Sunday, January 6, 2013

Thoughts: Les Mis (film)

So I stopped my life for another three hours this weekend for another movie.  Not just any movie though, Les Miserables.

I have gushed about Les Mis several times in the past.  It should be fairly known how much I love Les Mis.  In fact, once I get going on the Hunger Games trilogy, I plan on reading the novel.  I am sure there is much I am missing.  To me Les Mis is THE musical.  It’s of it’s own standard.

This movie did not disappoint.

I won’t pretend that seeing a musical on a movie screen isn’t odd because it is.  Les Mis is a true musical where just about every piece of script is sung and it does come across as awkward at times.  This is always most noticeable in the beginning but as the movie progresses (much like subtitles on a foreign film) one forgets that everyone is constantly singing.

What I love about Les Mis is that it’s a drama, a period piece, and not the typical love story.  Les Mis was never a love story to me although it is one, but not Romeo and Juliet.  It’s about love of your fellow man, love of your family, finding love, learning to love, etc.

I grew up to the soundtrack of Les Mis.  It’s been a staple in my music collection for years and once it’s on I get lost in it.  I am still finding new reasons to love the music of Les Mis.  I have also seen the show on Broadway where I then understood much more of what I had been listening to in the sound track.  Yet as I learned today so much is still missed.  The difference from seeing Les Mis on Broadway versus film is that on film the little bits of the story that I was unaware of are not missed.

Jean Valjean is arrested for stealing bread to feed his starving sister and her son.  He serves a 19 year sentence in prison and is put on parole for the rest of his life.  Serving time for feeding his family has made him an angry and lost man.  As he looks for work he is treated poorly because of being labeled a convict until a church takes him in; feeding him and offering a nights rest.  Jean then steals all of the churches silver and takes off in the middle of the night.  He is caught and dragged back to the church, where the bishop tells the police he gave the silver to Jean and then gives Jean the candlesticks he left behind by mistake.  It is this act of kindness that changes Jean Valjean.  He chooses to become an honest man.  In doing this he breaks parole knowing as long as he remains Jean Valjean he will never be known as anything other then a convict.  He reinvents himself going by several names most notably Monsieur Medeleine.

Throughout the story, we know that Jean is a kind man.  Yet he is hunted by Javert who does not believe men can change and wants to imprison Jean Valjean.  Jean attempts to save Fantine, but she passes away.  He then saves her daughter Cosette from the Thenardiers and rasies her as his own child.  He saves a man crushed by a buggy.  He saves Cosette’s beau Marius.  He saves him quite magnificently in fact.  This is something I did not pick up in the theater production.  He also saves Javert even though Javert refuses to stop hunting him.  Several times throughout the film characters say how Jean saved them.  It’s quite a beautiful life he had as hard as it was.

Here’s what I didn’t like about the movie.  They changed the music.  They messed with the MUSIC.  They messed with it in a way that was so obvious and unnecessary that it was obnoxious.  “Turning” was pretty much pointless to include since the women only sang a few short bars to show them cleaning the blood off the streets.  “On My Own” had the opening and an entire verse plucked out, plus one very well known dramatic melody was changed.  “Valjean’s Death” had a new verse written over one that would have worked just fine.  Eponine was also removed from the scene and the song (which actually made sense because of how the movie rolled out).  Gavroche’s part in “Stars” was changed and made longer (a bit awkwardly).  “Little People” was also noticeably changed but because it was cut off and then finished at a dramatic moment I didn’t mind it so much.  There were other changes but those are the ones I picked up on the most because those are poignant songs to me.  I just don’t understand unnecessary changes to a composition that is already quite brilliant.

I didn’t like Eponine.  While Samantha Barks is a beautiful girl with a beautiful voice, I don’t think she fit the culture of the film.  I don’t think she had strong vocals where she needed them to be, but for a debut role she was pretty great.  Eponine is supposed to be ragged and underweight.  Samantha is neither of these.  Not to mention she doesn’t exactly look like Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carters child.  She just doesn’t suit the role to me.  I hate saying that.  I do think that she is a much better choice then Taylor Swift.  Apparently, Swift was looking to play Eponine.  I like Swift, but definitely not as Eponine.  Plus, I am pretty sure in "On My Own" the key was changed to accommodate Samantha’s vocals.  Eponine is not a soprano and “On My Own” is definitely sung in a higher register then it should have been.  I also noticed little to no interaction between grown up Eponine and her parents.  The relationship between Eponine and Cosette is never established either.

Lastly, the ACCENTS!  The accents were killing me.  This is France.  This is not England.  This is not America.  I am pretty sure the only hint of a French accent came from Sasha Baron Cohen.  I heard a lot of English accents mixing with American, why?  American film equals American accent.  That’s fine.  But why have the few English accents?  That I don’t understand and it was driving me nuts.

