Les Miserables, le Film!

I had a few misgivings going into this film, and am happy to report that in a word, I found it: beautiful.  I deem this an admirable addition to the Les Miz repertoire.  Furthermore, I think it serves as a good introduction to this iconic cultural experience and that going from the movie to the show or other versions will work well for newcomers.  That being said, I do have Thoughts.  Many of them could be fairly described as nitpicks, but let’s face it-this is Les Miz we’re talking about, the details are Important.  Ergo,  SPOILERS AHEAD:

 

On Camerawork:  The main thing here is the extreme close-ups of singers during their solos.  I found this really worked sometimes (“I Dreamed a Dream”) and was a bad choice at others, like Valjean’s first full song.  Part of this might be that I’m biased from seeing the show, where I’m used to seeing a still Fantine belt her heart out and Valjean whirl and tear around the stage.  However, I think it’s also just the song.  It makes sense that Fantine, or Eponine, who are singing about established events like memories of past love or recurring fantasies can be expected to do the most valuable expressions through their faces, to the exclusion of all else.  Valjean experiences current, violent struggles where in order to really get the audience to feel it, it seems like a disservice to limit his acting to his face.  Particularly since Jackman’s voice, while often quite good, is not really up to that first song, particularly if you have something to compare it to.  The fact that the scenery was obviously gorgeous and we were denied a good look at it was also distracting.  Ergo, I felt this was a choice they made to try and give proper respect to the power of the music, which is great, only if the quality of the music is not going to be up to this sort of focus you should really just admit it and give the audience more to hold onto those times.

 

On new things: Generally speaking, I found myself neutral on the new songs.  I was also pretty good with the slightly switched order of things.  However, there were certain points where the lyrics were just different and that detached me from the story.  For example, at the very end Valjean sang, “On this page I write my last confession…”  and then did Not say “It’s a story of those who always loved you.”  I don’t even remember what he did say.  It was about him, which makes sense to me, but still-people KNOW these lyrics, people, it just seems strange to mess around with them in little ways like that.  And again, I was suddenly outside the story, going “Wait-what?” instead of being swept along with the normally overwhelming death/finale sequence.

As far as different things happened in the actual plot, as compared to the Broadway show, I found them fascinating.  I loved the death scene of Enjolras and Grantaire.  I enjoyed Javert tendering his resignation.  I’m still a bit undecided on Javert’s restraint during Valjean’s rescue of Fantine.  The bit with Eponine withholding Cosette’s note was AWFUL, in ways that I will detail in the characters’ section.

 

On Characters:

Gavroche: Oh, I loved Gavroche.  I found him perfect.  My only thing here is that I REALLY WISH they had let him sing the full verse of “Little People” right after he outs Javert, so he can have his triumphant, defiant, AWESOME moment where he gets to FINISH IT, and then kept it as a reprise for his death.  I think that would have been even more heartwrenching, I love “Little People” and know this Gavroche would have absolutely knocked it out of the park if they’d let him do the whole thing, and am still a bit sad thinking about it.  I literally clutched my heart and let out my breath when they at least let Gavroche sing the reprise before his death-I was so relieved about that song I kindof missed the impact of Gavroche being shot, actually.  I really did like the addition of Javert giving Gavroche his badge.  I thought it could have been fleshed out slightly better, but it works in my head and I loved it.

 

Cosette: Amanda Seyfried should be commended.  I thought she did as much as she could with this very marginal role.  Combined with showing Cosette and Valjean’s daring entrance into the monastery combined with Amanda’s acting to bring more gumption to Cosette.  For the first time I really agreed that yes, Cosette must have a strange life where it would be incredibly frustrating to not know the reasons behind huge life transitions, whereas previously I had always found her a nosy, spoiled brat who had no respect for the finer human issues in life, which is what Les Mis is all about.  Moreover, the whole gate/garden/beautiful interior setup evoked the feeling of gothic romance mysteries, putting Cosette in the implied position of naive-heroine-caught-in-a-mystery, which automatically imbues her with the spirit of other such heroines like Jane Eyre and adds a good dollop of mysterious allure to her storyline.  It was extremely well-played, movie.  Well-played.  (Although, that first look at her with the ginormous bonnet and the black-and-white dress made her look like Little Bo Peep turned nun after losing her sheep.)

 

Fantine: Generally speaking, I have not liked Anne Hathaway.  Suffice it to say that her performance as Fantine is spectacular enough that I have a newfound respect for her.

 

Thernardiers: Helena Bonham Carter fit her role like a glove.  *raises glass to the mistress of the house*  To be perfectly honest, I found Sasha Baron Cohen’s Thernardier a bit lacking in zest.  “Master of the House” felt definitely slower than usual.  This was perhaps the one time that I did not actually have difficulty resisting the urge to join in, and that made me a trifle sad.  On the other hand, Cohen did bring some other things to the role, like the constant misnaming of Cosette and overall did decently.

 

Eponine: I feel Samantha Barks did well by this role.  The singing worked, she sold the attraction to Marius convincingly, and she managed to work a typically tough character into a kinder, gentler model and have it work.  I do feel the writing and direction let her down, though.  In every other version I’ve seen, it is crystal clear that Eponine is her own mistress, crafty, smart, and involved in many things other than her father or love interest.  Before I have always felt certain that Eponine met Marius because she was already very interested and passionate about the revolutionary cause, that being with them was evidence of her being smart enough and audacious enough to be accepted by those in other circles because Eponine was all about reaching for what she wants without deluding herself about anything.  If I were to go just be this film’s Eponine, I’d think she was solely around the students because of trailing Marius around, and that being lovesick about him really was her only note in this play, particularly with her keeping of the letter rather than actually delivering the missives between the lovers as in the show, and clearly sacrificing her life to save Marius instead of to-help-Marius-and-the-revolutionary-cause.  That…is not a version of Eponine that I’m okay with.  Eponine is usually my favorite character and, again, definitely not Samantha Barks’ fault, but I just didn’t connect to this one at all.

