Y’all, I am OBSESSED with Les Miserables right now. Searching Twitter and Tumblr tags, listening to every soundtrack I can find on Spotify pretty much nonstop, reading reviews and analyses online . . . I cannot WAIT to see it again. Let’s not call this a review, exactly–it’s more of a tribute (or a gush) because this movie is WONDERFUL. It rose to the top of my favorite movie list like a rocket.
Here’s where I would normally tell you that if you aren’t interested in this movie and don’t plan to see it, you should move along. But I won’t say that, because everyone should see this movie. You just don’t know what you are missing. Some are avoiding it because they think it is depressing. No. It’s sad. Very, very sad. But SAD and DEPRESSING are different. This movie–this story–is UPLIFTING.
I learned about catharsis in high school English, but I didn’t understand the point of it then. Why seek out emotional experiences in fiction? Aren’t our tears over the reality of life enough? Now, though, I love me some catharsis and Les Miserables has been a source of it for me for many years.
I saw the musical on stage probably 20 years ago. I purchased the soundtrack–on cassette–and when my big kids were little I was in the habit of listening to it regularly. I remember clearly standing in my little yellow kitchen, chopping vegetables for supper, tears rolling down my face. It was Fantine’s death scene that always got me then. I only had to hear the opening line for the tears to start.
As for my kids, they grew to love the songs as well, especially “Master of the House” because of the bad words (okay to sing but not to say!). I was so excited when almost 12 years ago the play came back to Knoxville. I wanted the kids to see it, and we spent over 80 dollars we could ill afford then on the tickets. My dream was squelched when I (nine months’ pregnant with #4) got put on bedrest for high blood pressure just days before the show.
John and the kids got to go, though, and in the years since we’ve kept the magic alive, frequently bursting into the initial sung conversation between Javert and Valjean. (Things like that happen around here a lot.)
I’ve never seen it since, and I was beyond excited for the movie, and especially to finally get to experience the story with the big kids. (They loved it too.)
You always wonder and worry a little about seeing an adaptation or a remake of a much-loved book or show or movie. You know there are going to be changes. And the newer version is going to stick in your head. Will it spoil the old one? If you haven’t seen this movie yet for those sorts of reasons, don’t let it hold you back. Of necessity, a film is different from a play. And there are some small changes. But the changes add rather than detract. Where additions are made they come from the book or reflect its spirit. Here is the first of several blog posts I’ve been reading that explain this beautifully, along with quotations from the book. Read them all.
Having experienced the story onstage and onscreen and through the music now over so many years, one thing that has interested me how my own reactions to the material have altered. Part of that has to do with the differences in media but I also think it reflects where I am in my own my life. As I said earlier I used to find Fantine’s death the most devastating part (it’s still sad!). I think that was because I was empathasizing with her as we were both mothers of little children. This time I was most moved by the death of the young men on the barricade. Why? Because I am now the mother of two almost grown up boys. They reminded me of Jake and Teddy and their friends.
One virtue of the movie format is that you get to know the minor characters so much better. Even with the best seats in the house you can’t see individual faces at a play the way you can on a screen. The young men on the barricade were humanized and individualized in the movie version. The tragedy and waste of their deaths became personal.
Some reviews I read criticized what I saw as a strength: the way the movie showed the characters in closeup while they were singing their big numbers, never leaving their faces for the duration of the song (which by the way were actually sung while filmed, not lip synched and added later). Me, I thought it was amazing. THEY were amazing. No, they didn’t always belt out the tunes, Broadway fashion, because this was a different format, and not necessary in a film. They ACTED the songs. The feelings they showed were amazing. They cried while singing. Their voices broke with emotion.
Anne Hathaway should get an Oscar. What everyone is talking about is The Song, and The Song is amazing, but to me her acting was just as moving in the small parts. The way her lips trembled and her eyes filled when she knew she was about the lose her job. The way she cried while her hair was being cut.
I’ve got nothing negative to say about the casting or the music, although plenty of people seem to. I concede that Russell Crowe’s voice isn’t on the same level as the rest of the cast. However, I liked his Javert very much and I think his softer singing shapes his depiction of the character. His Javert was meditative, thoughtful, driven but not fanatical, trying to do what was right but getting it all wrong. I understood this Javert. I felt sorry for him. I didn’t want him to die.
Hugh Jackman’s transformation from convict to Monsieur Madeleine was impressive. We couldn’t figure out how they could possibly pretty him up! I only knew of him before this movie. If you’ve thought of him as an action hero he will surprise and delight you here.
I won’t go through all the characters because you can read about them anywhere. But I will say that I am a critical person, trained to be that way as an English major, and I wouldn’t–couldn’t–criticize anyone’s performance in this movie.
I have more to say–especially about the music and the religious themes. Because this is a profoundly Catholic movie–more than the play–and I loved it for that as well. But I will leave that for another day and here end with a plea: GO SEE THIS MOVIE.
P.S. If you have a heart, you should approach Les Miserables prepared to weep. Don’t see it with people you don’t want to cry in front of. I had to stifle an actual sob at one point. You’ll cry because it’s sad, and you’ll cry because it is beautiful.