(I'm ready for my close up, Mr. Hooper.)
After years of waiting for and dreaming about a Les Miserables musical movie, it is finally here! After seeing it this weekend, I can honestly say I think it's the best Les Mis movie we could've hoped for. There are minor quibbles of course, of which I will name three and then be done with them. Warning: SPOILERS!!
QUIBBLE 1) I was happy they kept in "Every Day" which is one of my favorite little musical passages toward the end of the play, but they oddly cut out Marius's line about not knowing who saved him from the barricade. So from a viewing standpoint, it seems to not be in question that it's Valjean who saved him. But then later, Marius clearly doesn't know Valjean saved him, so why cut the lyric establishing that mystery? It looked like it was a hard cut too, as if they filmed it with the lyric in there and then cut it out in editing. The movie is 2 hours and 40 minutes long. 10 extra seconds of song wasn't gonna make an already long-feeling movie THAT much longer, and it would've brought clarity to this late-in-the-game plot point. I am very curious as to why they made this cut.
QUIBBLE 2) The ending confessional lyric switch out for Valjean. His line "it's a story of those who always loved you" was changed to basically be "it's a story of how I was so awesome." Valjean makes no mention of Fantine's sacrifice for Cosette - and Fantine's ghost is standing RIGHT THERE in the room with them at the time! How rude! But seriously, this lyric change added nothing, made Valjean appear to think Cosette's truth was all about him and slighted Fantine. Everyone in my viewing party was baffled by the change.
3) The "CRUUUNCH!!!" sound effect that accompanied Javert's suicide was totally gratuitous! He could've just disappeared into the water over the swell of the music and we all would've understood he died. Had the sound of him going splat been omitted, no one would've expected a hidden scene at the end of the movie credits, prepping us for "Les Mis 2: Rise of Javert!" I mean, SERIOUSLY.
Those are my three things. I'm sure other fans have other issues since some liberties were taken in the transition from stage to film. Still I thought this Les Mis movie was really great. It's an impressive and exhausting cinematic experience. And there were so many ways it could've gone horribly horribly wrong. As a fan I feel very lucky this is the film we got.
The most impressive aspect of the movie to me is that the entire gigantic cast just seemed SO INTO IT the whole time. Singing the songs live on set really transported them to another level of FEELING IT on screen, and they were committed to making sure you felt what they were feeling too. Hooper's penchant for close up framing during the songs really let the actors' eyes do the talking while their mouths did the singing. You couldn't help but feel an intense connection to them. Below I review my impressions of what I thought the different motivations of the cast were, based on what I was getting from them during the songs.
HUGH JACKMAN (JEAN VALJEAN): Strap in, mates! We're go on this crazy 3-hour emotional roller coaster TOGETHER! I'm so glad you're watching this. We are gonna share, and we are gonna CARE. Look deep into my Crazy Eyes! The framing requires you to do so! I will sing, and you will FEEL what I'm feeling, and you will WEEP for the glory of my performance. You WILL. FEEL. MY. CONFLICT. You'll believe I've been pulling giant ships ashore for 20 years, because I know I believe it. These songs are set high in my range, but don't expect any falsetto because I am also Wolverine and I always go at everything FULL FORCE!
RUSSEL CROWE (JAVERT): Guys, Hugh is SO INTENSE with his Crazy Eye Technique right now. I'm gonna go in the opposite direction, balancing things out by having nothing going on behind my eyes AT ALL. Many of you may say that this is the path to failure. You may say that if ever a role was designed for Crazy Eye Technique, it is that of the obsessively determined Inspector Javert! But I cut my own path, ladies and gentlemen. I'm making choices here even if you're not getting them. And nobody's cutting my songs, so you better just accept it and stop resisting. I bet by the end of the film, you'll consider my "failure" to be so epic it somehow goes all the way back around to being oddly perfect within the context of the movie as a whole. That's what I've been aiming for all along. (Also, I'm not coming back for any of the sequels, so I made the sound editing guys add a loud crunching sound to make it clear I didn't survive that fall into the river so you didn't hold out hope. You're welcome.)
ANNE HATHAWAY (FANTINE): I'm about to wreck you completely. Even if you think you're prepared for what I've got, you won't be. And then by the time you get over my on-screen death, I'll come back as a ghost and wreck you all over again. For your own good, I sincerely hope you brought tissues. People have NOT been exaggerating. You're about to Ugly Cry. Now I'll be standing over here no longer starving myself while you engrave my name on my Oscar, thanks very much.
