Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Totally Biased Review of Les Miserables

So, I went and finally saw Les Miserables tonight.  There was decidedly some high school theatre geek squee going on with me, as attested to by my companion for the evening, who is a friend from Jr. High and High School.  He laughed at my squee, but I cared not. 
It was like I was a teenager again, seeing the stage show for the first time.  When the orchestration began and the men's voices started, I felt a bit giddy, no lie. 
So, here's what I think.  Technical bits first, perhaps.  There was, without a doubt, the stamp of Cameron MacIntosh on the show.  Now, some might say that that is not a good thing, for it to be so obvious whose creative fingers were in the pie, but let's be honest, if you've seen Les Mis onstage, you have seen Les Mis.  It's a Cameron MacIntosh production.  Since Les Mis was the first "real" Broadway theatre I ever saw, I did rather enjoy recognizing the "Cameron MacIntosh-ness" of the whole thing.
In addition there were some fairly significant lyric changes.  This was interesting to me as well.  The screenplay for the movie was written by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil, who were the original composer and lyricist for the stage production.  So, the changes to the lyrics were, in my opinion, well done and kept with the spirit of the show.  I won't lie, though, it did throw me off a bit, although, in the same way, it made me pay more attention to what the changes meant with regards to the character.
Jean Valjean, our protagonist/hero was played by Hugh Jackman.  I've seen Hugh Jackman perform musical theatre before (Boy from Oz, anyone?) so, I knew he had at least some MT chops.  Russell Crowe has a band, so presumable he could sing.  Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried, though I knew, quite well, who they were, were unknowns to me in the singing department.  And, I am sorry to admit, I had no idea who Eddie Redmayne was before this.  Or Samantha what's-her-name that played Eponine.
So, yeah, Hugh Jackman was good.  I'm a huge fan of Colm Wilkinson's voice as Valjean, so it took a bit of getting past the fact that Mr. Jackman wasn't Mr. Wilkinson, but I did enjoy his performance very much.  He was a bit nasally in parts, but the raw emotion visible on his face and his body more than made up for the lack in his voice.  Of course, watching a musical requires even more of a suspension of disbelief than does a straight show, but I felt like Hugh Jackman's singing really was just an extension of his talking, and not like I was having a song thrown at me.
Russell Crowe.   Oh boy.  I don't think anyone is lukewarm about his performance.  They really enjoyed it or really disliked it.  I disliked.  Big time.  I didn't feel he grasped the character at all in his singing.  His posture, body language and facial expressions captured it and I think his spoken lines were ok, but his singing quite took me out of it.  His songs sounded like pop-ish ballads to me, rather than the emotional,  hard core feel that I have come to expect from Javert.  It really felt emotionless.  I find Javert to be such a passionate character.  Passionate in his search for absolute justice.  He is not a cruel or evil man, he is simply a relentless pursuer of justice.  And his past is what drives him to pursue said justice.  I think he feels like he did not get any.  He was born in a prison to "scum like you" as he tells Valjean.  There was no justice there for him, he had to work his way out of the gutter and proved that it can be done, so there are no excuses for anyone else.  I like this character, a lot.  In fact, he is one of my favorites.  Now, as stated in my title, this is a biased review.  Because I have come to expect a certain "feel" from Javert, to have it not delivered was quite a disappoinment.  I never felt any of the solid entrenchment in his beliefs that I would have expected and in Javert's final scene?  I felt no conflict.  Seriously, it was like Russell Crowe was singing a Taylor Swift song about her lousy boyfriend who betrayed her and then he jumped off the bridge.  Lame.
Marius.  Ah, we was lovely.  Nice voice, attractive boy, perfect for Marius. 
Cosette.  She is one of my least favorite musical characters EVER.  I think she is utterly insipid and she twitters when she sings.  And Amanda Seyfried nailed it. 
Fantine-Wow.  Just wow.  I admit, I missed most of the death scene because I had to pee, but what I saw of it coupled with the rest of her performance was amazing.  She captured the utter despair that Fantine feels in "I Dreamed a Dream" like I have never seen before.  I've never really been a fan of the Fantine character before, but I am now.  The raw emotion on her face, the despair at her betrayals in her voice.  Oh, she was perfect.  And, let's be honest, it takes a bit of guts for an actress to allow herself to be that unattractive on film.  Anne Hathaway looked the part.  A beat down, malnourished, hopeless woman.  She NAILED it.  It was beautiful and heartbreaking.
Eponine-Meh.  She was fine.  She had a slightly freakish body shape that distracted me.  The corset did not work for her.
And, ok, major highlight for me.  COLM WILKINSON.  That was EPIC!!!!  Oh, how I loved seeing him as the bishop.  That was utterly and completely perfect.  And also elicited some fangirl squee from me.  Now, if Michael Ball had had a cameo?  I might have fainted. 
The costumes were divine.  I loved the texture of the fabrics they chose.  The smocking on Fantine's first dress was gorgeous and I loved how it showed that she had once seen better times, despite her current poverty.
However, the costume highlights for me were Marius and Jean Valjean.  Oh, they were amazing!  The costumers absolutely got the shape of the body right for the period.  It's a hard shape to create, the stacked up neck and sloping shoulders.  It was beautiful.  And the varying textures and fabrics in Valjean's various coats and vests and cravates made me drool.  I loved the way they changed from point to point and it was easy to see who/what Valjean was at any given time. 
There were some camera moments that had me reeling, and not in a good way.  It seemed that any time there was quick camera work, dodging between shots, etc, that they went out of their way to NOT make it smooth.  I get that the steadicam thing is not in vogue at the moment because the natural movement makes it seem more real, but ouch.  I have had a background migraine for a couple of days waiting to sneak up on me and that choppy camera work certainly exacerbated the problem.  I had to cover my right eye a few times so I could watch without falling out of my chair. 
It's a rather politically charged movie and I would like to see it again, to be able to watch with a more critical eye how the story is told.  This time, I really was kind of all fan girl about it.  But, if you want to read an interesting take on the politics of it, go here.  He's an excellent writer, and one of my former professors.


Jenna said...

I completely agree with your review. Russell Crowe drove me NUTS. Ugh, I couldn't stand his voice. But overall I loved it...seeing it so upclose was fantastic - emotion oozed from the characters (well, almost all the characters). Can't wait to see it again :)

EatingLemonKnitKnitKnit said...

My friend who saw the movie has exact same opinion as yours.