Mes Réflexions Sur ‘Les Miserables’

31 Dec

As you may have heard, the movie version of ‘Les Miserables’ opened. And people have opinions! So many opinions. But you know who else has opinions? Why that’s right! Yours truly. And so I thought I’d share some of them. But you might want to buckle up, because I’ve been listening to and watching Les Mis for years, and as a natural-born overanalyzer, I’ve thought a lot about how the show works. So some of my movie thoughts are going to be a little more musical theater wonk. But don’t worry, I’ll also talk about fun stuff like OH MY GOD HOW MUCH POOP ARE THEY COVERED WITH WHEN THEY GET OUT OF THE SEWERS. So, in no particular order, mes reflexions:

-On the whole, I loved it. It’s a beautiful movie that captures the soul of the show, which captures the soul of the book. And I love that it is unabashedly a musical – I’m so glad they stuck with it being through-sung and recorded live.

-Russell Crowe. Oh, Russell Crowe. You see, I adore Russell Crowe, ever since I saw him as Bud White in ‘L.A. Confidential’, which is an incredible performance and if you haven’t seen that truly excellent movie you should stop reading this right now and go rent it. There is no one I can think of who captures better the combination of true dangerous violence with a vulnerable pain visible right at its heart. I was super psyched when I heard he would be Javert, because I thought that this combination would be great for Javert, a character who must shed his righteous, protected facade to reveal the panic at having his entire worldview shattered. But it just didn’t work, did it? I realized that Russell Crowe, as good as he is, just doesn’t read well as a law-keeper; he is best as a law-breaker, as in ‘L.A. Confidential’ and ‘Gladiator’. And of all the characters, Javert is the one whose voice should be most in control: he is a man who is literally all about being rigidly in line, within boundaries, maintaining the law. Russell Crowe’s rocky sliding all over the place weakened Javert in a way that made the character never quite make sense. Hold on to your butts for a moment, because I’m about to get all dramaturgical up in here: Javert and Jean Valjean are doppelganger characters. Both are men who believe 100% in doing the right thing, but their versions of this are completely opposed; Valjean believes in doing good for others, no matter how that is best achieved (breaking parole), Javert believes in following and maintaining the law. Thus, when they have their final confrontation and Javert realizes that Valjean might be a good man AND a criminal, two things that are mutually exclusive in his head, he has to choose whether to change his entire worldview (as Valjean did after being given the candlesticks, singing THE SAME MUSICAL PHRASE OH MY GOD THIS SHOW IS SO SMART), or end the life that has now proven false. He cannot change, so he dies. But without a rigid Javert to contrast with fluid Valjean, and without confrontations that make you realize their similarities, you lose a big part of the piece. And I hated Javert walking on the edge; he’s the opposite of a daredevil, he follows rules obsessively.

-Yay Colm Wilkinson! I loved that he came back at the end for Valjean, too – it’s always struck me as strange that a character who has such a huge effect on Valjean is never seen again. And I’m so glad they didn’t have Eponine come back with Fantine for Valjean – as previously discussed on this here blog, I always thought that was weird.

-I did sort of miss the candlestick moment that the show has, in which Valjean takes the candlesticks out at the end and you realize for the first time that he’s kept them all along. The movie does a nice job of tracking the candlesticks, though, and I guess it’s harder to reveal stuff like that in a movie, when he has to be somewhere that makes sense in the last scene and not just in ‘undefined theater space’. But why was the Bishop in black? That seemed sort of morbid.

-Since I’m on a Bishop kick, I thought it was super interesting that they changed the Bishop’s lyric “I have bought your soul for God” to “I have saved your soul for God”. I would love to know why – did ‘bought’ seem a little mercenary? I always liked the idea that he’s talking to this rough convict in his own language – not, you are now saved, but, now you owe me. But saved works too.

-Okay, let’s talk about that poop. My sister, who saw the movie before me, said there was a lot of poop post-sewers. But then in the movie, OH MY GOD I HAD NO IDEA, THERE WAS SO MUCH POOP!!! My sister leaned over to me and whispered “it’s like he’s in poop blackface!!” which pretty much made me miss the rest of the scene in a fit of snorting giggles. But she was right – all you can see is the whites of Valjean’s eyes! Wouldn’t Valjean just wipe his face off? Nobody is so virtuous not to be like, hold on a second, I just have to get this HUMAN FECES OFF MY FACE. I mean, even Javert I’m sure would have been like, dude, I’ll just wait here for a minute, you do you, that is gross. And did they have crew members with buckets off camera? Was it a hose? Realistically, how would Marius ever have survived getting THE WASTE OF MULTIPLE PEOPLE in an open wound? That’s sepsis for sure.

-Wow, that was some sound that Javert made when he hit the water. I got a little distracted wondering what the foley editors used – corncob broken in half by hitting it with a steak? Stomp on skin bag full of cornflakes? Hammer onto a full chicken? It was like a real meaty crunch.