SASHA BARON COHEN (THENARDIER): I can do accents, so I'm sing in a French accent to remind you, the audience, that this movie IS set in France, despite no one else in the cast sounding even remotely French. You'll miss one of my songs from the stage show, it's true, but did you really want the film to make you sadder OR spend more time down in that sewer? I didn't think so. I'll still have plenty of time make you love me while I'm on screen. No worries.
HELENA BONHAM CARTER (MME. THENARDIER): I'm finding my sweet spot here somewhere between "Mrs. Lovett-Crazy" and "Bellatrix Lestrange-Crazy." I know it sounds like a lot, but I'm going to surprise you. Less WILL be more. I'm grounding this dame in something real, and I'm gonna SING OUT, Louise! I won't be chewing more scenery than the songs require. You'll be glad I'm on the scene.
ISABELLE ALLEN (YOUNG COSETTE): I'm looking cute. I'm looking vulnerable. I'm looking distressed. I'm singing on key. I'm so on top of this. I'm living the dream. Hand me my rag doll and off we go.
DANIEL HUTTLESTONE (GAVROCHE): I'm gonna be scrappy and awesome! Let everyone else in the cast be the embodiment of misery. Being in this movie RULES! Don't be sad, Audience! This is all just PRETEND! Now I'm off to collect me some bullets...
AARON TVEIT (ENJOLRAS): I'm battling this crazy wig as much as I am the French Army, but this is a fight I KNOW I can win! My vocals ring loud and true. I know I have the Broadway chops to ace this assignment! I'll act the hell out of Red & Black too. I'm not just that dude from Gossip Girl! I'm the real deal. I believe in this production! I believe in myself! I believe in us!
EDDIE REDMAYNE (MARIUS): You probably don't know me from anything - did you see My Week with Marilyn? No? Okay... - but now you're hearing my singing voice, and you're at ease. If you don't like my songs, the extreme close ups will give you the opportunity to count the freckles on my very attractive face. But I'm not coasting on good looks, good sir! I am going to sell the kinda-unbelievable-falling-in-love-at-first-sight scenario to you HARD, and I'm gonna get through this whole movie without ever seeming the least bit annoying. You heard right. Marius won't seem annoying. I might not win any awards for this film, but I certainly deserve some kind of medal for my efforts.
AMANDA SEYFRIED (COSETTE): With really no heavy lifting to do, I'm gonna play it light and sweet with an old school vocal trill in my voice that'll be unusual and play nicely. I know I've got an uphill battle for the shippers since Eponine is so awesome, but like RuPaul says I've got cunning, uniqueness, nerve and talent! Maybe my performance won't have the IMPACT! of some of my fellow cast members, but by the time we get to the wedding, I'm gonna make you love me. Yes I will. Yes I will.
SAMANTHA BARKS (EPONINE): Hullo there! I'm the Les Mis ringer you haven't met before, but trust that you haven't seen the last of me after this film. I'm gonna start my leg of this "Make The Audience Cry" Relay Race at full pace, and I won't be letting up until I have to pass the baton to my buddy Redmayne for his anchor sprint to the finish. I am NAILING On My Own! I'm thinking of that love YOU love that doesn't love you back. Don't worry, I'm not naming names. I'm just FEELING it for you! That's not rain falling down from the skies that you see. It's the film crew on the crane weeping at my heart-wrenching performance. Even though I look really sad, you know deep down I'm really delighted to be here!
COLM WILKINSON (THE BISHOP): My dear friends! I've been Les Mis'ing for more than a quarter century now! Since before some of you were even BORN! And now some of you even have children of your own? My, my! How soon the summers really do fly on and on. Anyway, my motivation here is to show you there really are no small parts in Les Mis. Sure the Bishop isn't going to get a lot of screen time, but that doesn't mean I'm not pivotal! And I might even show up at a time when you expect me! Who am I? B-I-S-H-O-P!!! I'm so happy this movie finally happened in my lifetime.
That's what I got from it. But don't just take my word for it. Go See Les Miserables in theaters now. It's worth the price of admission. And remember the truth that once was spoken. To love another person is to see the face of God...