Les Misérables (2012)

My day-job coworkers and I opened gifts from our “Secret Santas” at an office Christmas party this week, and my friend Eric received a box of the complete Lord of the Rings Pez dispensers. There they are, several hobbits, men, a wizard, and Gollum… plastic heads on plastic sticks, looking grim and yet promising a sugar high.

I suspect it’s only a matter of time until we see the Les Misérables Pez dispenser set. And that isn’t just because Les Misérables has a similarly enthusiastic fan base. It isn’t just because the beloved source material — in this case, a musical that has been dazzling London audiences for almost 30 years — is finally getting a big-screen adaptation.

No, there’s another reason. Les Misérables is a movie about heads.

I’ll explain. But first, let me set the stage.

My colleague Moira Macdonald began her Les Misérables review with the words “Resistance is futile.” And I have no doubt that most audiences will be won over. (The crowd at the sneak preview cheered ecstatically.) But some may find that the powerful waves of emotion that come crashing through the screen just drive them up to higher ground rather than carrying them out to sea.

That’s where I found myself about 20 minutes in. The characters, the music, the story — this elaborate epic never swept me away precisely because it insisted. It never invited.

Directed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), this big screen version of the musical is going to be for lovers of musicals what Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings was for lovers of fantasy literature. It brings great actors, great production design, great music, and great special effects together for a vivid manifestation of a beloved narrative. Many will come for love of the novel, many for love of the play.

But there will be some — and I confess that I am one of them — for whom this is an introduction to the story, the characters, and the songs. I attended the screening with some apprehension. Would this prove to be a party that could only be enjoyed by those already in the know? Or would it draw me in and make me a believer? I had no reason to worry. My love of literature, musicals, stories about redemption and mercy, and cinema suggested that I was in for a feast.

And now that I’ve emerged from the movie, my head is full of songs and I can finally see why this story has brought so much heartbreak and so much joy. Victor Hugo’s vision of Paris in the years after the French Revolution is grandiose in the best ways.

Here, the hero called Jean Valjean is played by Hugh Jackman with the intensity of a man told he must win an Oscar or die. As he’s proven at the Oscars before, he’s an impressive singer. And his physical transformation over the course of the film might make him a contender against the formidable Daniel Day-Lewis of Lincoln and Joaquin Phoenix of The Master. But another actor might have brought a greater sense of darkness to the role of a man whose one small crime — stealing bread to feed his sister’s starving children — doomed him to many years of hard labor and humiliation.

To be free, Valjean must escape the watchful eye of the merciless, wrathful Inspector Javert who makes his life a living hell. Russell Crowe plays Javert. And this is a big problem. Crowe seems comfortable at only two moments in the film: one, when he draws his sword and tries to fight Valjean, and the other when he’s bloodied, bound up, and hating his captor. Of course, Crowe is quite familiar with moments like those; he knows what to with them. But he looks a little lost the rest of the time, as if he’s looking for a way out instead of looking for Valjean. He doesn’t have the voice for his songs. And his villainy is too repressed, too internal to belong in this film of irrepressible emotions. As a result, he walks through it looking… forgive me… miserable, as if wishing Ridley Scott would show up and revise this into another combat-focused period piece like Gladiator or Robin Hood.

When Valjean slips away and remakes himself into a factory overseer, he allows one of his workers, a single mother named Fantine, to be expelled by deceitful, jealous, greedy coworkers and a wicked foreman. Fantine is played by Anne Hathaway, who finally delivers the volcanic performance that her enormous eyes and ever-so-slightly desperate manner have promised she would someday deliver. Remember when she almost had a meltdown introducing Steven Spielberg at the Oscars? That was subtle compared to this, which is the acting equivalent of an Olympic pole vault for an Oscar of her own. After Fantine’s descent into prostitution, which is driven by her dream of giving her daughter a future, things go from bad to worse. Hitting rock bottom, she takes a deep breath and unleashes the movie’s biggest and most heartbreaking song, “I Dreamed a Dream,” about as spectacularly as anyone could have hoped for.

But again, it’s all emotion. Fantine is more of an open wound than a character, a big-screen demand that you either weep for her or admit that you’re a heartless bastard. I’m not keen on movies that boss me around, so while I could admire the sustained emotions and the rivers of tears, I felt as if I were looking at an icon of a saint whose story has been forgotten. I have only the sketchiest description of her life and suffering. So while I’m impressed by the way in which Hathaway goes to pieces in close-up, I’m not particularly moved.