-In ancient Greece, when they performed tragic plays, they would put shorter funny plays in between to balance out all the sad, and probably to make everyone not want to kill themselves immediately (because oh my god, can you imagine a day of all Greek tragedies?!) Anyhoo, this proves the vital concept that tragedy is best when balanced by comedy. That’s what ‘Master of the House’ is really there for – a fantastic number of some comic relief in an otherwise glum show. But oh man, one thing the movie ‘Master of the House’ definitely isn’t is fun. Yikes! I was actually hoping we could go back to watching some poor people starve for a while. And without a little levity break, it’s a long glum story indeed. And how could they not have a big fun number on that cool set? That was a bummer.

-How incredibly adorable was it that Marius got truly flustered on “I’m doing everything all wrong?” I ‘awwed’ audibly.

-All the prizes for Grantaire!! How great was that guy? For the first time Grantaire felt like a major part of the story, and they even cut his big song! George Blagden, you are a star.

-Also all the prizes for the army guy who sings “you at the barricade listen to this” etc. You could see and hear his hope that they would surrender and not make him have to kill anyone, and that was a beautiful and unexpected addition. I think that was Hadley Fraser, who apparently has played many roles in Les Mis over the years, so he was probably like “bitches please, I could do this whole movie as a one man show.” And I would watch that show.

-Also all the prizes for Gavroche, who was awesome and could also probably do the entire movie as a one man show. It did bother me a lot, though, that they changed one detail in his getting the ammo from the other side of the barricade; in the show, Gavroche is increasingly scared in this moment, which is heartbreaking (in the movie he’s more brave the whole time), but, more importantly, he throws the ammo over the barricade before getting shot – he’s actually doing a vitally important thing for the uprising. In the movie, he doesn’t get the ammo to them, and then someone comes out and gets him, which made the whole thing seem less important; I feel like it’s really important that Gavroche dies helping the cause in a way only he could, not by failing at his attempted task.

-I loved Javert giving the medal to Gavroche, though. A lovely touch: Javert doesn’t like lawbreakers but he’s not a monster.

-The other change that I missed was having Eponine deliver the letter to Valjean, then get shot rejoining Marius on the barricade. I guess it tightens it up the movie way (although my sister pointed out that there’s a little weirdness in that it looks like she gives Marius the letter after ‘On My Own’, which makes him run to the house, but then gives it to him again on the barricade), but I miss having her try to complete her task for him then be unable to stand. Also, I always want people to do that scene like Lea Salonga does in the anniversary concert – she gasps with pain at one point, which causes Marius to truly have to comfort her with “hush now, dear Eponine”, and over the course of the rest of the song gradually weakens, until by the end she can’t finish the phrase and dies. It’s incredibly moving, and you are always aware of her fading, but I feel like the movie kept Eponine pretty robust until she died. It’s just not as great that way, methinks.

-Okay, another little nitpicky thing, courtesy of my sister, who apparently is even more plot-detail-tracking than I am. What are these empty chairs and empty tables that Marius is singing about? Because I’m pretty sure we saw all the furniture around being thrown onto the barricade. Did they just put some stuff back after they picked off the dead bodies?

-Fantine doesn’t get her hair back in the afterlife? Come on now, heaven, that was some great hair. I hope at least she gets her tooth.

-You know what would really suck? To die in a failed uprising and then have the afterlife be A GIANT PERPETUAL BARRICADE. Don’t you think that all those guys would be like, oh great! You know that thing that we did that totally didn’t work and then we all died? We get to relive this forever, yippee. This’ll be super fun.

7 Responses to “Mes Réflexions Sur ‘Les Miserables’”

  1. Betsy Davis December 31, 2012 at 1:06 am #

    Anika,
    I love this.
    Agree with most of it.
    And I have laughed so hard your young cousin, Elijah, feels completely tortured: “MOM! Why are you laughing? Just tell me! Please….!” But alas, I cannot.
    Thank you for your reflections…especially on the poop.

  2. Jason Schreiber December 31, 2012 at 2:26 am #

    I was also surprised by how much the 19th century whores looked like Jellicle Cats.

  3. Laura Smith December 31, 2012 at 9:59 am #

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this! I loved reading it and will be sending it along to my family – you have clearly identified my thoughts on the movie and now they won’t think I’m a raving lunatic… Well, it will at least show that I’m not alone!

    • bloggledygook December 31, 2012 at 11:56 am #

      Ha! I’m happy to help. And I totally understand – I couldn’t wait to get in the car with my family after the movie and be like I HAVE SO MANY FEELINGS ABOUT THIS! I think I’m banned from saying “and another thing about the Les Mis movie…” in my house.

  4. Sarah January 8, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

    Loved reading your take on Les Mis, the movie! Look forward to a LP Players version 15 years from now. Caroline and I will handle the box office if your mom will do the costumes and Karen O. directs. Hux as Javert, Ari as Valjean, Nate as Marius, Olive Beasley as Anne Hathaway. Can’t wait!

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