Les Miserables (2012) – Tom Hooper (Dir.), Hugh Jackman, Russel Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Sasha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Samantha Barks
Alright, let’s get this out of the way. Deep breath…
OMGLESMISERABLESYOUGUYS!!!! SQUUUUUUEEEEEE. OMG JEANVALJEANVSJAVERT FANTINEDREAMEDADREAMALLOVERMYFACE
HOLY SHIT THE BARRICADE IS UP ANDGAVROSHISGOINGTOGETSHOTAND
Holy fuck. Thank you, disembodied internet-hand. I needed that. Yes, it is true, I’m almost not ashamed to admit, that I am a Les Miserables fan-girl. From the moment the score swelled and the chain-gang took to their turntable on a lonely stage in New Haven, CT, like a fish too stupid to tell the difference between a worm and a piece of sparkly plastic on a string, I was hooked. My little highschool self became drunk on Thenardier’s bombast, Valjean’s strength, Javert’s straight-laced don’t-fuck-with-me-fuckery. The next year, we performed the show, fresh off of the touring stage. Our budget was nothing! Our talent was limited! Our cast was mainly boys who were too afraid to play sports and girls who were trying to sleep with all the hot gays! But what we lacked in pretty much every department required to put on one of the most over the top productions since Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Michael Bay’s Transformers! The Musical, we made up for in heart. And, you know what, we kicked ass. At least, that’s what my mother said. (But she’s british so it was more, ‘It was the dog’s bollocks!’)
So, now, years later, I am confronted once more with my deepest of demons, my darkest of secrets, my squealiest, most infuriating, most utterly weepy self: Les Mis Mooney. *Facepalm* Try as I did to stave it off, every fucking time that fucking trailer with Anne fucking Hathaway came on the fucking screen and sang I Dreamed a Fucking Dream I’d become a weeping sack of musical theater nerd mush. I was excited for this film. So excited that I did battle with my mother for a solid month before finally convincing her to make this our ‘Boxing Day Movie’ (Mooney Family Tradition, we don’t fuck around). So, the question is, did Tom Hooper pull it off? Did I spend 3 hours squirming with sappy glee in my theater seat? Was I launched back into post revolutionary France to stand atop the barricade and fight with all my might against the coming horde of the Parisian military?
Was the movie terrible? No. Was it good? No. Did I cry? Kinda. Was Russell Crowe a rotting sack of shit that rained over everyone’s parade and completely ruined every modicum of film that he marred? Abso-fruitly. But I’ll get to that.
First, let me say, that when attempting to corral the Mooney clan towards a movie theater, grandmother in tow, on the day after a massive film release in the middle of Connecticut, buying tickets early isn’t enough to guarantee seats. When we arrived five minutes before show time, the entire place was literally bursting at the seams with autumnal-yeared bourgeoisie. My lady friend and I were relegated to the only seat in the house with ‘restricted view’ and the inability to hear any dialogue seeing as this craphouse hadn’t figure out how Dolby works. Finally, we conceded, after I decided to sit on the floor to get a semi-decent view, to sit in the second row aaaaaaall the way to the left. We were probably 10 feet from the screen so every frame, every second was a wash of dour color and beads of digitalized sweat. Bear that in mind; I’ll come back to it.
So, who has the brass balls, the iron-clad testicles, the Steely Dans, if you will, to take on the task of adapting this emotionally-rich and utterly over-the-top display of operatic theater-nerd crazy from the West End and adapt it for the silver screen? Enter Mr. Tom “Fish-Eye Lens” Hooper. You might remember him from the 2010 Oscar-Grabby Old-Man-Acty-Acty Royalty Porn that was The King’s Speech. Now, for months I staved off the horde from forcing me to sit down and indulge in all two hours of Mr. Darcy being taught by Bellatrix and Captain Barbossa to speak right. But, in the end, I broke down and scoffed on the mass of royal toe-sucking that makes up the highest grossing revenues of all British exports. And it was good. Like really, fucking good. Suddenly, all preconceived notions of its shrewd award begging evaporated and I was offered a heart-warming tale of small victories and family issues. Now, let’s transport that grimy and realistic view of Blitzed London to post revolutionary France. Mr. Hooper, during that import, seems to have loaded up on the HD close-up cameras, Steady-Cams and fish-eye lenses (OH THE FISH-EYES!). Because, honestly, how does one transmogrify a play that, beside the fact that everyone’s singing, attempts with its very core to convince you that it is anything other than a play, into something that is a movie that doesn’t want to be a movie but wants to be a movie? Apparently, the answer is close-ups. SO MANY CLOSE-UPS. Seriously, if I had a migraine for every close-up that happened…oh wait, I fucking did. It got to the point, only ten feet from the screen, that I almost attempted playing a game of ring toss with the fake wrinkles around Wolverine’s eyes. Yes, Hooper does an excellent job of fucking up peoples’ teeth, spreading the grease through their hair like they just returned from a New Orleans deep-fry off, and covering the extras in so many topical diseases you’d think they were all going to a Keith Richards costume party. In retrospect, that was my favorite aspect of the movie. Out of all the Les Mis adaptations, including the hilariously truncated but eminently watchable Liam Neeson/Geoffrey Rush Fugitive remake in the mid-Naughties, this is the only one that actually has shit in the Parisian sewer. It was gross. It was vile. And it was a delightful touch.