And so the story proceeds, with Valjean realizing his error and striving to bless this poor woman by taking the little girl Cosette into his care. You probably know how it goes: Cosette grows up (to be played by an angelic but uninteresting Amanda Seyfried), lives in hiding with Valjean, meets a spirited young revolutionary named Marius (Eddie Redmayne, and he’s a fine singer), and breaks the heart of Marius’s longtime admirer Éponine (Samantha Barks). Then, strife between the 99% and the 1% leads to an Occupy Paris movement, which results in all kinds of… you know… relevance. And musket-loading. And death. And weeping.

The film’s unflinchingly positive portrayal of Christian faith, and its unquestioning depiction of Jesus as a redeemer of hearts and minds, is astonishing, actually. It’s bolder than we had any right to expect, bolder than even its director seems to realize. When a reporter for TIME asked about the film’s blatant religious references, Hooper replied,

The story is full of coincidences, and in a world full of God, those kind of coincidences have meaning. In order for the story to function, God has to kind of be a character. I tried to hint at the existence of the sublime through, you know, an extraordinary sky, or the light behind a cloud, or when a paper flies up and goes to a sort of tear in the clouds. I was referencing traditional late-medieval religious painting, or even Turner. I wanted to tell it in a way that, whatever the nature of your faith, you felt included.

If I had read that before seeing the film, I would have worried that Hooper had tried to blur the religious implications of the story, suggesting that God is just a great mystery and one religion is as good as another. But the film is relentless in its embrace of Christian iconography and its insistence on stamping “Christ Figure” on Valjean’s sacrificial acts. It would have been refreshing if it hadn’t been so heavy-handed.

The stage production of Les Misérables is often called a “musical,” but the movie makes it clear: this is an opera. Everything in it is sung, and every scene “goes up to 11″ (as Spinal Tap‘s Nigel would say). There is no suffering but the most excruciating suffering. There are no tears but weeping, no love but the sort that drives young men to sing about “a night bright as day.” There is so much emoting going that the characters’ personalities take on very little, if any, particularity. Fantine wails, going down in flames. Valjean suffers nobly. Javert is a glowering hunter. Marius is a golden boy, all passion, no intellect. Cosette is an angel in a bonnet.

Only Samantha Barks, as Éponine, seems to realize she’s on a big screen, and that she doesn’t need to exaggerate to be heard. Where all others project, she invites. Where the rest demand emotional responses in a way that blows your hair back, she has a quieting presence that draws us forward. Every line Barks sang, every expression, was so effortless, so in-character, so comfortable, that I believed every moment she was on screen. My friend walked out and said, “She’s the only one who realized she was in a musical and not a contest.” I wanted to follow her character out of the melodrama and into something that felt more contemplative, less declarative. Hathaway will probably win the Oscar, but Barks won my heart.

Fans of the musical may scoff at my response and conclude that I just don’t understand or appreciate musicals. But that’s not true. I’ve loved them since childhood, and have fond memories of participating in school musicals. I’m still a sucker for Mary Poppins, and The Sound of Music stirs up memories of the holidays in childhood. Moulin Rouge! is one of my favorite films. I can’t sing “The Rainbow Connection” without getting choked up. I suspect that if I had come to know this material some other way, I might have been more moved by the familiar.

But the problem for me is not the story, nor the songs. It’s Tom Hooper. As with The King’s Speech, for all of the resources at his disposal and the talent in front of his camera, he’s a surprisingly unimaginative director with an extremely limited visual vocabulary. You’ll get a great deal more visual imagination in a typical hour of television drama than you will here.

For the first five minutes of the film, as I watched slaves hauling a ship in to port, I was impressed by what I saw. It was a breathtaking spectacle, that tilting ship, those men straining in waist-deep water. But that was the last image that impressed me in the whole film. From that point on, the movie was comprised of Facebook-avatar close-ups, with occasional and dizzying glimpses of the extravagant sets and streetscapes. The camera dives toward forehead furrows like a plow plunges into a field. The head wounds, the nostrils, the beads of sweat, the matted hair… the faces fill the screen so frequently that it’s like a dream in which a Chuck Close exhibit comes to life.

Thus, actors rarely get to share the screen. When five actors sing interweaving melodies of a song, we don’t see them together; we see Face! Face! Face! Face! Face! and then run through the cycle again. Alfred Hitchcock spoke of cinematography in musical terms, and he described close-up shots as clashes of cymbals. These cuts from clash to clash made me want to cover the ears of my eyes.