 

Marius: Okay, the first time I ever saw a version of Marius, I really liked him.  That version just really sold Marius as this incredibly passionate, eager, throwing-himself-full-throttle-at-everything guy, where throwing his heart at a girl he just met was actually a reflection of the fervor he poured into other things like revolutionary work and that was just him: all fire and racing blood and going for it hell-for-leather.  Every version I’ve seen since then has been  more and more of a little, lovesick boy who’s not really worth the things he gets.  This Marius was the epitome of the Goober interpretation to me.  I was sitting there feeling for Enjolras, who couldn’t properly plan the framework of the barricade because he had to spend his time, on the night before revolution, re-revving his men and reteaching them the proper words to say, even, because Marius just had to go and try to spread his lovesick gooberness over everything.  The fact that “One Day More” had this Marius singing about being torn between fighting or searching for Cosette when he didn’t actually have her note about where the hell she went just highlighted all the wrong things.  In my original, eager version of Marius, the decision is hard primarily because he’s never had to actually restrain himself from going at Everything at once before, and realizing that these issues were serious enough that he had to actually stick to One Thing was his coming-of-age moment, and it was earnest, and the choice of revolution just proved that he was awesome.  In this version Marius is considering backing out of the revolution he’d been planning with his best friends for months to attempt an earth-search quest for a girl whose whereabouts he has no clue about.  Oh, sweetie.  *shakes head*

With that as the background, Marius’ serious-fighting moment when he threatened to blow the barricade actually seemed to highlight his lovesickness and inability to believe in other things enough to live without Cosette, rather than any real, credible revolutionary zeal.  Granted, a lot of the problems with this version were again, not the actor’s fault, but related to the moving of “One Day More” and the fact that the changed action about withholding Cosette’s note screwed over Marius’ character, as well as Eponine’s.  However, I did feel that there were things this actor could have done, in all his screentime, to improve this version of the character, and that just did not happen.  To me, this was the most Goober Marius ever, particularly considering the coterie of hot, strong, comrades constantly surrounding Marius.  But no, Cosette just had to choose Goober Boy.  Oh, well, considering most people never see Marius as much more than that, even without the changed show factors , what can you really do?

 

Valjean: Overall, I feel Jackman did a great job.  I loved his confrontation with Javert, especially.  There were a few times where his singing simply did not do what it should have done, or just sang notes lower than they should have been.  In fact, my favorite parts of his songs were often the lines that he chose to make spoken words instead.  They always seemed to fit well into his acting.  His Valjean is an interesting version because he actually seems much more in control of himself than the other Valjeans I’ve seen.  There’s no whirling or hair-tearing, there’s no hitting of the bishop or injuring Javert…he’s just quieter.  It’s an interesting choice.  I think it played well off Russell Crowe’s version of Javert, but it’s not a Valjean I’d advocate more people doing.  In this show, with these actors, it did work wonderfully, overall.

-One thing that did leap out at me, though.  Valjean has never been a great negotiator with the Thernardiers.  Before, however, it always seemed plain to me that Valjean COULD have done it, except Javert was after them, and knew where they were going, and he had to keep things moving and wasn’t risking it over some money, whatever.  In this film… Javert’s pursuit went totally out of my head.  All I saw was Valjean letting himself being blatantly taking advantage of and not really caring.  It was the one scene that to me suffered the most from Jackson’s calmer version of Valjean.  I didn’t see any possible flares or if-only-it-weren’t-for-Javert things ever, like I’m used to seeing, and at least for this scene, that dropped a lot of the plot’s tension for me.

Also, on his final confrontation with Javert in the sewer, I did appreciate the thematic appropriateness of them meeting once more with Javert looking down and Valjean being covered in filth, as they were in prison.

 

Javert: This is a very different Javert than I’m used to.  I’m used to the cold, sharp, rah! Javert’s that push, and push, and push, and suddenly snap.  Crowe’s Javert was slowly, crushingly ground down by his encounters with Valjean over time and his ultimate surrender was comparatively soft.  I found myself gravitating towards this Javert a lot more than to the others.  I really appreciate Crowe for that.  I really felt for him as he stood up to the students after being revealed, when he was tendering his resignation, and when he gave his badge to Gavroche.  This could have been the Javert that finally made me love the role rather than appreciate it, except…the singing.  I’m sorry, I know he did what he could, but that singing just was not enough for me.  No matter what he was singing, Crowe had a rhythm that was what he could do and he stuck to it.  It was always. the. same.  I simply could not buy the main things commitments and changes with his character when he was singing his big solos because the cadence, the rhythm, was always so similar.  Here the directors did realize the problem and backed up his close-ups with views and footwork, which helped, but…it just fell that bit short to me.  Crowe was indeed reaching…but he fell.  Not short of anyone else I’ve seen, or in acting, or in concept, but…this is a performance and that one aspect of his ruined the glory for me.  Russell Crowe is my favorite Javert of all.  If only…

 

 

So, “Les Miserables” was a pleasure.  The sum of all these parts is wonderful, even if you can’t be assaulted by smoke or actually hear gunshots the way you can during the actual show.  Even without the best of singers, for all that it is so important.  The various pieces of that gestalt…they could use some thoughts.

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