So what did I like?

Anne Hathaway, period.  I have never been a big fan of Anne.  I never disliked her.  I have enjoyed quite a few of her films, usually a comedy but even I liked “The Devil Wears Prada.”  I even enjoyed her as Catwoman (shhh… don’t tell anyone).  I am not sure if the role of Fantine was made for her or she made Fantine hers.  When she sings “I Dreamed a Dream” with the camera dead on her face (looking dirty, showing every fine line and wrinkle, crying, runny nose, and the like) one can not deny her commitment to the character.  I am pretty sure many actresses would not be able to pull that off (or would be willing to try).  Oh and when she dies… it’s an incredible performance.

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean is a dream come true.  He is incredible.  In his beginning scenes is almost unrecognizable with a ragged beard and short hair.  The film is Hugh at his best dramatically.  The man can sing.  He can.  I do wish at some points he had shown more emotion in his vocals.  It’s strange to see it in the acting and not hear it in the voice.  I also think he isn’t a tenor, but a baritone.  It seemed as though some of the notes were hard for him.  With all the music changes I am not sure why they didn’t lower the key for the voice.  Personally, I would have found that to be more acceptable then rewritting verses.  They did it for Eponine.

Russell Crowe, as Javert.  As if I wasn’t girl crushing enough over Hugh Jackman they threw Russell Crowe into the mix as well?  Two of my favorite leading men together in my favorite musical?  Can it get better?  Crowe was just as wonderful as Javert.  Again, he needed show more emotion in his vocals.  I also get the feeling that Crowe is not a baritone but more of a tenor.  He seemed to have trouble hitting those deep notes, but it seemed less obvious to me.  I enjoyed watching Javert’s wardrobe change through the times, most noticeably his hats!  His death is one to be seen as well.  He dies both dramatically and predictably.

Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter were perfect for the Thenardier’s.  They are a horrible thieving duo that serve as the comedy relief.  Interestingly enough Sasha and Helena were in “Sweeney Todd” together as well.  Sasha is made for this kind of comedy.  It’s dirty, rough, rude and suits him perfectly.  Helena plays his other half perfectly.  It was a treat seeing them in these roles together.  I can’t think of any other known actors that could have played this role.  It was wonderful seeing Helena in a film without Johnny Depp or Tim Burton attached.  It seems she was in Great Expectations as well.  I must see this.

Amanda Seyfried is as always beautiful and well suited for this role.  Surprisingly she has some powerful vocals.  During her singing in “Valjean’s Death” I could hear the vibrato in her vocals.  She certainly looks the part of Cosette as well.

Eddie Redmayne plays Marius and at first I thought he was an odd choice, but by the end of the film I grew to love him.  He made a wonderful Marius.  Aaron Tveitt was wonderful as well.  Aaron goes out with a dramatic bang as well.

Can I geek out for a minute?  I just realized that Colm Wilkinson was in the film!  Colm was the bishop in the film.  However, he played Jean Valjean in the 1985 London cast and then the 1987 Broadway cast!  Which means he is probably the actor that played Jean Valjean when I saw the Broadway production so many years ago.  Gush!

It really is a wonderful movie.  I even cried at the end.  I am pretty sure everyone around me in the theater was tearing up.  The lady behind us was sobbing.  Crying and tearing up is one thing but sobbing was a bit extreme.

What’s funny about Les Mis is that almost everyone dies.  It’s not laughable funny, but you’re taken on a journey through a man’s life and everyone from beginning to end dies and dramatically.  No one dies by simply getting shot.  No they have to go out with fireworks.  Enjolras is shot in such a manner that he hangs off a balcony.  Gavroche, a child, is shot collecting gun powder.  Fantine dies hallucinating.  Javert commit’s a dramatic suicide.  Valjean dies of old age.  Eponine is shot in battle but she lives long enough to sing “A Little Fall of Rain” so that she has a long drawn out death.

It's interesting to me that once I had been told the Eponine was the prize female role in Les Mis and not Cosette because Eponine has more depth.  Eponine is longing for love and is heartbroken and gritty while Cosette is beautiful and just falls in love and is in love for the rest of the time.  Yet Amanda gave Cosette depth and Samatha took depth away from Eponine.

Even with my criticisms, I still feel like this was a fantasy film for me.  This is something I never thought I would see in screen.  Sure Les Mis has been filmed before, but not like this.  Just like the Broadway show, it’s a standard of its own.  It’s not often a dramatic musical is filmed and certainly never to this caliber.  Bravo.

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