This might have earned the film comparisons to Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. But Dreyer’s style made each face a stark illustration, like a woodcut, and he gave us time to contemplate those faces, to study them. The film was silent, so we are meant to read the expressions closely. The life behind and within those faces… that was the subject. Hooper has no patience for studying anything. He seems to rely on close-ups because he has no idea what to do with the space around his characters. The film will look great on a phone.

He also has a poor sense of filming action. Whenever characters hurry from one place to another, the action is disorienting and blurred. And in the editing room he’s as restless as Michael Bay.

And Hooper seems to have no imagination for showing; it’s all telling. Rather than suggest implications through composition or poetic suggestion, he lets the actors and the lyrics do all of the work. If there are images in this film worth thinking about, I didn’t see them.

Feeling pummeled by the film’s surging demands for sympathy, for tears, for moral outrage — anything, as long as it’s an extreme emotion — I began feeling numb and pondering alternative storylines. When Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter showed up as if they’d just staggered drunkenly out of a Tim Burton cast party, I sat up and paid attention. They didn’t really fit into the film’s world of anguish, but they were hilariously idiosyncratic and interesting. I can imagine a fantastic satirical version of this saga, in which they’re the sympathetic hosts, à la Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

I suspect that this testimony will earn me a lashing from fans. The power of Les Mis‘s narrative, the force of its music and lyrics, and the enthusiasm of its fan base are considerable, and anyone who criticizes the film is probably going to look like a monster. They’ll explain that the movie gives audiences a chance to see what the stage show could never show us. And I get that: A stage show cannot zoom in on Valjean’s massive head wound, nor can it give us an aerial view of Javert pacing the walls of … what, Isengard?

Further, the relentlessness of the cross imagery and the positive characterization of Christian faith will probably make it a movie that a lot of Christian media voices immediately sanctify; they’ll treat criticism as sacrilege.

Hey, I have no problem applauding a narrative as profound as this one. But here I go again, digging out Ebert’s fundamental rule of film criticism: “A movie is not about what it is about. It is about how it is about it.” The filmmakers don’t get credit for the story; that belongs to Victor Hugo. As Gandalf might say, all the filmmakers have to do is “decide is what to do with the material that is given to us.” These filmmakers made me feel like I was suffocating, and I was oh so glad to get out of that theater.

There is so much about this story that is cinematic… but we’ll have to wait for another director to capture that. Instead of zooming in on what was already writ large, Hooper could have found particularity, personality. Instead of amplifying emotions on giant heads, it could have increased our sense of whole human beings. It’s a shame to have a screen so large and not capture any poetry. (For an example of a grand, emotional epic delivered with dazzling visual imagination, see Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina, a film that felt more like a musical to me even though none of its characters sing.)

So that’s why I (somewhat snarkily) suggest that this is the perfect film for a Pez set: A gallery of big famous faces that open up to deliver blasts of energy that inspire quick rushes of adrenalin. These moments are intense while they’re happening, but they dissolve, giving us nothing much to chew on, nothing like a challenge.

Unless…

Unless we can wade out through those surging tides of passion, reach out and seize the ropes that connect to Les Misérables itself —  Victor Hugo’s massive, magnificent ship of a story — and haul it in to port: a monumental vessel full of spirit and substance.

Better, we could stay home, sit in a comfortable chair by the fire, open the book, and let the words that started it all invite us to the world within the lines, and between them.

-

Director – Tom Hooper; writers – William Nicholson, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer; based on Cameron Mackintosh’s production of Boublil and Schönberg’s stage musical. Starring – Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Samantha Barks, Aaron Tveit. 160 minutes. Rated PG-13.
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  • Dave Fontana

    This is probably the best review I have seen so far on this movie. You have articulated every point of the film that bothered me, yet I just couldn’t quite put into words. There was just something about the Les Miserables that didn’t seem right. Like you said, when I think back to it, I just think of singing faces. I don’t really think of the story, and I’m not really touched by any moment in particular. While I couldn’t really say that the movie was bad, I couldn’t really enjoy it either. Well done.

