's ability to convey the intensity of their feelings using only their eyes, facial expressions, vocal tone, and script to do so. 
  2. If you ever cry at movies bring Kleenex. If you cry more than the average person or are highly sensitive also bring a garbage bag. As it turned out I wasn't boo-hoo-hooing through the entire show. I just had a sniffle and a few tears every time Fantine or Eponine sang. One tissue in each hand tided me over until the end at which point I had to reach for another three, as did my friend Jewel who saw the movie with me.
  3. Try not to compare it to the stage production. While more similar than different they are not the same in several aspects. Most noticeably they differ in the more realistic way the songs are performed as dialogue, not as polished musical numbers.
  4. If you don't like musicals you probably won't like this movie. It's not just songs inserted into a film, the entire film is an almost three hours long continuous song.

The acting, singing, and casting were, imo, superb. I saw the stage production in NYC almost 20 years ago so I do have a basis for comparison. The singing in the film, while imperfect here and there, felt real to me. We don't always speak in perfectly pitched voices so if a song felt a bit strained by emotion at times, for me, it only brought more believability to the characters.

I wasn't at all disappointed by Inspector Javert, played by Russell Crowe, who has been faulted by many for not having a strong enough singing voice. I do understand why some wanted him to cut a more imposing figure but I felt his vocal range and strength were appropriate for his character. Despite his tenacity as an inspector, his vocal limitations showed he wasn't an invincible dark force. He was just a man, quite a simple man, who rigidly believed in God and the law.


While Fantine and Eponine have the two best songs, I have to say it was Hugh Jackman's acting performance as Jean Valjean that was the most striking and convincing mostly because he was, whether a prisoner or gentleman, completely unrecognizable as the Hugh Jackman I've always seen in interviews. The handsome man with the engaging smile and a perpetual twinkle in his eye was gone. The twinkle wasn't just dimmed, it was snuffed out completely in this film.

And the women delivered. I couldn't have been more moved by both Anne Hathaway's performance of I Dreamed a Dream and Samantha Bark's On My Own. I'd already purchased both songs off iTunes before seeing the film and had been playing nothing but those two songs for days before I saw the film.



Cosette as an adult, played by Amanda Seyfried, with her lyrical, lilting voice evoked a nightingale, even though I've never heard a nightingale sing and have no idea what they sound like. Eddie Redmayne's voice as Marius complemented Cosette's perfectly. Thank goodness they epitomized the happily ever after we all hope for or this would have been the most sad movie I'd ever seen.

And while it is a musical, the biggest takeaway for me was the message Victor Hugo wanted to share with the reader. So many decades later Les Misérables is still a story that needs to be told:

The Preface to “Les Misérables”

By Victor Hugo
1802–1885

"So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine, with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age—the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night—are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless."

All in all the ensemble cast is an entertaining and winning team proven by all of the awards the show has already won this season. In fact, just two days after I saw the film both Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathway won Golden Globe awards for their performances as did the show as Best Picture for a Musical or Comedy. Congratulations to all. The acknowledgements are well deserved.

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