Weighing in on Les Mis

After writing this blog, I realized there are probably some things that could be considered spoilers. I’ve been familiar with Les Miserables for so long that it never occurred to me to see them as such, but consider yourself duly warned.

I went to see Les Miserables on New Year’s Eve but before I share my thoughts about it I have to two disclaimers:

First, Les Mis was my first Broadway show and holds a special place in my heart. I was a freshman in college and in New York with the school chorus. We had seats in the very back of the balcony and I still sobbed when Eponine died.

Since then I’ve seen the show another three or four times and practically worn out the cast recording.

Second, I am predisposed to like any movie musical. I love musicals and rarely disappointed with the movie versions. If a film can make me feel just a fraction of the emotion I experienced when seeing it on stage, I’m happy.

I’m also not very critical of the movies I see in general, mostly because I pre-select.

Instead of seeing a great variety of films and hating some of them, I only go to the ones I think I’ll like. I avoid action films, most of the big blockbusters like Harry Potter and The Hobbit, anything too bloody or might make me motion sick.

If a movie appeals to me enough to get me to go, it’s pretty certain I’ll like it.

So keep those grains of salt in mind when I say that I loved Les Miserables.

I read the reviews and heard the complaints. Russell Crowe can’t sing, Hugh Jackman’s voice is “too Broadway” (like there’s any such thing as too Broadway), the voices weren’t overdubbed or whatever they call it.

Maybe that’s all true, but the film actually succeeds in portraying the horror of pre-revolutionary France better than the stage production.

And as a “theater person” I don’t say that lightly.

On stage, it’s hard for the audience get a real feeling for the dirt, disease and despair. You see and hear that Fantine is forced into prostitution, that Jean Valjean can’t make a life as a parolee, but it’s removed.

In the movie, you see the filth on Fantine’s face and the scars on Valjean’s wrists. You’re up close to the grit in a way that just can’t be reproduced on the stage.

Then there’s Russell Crowe.

Javier is my favorite character in Les Mis. That may sound strange given he’s sort of the “bad guy” of the story (Although I would argue that the French Government as a whole is the antagonist and Javert is a victim almost as much as Valjean), but I have always been drawn to his unbending belief system, so unbending that he has to kill himself rather than admit that a criminal could be a good person.

As my favorite, his song “Stars” is a highlight of the show for me. Hearing the bad reviews of Russell Crowe’s performance, I was dreading the number in the movie.

I’ll admit that Crowe doesn’t have a traditional Broadway style voice. But his characterization of Javert is so strong, that it doesn’t matter. The song worked, and worked well.

He was a fabulous Javert.

On the other end of the character spectrum, I have never seen Marius’s appeal. He’s too sweet for me. (I’ll take the rebel leader Enjolras any day!)

Eddie Redmayne was wonderful though, and his “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” was one of the most emotional moments in the movie for me.

I did have one complaint about the film: they added a song called “Suddenly” and it was annoying.

I can understand that they thought they needed it for transition. I didn’t expect that the movie would be exactly like the musical and liked many of the other little changes they made, but adding a whole song was too much for me.

If you haven’t seen the show or listened to the soundtrack for twenty years, you wouldn’t have noticed “Suddenly” and it most likely helped you follow the plot. It just didn’t sit right with me as a Les Mis lover.

That’s really all I have to say about the movie. I enjoyed it, left singing the songs and would see it again in a heartbeat.

But as I said, I’m easy to please.


2 thoughts on “Weighing in on Les Mis

  1. I loved the movie as well! I agree that the new song did not work, but I suppose that was the only way the music could get an Oscar nomination.
    I did think Russel Crowe’s performance was the weakest of the cast. I found that his voice lacked any emotion.
    A Little Fall of Rain gets me sobbing every time. And when Gavroche was killed, well I was overcome. I think I went through an entire purse pack of tissues.

    • Gavroche was extremely tragic in this one. I wanted to cover my eyes when he crawled out for the bullets, just knowing what was coming.

      I think Javier should be one of the more dispassionate voices in the show. He’s spent years pretending he doesn’t have any feelings. I was surprised when he put his medal on Gavroche. It didn’t seem in character, but maybe they were worried he was too unlikeable and no one would care when he jumped.

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