  • Anne Roche

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the film, Jeffrey, and agree with much of your analysis. When I watched the movie, I did enjoy it. But I admit I didn’t give it very much reflection at the time, simply because I had come ready to like it – having seen the stage production and being a fan of the music (And, actually, before seeing the musical version, I saw the earlier film with Liam Neeson and fell in love with the story then). Anyway, I will say that I’ve always felt about the Les Mis stage production the same way as you described feeling about the film: the viewer is not able to really get a full view into “the world within the lines, and between them” as he/she would by reading the book. I always got the sense that there was so much more to the story than could adequately be captured in a musical version of it. Of course that’s most certainly always the case when a book is adapted for the stage or screen! Anyway, after seeing the film, I couldn’t wait to actually pick up Hugo’s tome and finally get the whole picture, so I got myself a copy that same night and dove in. (:

  • James Allen

    This is the best review of the Les Miserables movie I’ve read so far. Not only do I agree with almost every point, but you convey it all articulately and interestingly.

    One point I disagree with: Les Miserables is not an opera. The music is too “melodic” and simple to be an opera. The fact that it’s sung-through doesn’t make it an opera. I do agree, however, that like opera, all of the emotions are amplified to 11. If nothing else, I think we can agree that Les Mis blurs the line between musical theatre and opera.

  • http://ladyofthepen.wordpress.com/ Sarah Sanborn

    I have to say I did love the film. But it is definitely a wash of emotion that takes a hold of you and doesn’t let you go. Seeing the film was my very introduction to Les Miserables, so I had no idea what to expect. But I really liked it and found it extremely thought provoking. I do agree that the characters are more archetypes than real characters. I found myself mildly annoyed by Jean Valjean’s saintliness. Though I suspect the musical is as much to blame for that as the film.
    I’m glad you brought up Samantha Barks’ performance, though. I think her character impressed me the most and I liked her as an actress and character far more than Cosette. It was interesting what you said about her not projecting, because I watched an interview with her and apparently she’d played Eponine on the stage and one of her greatest struggles was not projecting, it looks like she succeeded in the end.
    Anyway I can see your point of view, the movie had its flaws, but I’m very thankful that it introduced me to such a beautiful story of redemption and selflessness. I’ve begun reading the book and am discovering that the musical barely scratches the surface. I’m looking forward to finishing it and seeing how the original compares to the musical.

  • Cheri

    I agree for the most part with the review, though I didn’t have the negative reaction about the Christian imagery–partly because I am a Christian and partly because I feel its integral to the story and its themes. I don’t see how it could be watered down without causing damage to the story. Another reason I struggled with the movie, though, is that some songs were shortened/changed. I have listened to the music so much that I notice the little changes, and some of the parts that were removed were my favorite moments in the songs–such as a missing crescendo in Eponine’s song. My greatest disappointment was Javert, though. I like Russell Crowe, but Javert needs a singer like the ones in the 10th and 25th anniversary productions–big, powerful. On the other hand, I liked Marius a lot ,and I do think Anne Hathaway should be in the running for an Oscar. Her raw emotion, conveyed while singing at the same time, left me in awe.

  • Sirkka

    I came out of the cinema elated after watching the film. At home I have been reading countless of reviews. Glowing reviews, mostly, and I have loved reading them. Yet, I like yours, I especially like what you said of Samantha Barks. It is a very emotional film, but that, and reading suggestions in several reviews of taking tissues with you, I resisted weeping, until “Do you hear people sing”, when I could not help getting a lump in the throat. Sometimes the close-ups got too much for me, during parts of Fantine’s song, I concentrated in watching a corner of the screen, so I could better listen to the song.

  • Somers

    I was extremely excited for the movie, and when I did end up watching it, wasn’t as impressed as I thought I’d be.

    Yes- Anne Hathaway was brilliant and Hugh Jackman was decent but what I thought was the most memorable part of the movie was what you described as ‘Occupy Paris’.

    Because of publicity and big names and all, the characters of Eponine and Enjolras were not given the Hollywood treatment. Samantha Barks and Aaron Tveit are truly what stood out in the movie for me. Barks has her own amazing solo song and she’s not listed in the cover for the album? Tveit’s tenor was refreshing to hear. And it was a voice I looked forward to hearing throughout the entire movie since it was first heard.

  • http://arlinghaus.typepad.com bearing

    I disagree with your assessment, but I’m not calling you a monster. This is a thoughtful review. I think you’re correct that people who already love the stage opera will largely love the film.

    Your point about “the first rule of film criticism” stands — it’s just that I don’t think this film is “about” Restoration France; it’s “about” showing the blockbuster opera in a new way to new audiences. As such, it does a great job being about what it is about. It’s stage-show-y good instead of being cinematically good.

    (And since I already love the characters, the opera, and the story, I was really happy watching it for three hours.)

