Monday, December 31, 2012

Les Miserables

I had largely avoided the '80s phenomenon that was Les Miserables but as the title cards rolled on this movie version of the opera, I suddenly realized: Holy crap! This is why we got that abominable 1996 Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame!

I mean, think about it: Why on earth would anyone say, "Let's take this dark, cynical satire about 19th century French culture and make it into a children's musical!"? Certainly, I wondered at the time, but I figured someone had seen that episode of "The Critic".

Blame all your cares and woeses
On the one with scoliosis

Heh. Brilliant, underwatched show. It seems likely that this segment was inspired by Les Miz just as this classic scene from South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut was.

My kids have these moments all the time: "Oh, so that's what that's referencing."

Anyway, Andrew Lloyd Weber managed to turn me off modern musicals with Evita (and truthfully, every song from every musical of his I've ever heard), and I regarded this film with suspicion, not just due to its vintage but its length and potential pomposity.

And?

Actually, I liked it. A great deal. As did The Boy and The Flower. Despite its length, it moved along at a breakneck pace. It is an opera—virtually, no spoken dialog at all—which The Flower finds more accessible than the traditional American musical form where people break into song and dance, but nobody really notices.

The only time the movie really stops is for the various emotional set pieces. And they are emotional. As Kurt Loder wrote, "I have to admit that I was sometimes moved to the verge of contemplating the possibility of tears." (For myself, I did actually mist up at times, though some of that may have been due to just getting The Boy out of the hospital.)

Some have said that it is bombastic. I don't think I'd disagree with that. But it worked for me, dealing as we are with epic archetypes.

Some have said that Hooper's tactic of having the actors actually singing rather than lip-syncing didn't work. I would strongly disagree with that. I often find lip-syncing distracting, even alienating.

Some have said Russell Crowe's singing voice is not up to the task. I can only weakly argue against that by saying his parts were not especially tuneful, nor would they be assisted much by being so. I do agree that his denouement doesn't come off as well as it should.

Hugh Jackman is amazing. Amanda Seyfried surprised the heck out of me. Anne Hathaway continues to win me over, despite my earlier resistance to just about everything Anne Hathaway. Samantha Barks practically steals the show in her short on-screen time. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter provide much needed comic relief with aplomb.

The music? For the most part, I wasn't greatly impressed. It feels tightly constructed, and deliberately (I assume) reserved musically. However, it may be one of those things where I have to listen to the music multiple times to really get it. (Though I should note that while I adore Sweeney Todd, the music in the movie version didn't do it for me, even though I was familiar with it.)

Parts weren't reasonably catchy, but catchiness wasn't the point. Not that there wasn't someone sitting behind us who felt a need to hum along with the whole thing. (Mom? Is that you?)

So, I'd recommend, if you're not allergic to opera. It is a great story, briskly told.

8 comments:

  1. Haven't seen it yet but Hathaway had me at The Princess Diaries. I think she's got the stuff.

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  2. I was not a believer but her Catwoman was startlingly good, and she's heart-rending in this.

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  3. The Flower objected to the fact that Amanda Seyfried didn't look anything like the younger Cosette.

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  4. Saw it and now I'm back.

    I agree with most of everything you said; I'm much more forgiving about the music and Crowe's abilities. A two-time veteran of the stage play, I was impressed with the sets and digital effects and, oddly, I felt the big screen made for a more personal experience than the play. And a word or two about the Christian aspects of the plot: what major movie in recent history (aside from The Passion of the Christ)has its characters praying to God and struggling to live a Christian life?

    Thoroughly enjoyed it.

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  5. Oh! You're right! I noticed that at the time and forgot to mention it. And not only trying, but given a chance by a priest. Saved by God.

    That's kind of a thing here at the 'strom: Christian and pro-religious themes have been some of our favorite films of the past few years—to a one, excoriated by critics (perhaps why the critics were so negative about this movie, even).

    Blue Like Jazz is one of the 2012's best.

    For Greater Glory, though it's a bit rough around the edges, it's a great story.

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  6. That's weird. Blogger ate my recommendation for Machine Gun Preacher, which was my pick for Best Movie of the Year in 2011.

    Link

    Must've gotten my tags wrong...

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  7. Also, I didn't mind Crowe's tuneless singing. It fits with the character.

    But the little brunette girl blew me away. You can tell when they do stage work all the time, you know?

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  8. I saw the staged version of Les Mess years ago - I love opera, but that thing has nothing to do with real (tm) opera. The singers were miced. The music sucked. The staging, however, was interesting, but how someone could take that story set at that time and produce such a mishmash of horrible music like that is beyond me. I will gladly avoid the film version - the sense of the passing of time with regards to my own mortality makes me very careful about how I spend my time these days.

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