Saturday, 27 April 2013

Movie musicals: Les Misérables

First up on my long list of movie musicals is the most recent one: Les Misérables, directed by Tom Hooper. A movie version of the widely popular musical had been under discussion since the late 80s but became reality in 2012. Earlier, not-sung movie adaptations of Victor Hugo's epic had been famously disapproved by the Mizzie fandom – with good reason.

I was very excited when it was announced that Tom Hooper would be directing the film, because I liked The King's Speech a lot and got the impression that he had a distinctive, realistic style. I was even more convinced of that when I heard that all the singing would be done live.

Before I go on, I should probably give a warning that most of what follows will probably be just an incoherent jumble of names and song titles for someone who hasn't seen the movie and/or doesn't know anything about the musical. Some plot details will also be discussed.

Les Misérables premiered in Finland on February 22nd. I saw it that day, and again in less than a week's time. And then two times more. That's the first time I've ever bothered to see a movie in the movie theater more than twice, and that's because Les Mis is such a huge experience. Not huge in the sense that is usually associated with musicals – no bright colours (except Enjolras' coat and flag...), no shiny costumes, no massive dance numbers – but there was so much to see, to hear, and especially to feel, that it was impossible to appreciate every aspect of it at the first watch.

I'm even having a hard time writing this post because I don't know where to begin! Alright, I'll start with the main character – Jean Valjean, played by Hugh Jackman. Jean Valjean has got to be one of the most challenging male lead roles in the musical theatre world, considering the requirements of vocal range (crazy high note alert!) as well as acting skills. The ability of carrying around an unconscious grown-up man is also needed. He's on stage (or screen) for almost the entire time, so if the portrayal of Jean Valjean goes somehow wrong, it pretty much ruins most of Les Mis. I have great respect to any man on Earth who can make a good Jean Valjean.

While it was quite clear that Hugh Jackman might not be the Tenor with a big T who can sing Bring Him Home like it's a piece of cake, I found his ability to act through singing very captivating. He really gave me chills as convict-Valjean in the beginning, and every time he came face to face with Russell Crowe's Javert. Speaking of Crowe – I know there's one or two people who will agree with me on this, but I loved his singing voice and I always imagined Javert as the kind of person who doesn't express emotions very strongly, which I think is exactly what Crowe did with the role.

I was happy with most of the main actors really. Eddie Redmayne as Marius and Samantha Barks as Éponine had such lovely voices and went so well together that it was really a shame that their duet, A Little Fall of Rain, was cut down so much, especially as it's potentially my favourite song in the musical. Speaking of Barks, I really liked how they cast West End performers as well as those big Hollywood names. If I have my facts correct, the student revolutionaries are all West End boys, led by Aaron Tveit who has performed on Broadway.

There was another really sad cutting-down in addition to ALFOR, and that was Drink With Me. It is one of the most touching moments in the musical, and I really have a soft spot for all the student boys' group songs. I guess it was, together with the womens' Turning after the barricade falls and Thénardier's creepy song in the sewers, one of those songs that just had to be sacrificed a little in order to keep the plot moving on and not stretch the movie into four hours. But I'm still sad...

Okay, back to the actors that I liked (I can see that this is going to be the most incoherent blog post in the history of the Universe). There are no words in the world to express how it warms my Mizzie heart to see Colm Wilkinson, the original 1985 Jean Valjean, as the bishop who shows the way to the "new" Jean Valjean. And though I kind of missed the lovely Fantine&Éponine harmonies in the end, it was the bishop's rightful place to be there.

There were some other little differences between the movie and the stage musical, and as uncritical as this is going to sound, I didn't find any of these changes disturbing. For example, Fantine's I Dreamed A Dream gets into a whole different level of anguish when it's sung after she becomes a prostitute. Speaking of Fantine, I have to say that Anne Hathaway surprised the heck out of me, having only seen her in a couple of very light, comedic roles. That woman definitely deserved her Academy Award.

There were two little scenes that are not in the stage musical and which I think served the plot wonderfully. The first one happens in the very beginning, when Jean Valjean is is still a convict and Javert asks him to "Retrieve the flag", which displays Valjean's famously inhuman strength and makes the Fauchelevent rescue and Javert's suspicions about his identity much more understandable. The other little addition that I liked is actually showing that Valjean and Cosette escape to a convent after Valjean takes Cosette away from the Thénardiers – instead of them just disappearing somewhere and re-emerging ten years later in Look Down. 

From Look Down, I can make another "smooth" transition to Gavroche (played by Daniel Huttlestone), to whom I paid special attention when I last saw the film. The setting for his verses in Look Down worked really well; his jumping in an out of the disapproving bourgeois carriages expressed the "Paris is my playground" kind of thing that is so essentially Gavroche. And the line This is a land that fought for liberty, now when we fight we fight for bread gives me chills every time I hear it. Such a big idea dressed into a couple of simple words – lyric-writing at its best.

So, I've been pretty much praising all the actors and the changes that were made from stage to screen. But, to assure that I haven't been watching this movie through rosy-pink glasses, there is one thing that, after the couple of first times that I watched through, caught my attention in the not-most-positive way. That thing was the Thénardier couple. Yes, they gave me some seriously good laughs throughout the film and of course they are meant to serve as the occasional comic relief, but I'm starting to think that Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen didn't quite succeed in it in the Thénardier way. Seeing Sweeney Todd a couple of weeks ago kind of lessened my respect for Bonham Carter's portrayal of Madame Thénardier because it seemed to me like she was doing the same thing as she did with Mrs Lovett. And Sacha Baron Cohen did... the Sacha Baron Cohen thing. What was that accent he used? Not French, I think...

All in all, I must thank Tom Hooper and the entire production team for what they did with my favourite musical, and the actors for the dedication they obviously showed to their roles. I was in fact so excited by this movie that I watched the Academy Awards ceremony for the first time in my life, and I might have squealed for joy when Les Mis got its well-deserved award for sound mixing. I can't wait to order the DVD and to watch this movie at home. Or, even better, at my parents' home where they have the surround sound system.

Do you hear the people sing, singing the song of angry men...?


  1. I absolutely adore this film. It replaced The Shawshank Redemption as my favourite film of all time. I was already a massive fan of the book and the stage musical and the film completely lived up to my expectations. It wasn't quite perfect of course. Russell Crowe made some odd acting choices I thought. I wasn't happy with the cuts to Attack at Rue Plumet, On My Own & A Little Fall of Rain. I wish they'd shown more Enjolras/Grantaire interaction. But everything else was just so, so, SO good that it seems almost silly to complain. The acting, the singing, the extra added-in book details, the look of the film... I love it : )

  2. This was a very good movie, though I think that each time I see it, there are things I love even more, and maybe a few little things that bug a little more. I still can't help but wonder what it would have been like if they didn't cut down Drink With Me.
    I like what you had to say about Russell Crowe, I liked him too. :)
    Nice Review!

  3. Nice review!:D

    I agree about Jean Valjean: I found it *ahem* a bit difficult to get past "Bring Him Home", but then again, it IS so challenging for a male voice, it's kind of hard to sing it "effortlessly." But yes, his ACTING skills were amazing!!!!

    Aren't Marius and Éponine precious in this one?! But I was thinking about the whole cutting-ALFOR-thing, and actually, I kind of like that it's short, just because, I mean, she IS dying. A bullet is decomposing in her body; she probably doesn't have the time for a full-blown, beautiful duet:( But, then again, it is such a beautiful song that we all just want more of it...

    Sorry, that was a rambly comment;)