  • Eric

    The biggest problem with it is the amount of book material to cover. Hooper is slammed for all the closeups, but I think he got trapped in the brilliant idea of the live singing, that he felt compelled to prove through out that there were no lip-syncs. The performances couldn’t have been anymore raw and exposed. Being a big fan of the book/story, I feel it delivers Hugo’s main point, that there’s more to life than the law, love and forgiveness are mightier than the sword, BUT knowing that Hugo poured 18 years into writing the story, it’s a shame to see all that he described merely briefly touched on. Hugo structures the novel as 5 books. How can this be told in one sitting? I would enjoy seeing the story given more time, spread out over 2 if not 3 movies. Let’s hear about Fantine before she’s desperate, that Gavorche is Thenadier’s son and saves him from prison, Hugo’s telling of Waterloo and how Marius owed much to Thenadier, Jean Valjean’s several trips to prison/jail… so much to tell! After seeing the 1998 version, I loved reading the book and being filled with insights on the characters. I think Hugo would be happy with this telling, but say the storyteller is only scratching the surface.

    If you haven’t seen the 1995 French version of Les Miserables, retold from 1900-World War II, you must. It’s amazing.

  • Barbara Reed-Polatty

    Hallelujah. I KNEW Les Miserables before seeing this movie. I read the book. I was a lit major for 3 years in college (before switching to Physics). It was the first broadway play I ever saw ON BROADWAY! It captivated and captured me – making me a lifelong fan of broadway plays/musicals. I looked forward to the movie’s release – waiting a good 2 weeks from the date of its’ release to see it – waiting for the crowds to thin out. I came out of the movie feeling like the only person in the world who didn’t hog-wild love it. I could not speak in glowing terms about it. I felt – virtually everything you so eloquently stated in your review, which I just read. I waited a week after seeing it to search for your review on the internet – I was afraid that I was that Les Mis non-fan misfit – and that you would confirm it with glowing praise for the movie, the cast, the character development, the singing…. But, instead, I feel personally vindicated – and I’m not going to shove it in anyone’s face – but you are spot on, my friend. I mean, at least we are in agreement about everything. (I also liked the kid who played Gavroche, Daniel Huttlestone – he lit up the screen!) I’m not knowledgeable about Hooper – but I found your insight intriguing. Thanks. Phew. Dodged the misfit bullet.

  • http://www.priebelieving.com Ken Priebe

    Just saw this today…..I’ve grown up being familiar with many of the songs, but had never seen the whole story play out, so I was glad to finally see it. I would imagine this production works fantastically on the stage. Luckily, the lyrics and music were of such quality that allowed for them to be the focus, but that is more of a credit to the original plot and the content of the musical itself, not so much to the film….I too felt that cinematically there was very little else to appreciate. Very sloppy cinematography, editing and screen direction. I found it strange that when Cossette and Marius are meeting and singing to each other through the gate of her house, we never see them together in the same frame once, and their eye lines don’t match. She’s looking up, as if singing to a bird. Hooper used this technique in The Kings Speech, but it had a purpose, to emphasize the alienation between characters. Here it just seems distracting. Overall there was very bad composition in so many shots. In the hands of another director, this might have taken a great musical into some more creativity as a movie.

  • http://ieday.net Tony Whittaker

    Thanks so much for your insights. I believe that this film represents a major opportunity for us to start conversations with outsiders, and I’ve tried to draw together some helpful resources on the Digital Evangelism Issues blog: http://ieday.net/blog/archives/9802

    • Jeffrey Overstreet

      Outsiders?

      I don’t know… the book and the stage show have been immensely popular for a long time. The movie just gives us another iteration of the same thing.

      I know you have good intentions here, Tony. But I’m uncomfortable looking at art as an “evangelism opportunity.” I’d rather wrestle with the art and let it inspire, convict, challenge, and change me. That’s the best way to change the world. Conversations may come up, sure. But if we jump on “opportunities” to “use” art to change other people, we’re exploiting art in a way that heralds us as “the englightened” and others as “outsiders.” Further, if the work of art becomes perceived as “a tool for evangelism,” more people will end up avoiding the art altogether, or misunderstanding it as some kind of propaganda for Jesus.

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  • Andrew

    As a lifelong lover of the book and the opera/musical, I had some trepidation about this movie version. Having now seen it, I must concur with your review. The film comprises an unending series of facial shots, with little context to support it. If you are not familiar with the book, or at least the opera, you would be left with an eviscerated version of this powerful story. The film stays true to the opera, which is reasonably true to the main threads of the novel-considering the vast breadth of the novel it would be impossible to capture all the aspects of the story Hugo tells-but yet in the end the film lacks something that the opera and original versions have. I think the producers and directors would have done better to let the movie tell the story as a movie can, rather than creating a cinematic opera. The things that work well in an opera don’t necessarily translate to the big screen. I’m glad I saw it, but I won’t be waiting eagerly for the DVD/Blu-ray release to add to my collection.

    I do trust, Jeffrey, that the novel is on your to-read list. With your literary interests, it would be a pity for you not to experience the fullness of Hugo’s epic work.

  • Ann Disher

    Although a passionate fan of the story and the stage production, I completely agree with the review. When I saw the film, my takeaway thought was that the film had succeeded in conveying less than the stage does. The film is all faces and no relationships. The viewer has no choices, no images to ponder. That said, I’m still glad the film was made, if only because it makes the story more accessible (i.e. a movie ticket is a whole lot cheaper than a theatre performance), but my deepest hope is that the film will send people to the stage and the page.

  • Erik Naydiuk

    I avoided your review until after I saw the film, and I pretty much agree with what you have to say. Such a pity, as this story is one of my favorites. I came out of the movie realizing that I like the Liam Neeson/Geoffrey Rush version a lot more than I thought I did.

  • Brian

    This is a terrific, sensitively written review. You hit the nail on the head – the film is a mess and a non-event artistically, and you perfectly spelled out most of the problems. Especially re: Hooper.

  • Adolfo

    What I find most interesting is that Barks is the only one (as far as I know) who has played her character in the film on stage as well. She spent a good year as Eponine in London so that her performance is the most nuanced and subtle isn’t that surprising to me.

  • Bob D.

    From your description, in how it “insisted. It never invited,” it sounds as though Spielberg was pulling the strings, “Lincoln” notwithstanding. When I saw the stage production, I enjoyed it, but not for anything resembling subtlety or profound character development. It was a grand spectacle with a big theme and fitting production values and songs. I suspect that if I see the movie I will have a similar reaction to the one you had. I would hope that a director would employ the strengths of film to draw out and explore what is difficult to convey on the stage. I would hope for characters rather than types. It sounds like a missed opportunity.

  • Carter

    Jeffrey, I wouldn’t worry too much about backlash. I think the embargo on reviews combined with the shameless way Jackman is selling his personal life (and soul) to promote this thing ((Not very Jean Valjean of him, is it? Not that the studios mind.), says it all. They knew.

  • Joe Ricke

    Jeff, you are becoming that rare breed of critic–one who says, just forget it and read a book. I haven’t seen this yet but I must say, I will really be sad if Javert is as bad as you say. I love that character in the musical (though exaggerated and over-the-toop) and his songs must be sung well. But Crowe, I guess, has an interesting face, which seems to be the most important thing anymore. Don’t EVEN get me started on film acting. My friends and students kill me when I say, “No, I mean real acting, not film acting. That’s modeling.”

  • http://drgtjustwondering.blogspot.com Diana Trautwein

    I was afraid of this. And I must admit – and I know this makes me an outcast with most musical theater lovers (and I am one – huge!) – the stage production felt the same way to me. Exhausting. I suppose I will see it at some point, just for curiosity’s sake, but after reading this? Not even sure that’s enough of a draw. Thanks for laying it out there, Jeff.

  • Evan

    I’m 99% sure I will disagree, but I welcome different opinions. (A friend and I had a heated debate once over the merits or lack thereof in Tim Burton’s adaptation of Sweeney Todd.) Interestingly, all the critiques you make here, I have heard people make about the stage production as well: we meet Fantine right as she begins spiraling to rock bottom, the Thenardiers stumble in and interrupt the story, Cosette is all smiles and no substance, and Eponine is the only character given enough stage time for the audience to empathize with. So, the film sounds like a very accurate adaptation that fans will LOVE, and non-fans won’t care for.

    None of those complaints ever bothered me, because I view the musical as a story about how one act of mercy touched the lives of many people, even people whom one barely meets. The stage version (and I assume the film) shows that as long as we look down and focus on ourselves we will be miserable. But when we look up, focus on God, and see Christ in others, even others we hardly know, then we can cast of the chains of sin.

    And one technical point. People call the stage production a musical because they are unfamiliar with theatre terminology. The stage version of Les Miserables is an opera. A play is all dialogue, a musical is a mixture of dialogue and singing, and an opera is 100% sung (or close to 100% sung).


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