Here is the biggest issue. Film is a medium that avoids Suspension of Disbelief like the plague. It offers levels of realism unparalleled by any other form of artistic expression. And so, when you have this sprawling epic in vibrato forced into ultra-realistic cinematography, peppered with spoken lines to help fill in the blanks that the stage play just doesn’t give a fuck about, you have to ask yourself…why are you singing when you can talk? Surely that’s an easier form of communication? Thus, we have the patented Square-Peg Conundrum. Les Miserables is a wonderfully square peg, beautifully constructed and soaking in the loins of teenage fans in heat, but Mr. Hooper is attempting to force it into the round hole of cinema. No matter how hard you lean on it, it ain’t gonna fit, buddy. What you get is a higgedly-piggedly mish-mash of actors not knowing what movie they are in (is it an understated comedy? A romance movie? A jailbreak? A concert film where all you do is stand still and sing because you are contractually obligated to at least show up? (Fuck you, Russell Crowe)). Honestly, there are only three stage musicals that have been adapted into film that I think work. First, West Side Story because one, duh, it’s Sondheim and Bernstein and two, it knows it’s a play. It has the sets, it has the dancing, it has the everything. It defines its rules and it sticks to ’em. Second, is Reefer Madness because, well, it’s fucking ridiculous and I love it and never-say-anything-bad-about-it-ever-or-I-will-come-to-your-house-in-the-night-and-let-a-bear-loose-in-your-bedroom. Lastly, and probably leastly, Chicago. It’s not my favorite musical nor is it my favorite movie. BUT. It understands why the play is a musical and why it loves the format in which it was crafted. It’s about over-the-top sizzle, sazzle, jazz, pizzazz and other misuses of the letter z. When people sing, they are teleported to a disembodied stage in the middle of MUSICAL-TOPIA and it becomes clear that these songs are more inner-monologues, thus weaving it together in a sensical package. Sometimes it really works in Les Mis. Pretty much everything at the barricade and involving the lovers makes sense and is fucking great. Sometimes it really, really, really, really doesn’t (I’m looking at you everything-Hugh-Jackman-does). So…speaking of Wolverine…
Oh the cast. There is a wonderful paradox when it comes to casting a movie musical. Anyone who doesn’t really give a shit is waiting to see what Hollywood starlets believe they can belt and so they charge forth to witness either their edification onto the fast-track to Oscardom (Renee Zellweger has an Oscar Nomination. I ask you, is there no other greater affront to humanity than that?) or the complete and utter dismemberment by way of unrelenting ridicule. Those who do give a shit demand Broadway stars who only the most nerdy of the nerds might recognize. It’s naive and incorrect to think there is anyway a no name will be installed into the lead role of any massive budget shit show like this, so the argument never, ever holds water, disregarding talent altogether. So, here we have Catwoman, the enervating and delightful Anne Hathaway, with a widescreen camera almost lodged in her vocal cords, plugging away and sealing up an Oscar faster than Meryl Streep can say, “I think I’ll make another movie”. She hits her notes, she cries her tears, she dreams a dream of days gone by. Good job. Then we have the chilluns and the clowns. Amanda “Light of God Encapsulated in Human Form” Seyfried plays Cosette, the role she was literally concocted in a lab to play, and kills it. We even having the surprisingly buxom Samantha Barks trouncing those solos as Eponine because, well, she’s famous for singing things well. Next, Borat and Ms. Lovett create a love story that makes you question French dentistry with completely unexpectedly underplayed performances. Seriously, I played Thenardier in high school with a gusto that would have made Roger Ebert cry blood, but this is so absolutely opposite and hilarious that it provides something that you wouldn’t expect…a reason for this movie to exist. Bonham Carter and Baron Cohen, these dually-surnamed beasts of comedic timing, create characters you wouldn’t see on stage. Thank the Jesus. Finally, on the ‘good’ side of things, we have the otherwise blissfully unknown powerhouse that is Eddie Redmayne playing Marius. Where the fuck did he come from? Did he crawl out of some kind of secret lab where the Brits are trying to construct the perfect man but accidentally hit the ‘freckle-icious’ button? I have always hated Marius, the wimpy, whiny little sod. This is the first fucking time ever that he comes off as a warrior, believably smitten, and a PTSD survivor. Holy shit. When he sings ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’, redundancy of the title aside, he delivers a solo that would make Orpheus rethink
his profession…and that’s even with a fucking steady cam assaulting his esophagus.
But then, oh man, then there’s the other half of the cast. Mr. Jackman, Wolverine, bubby, I love you. You’re the sweetest little stardust of a human being to ever flit its way out of Aussie-land. You’re a great singer, a charismatic actor, an uncompromising delight. Jean Valjean, you are not. You try, you try so hard…but there’s only so much a make-up artist can do to make you age from 30-something to 60-something with High Definition Dolby Digital Chromatic-Asshattery sucking on your flaring nostrils. You don’t have the voice, the presence, the age or the latter-day Orson Wells look to play this role. But it isn’t your fault…you’re just miscast. I feel like I should send you a card and beg you to continue what you’re doing. Be Wolverine. Be likable. Be the most charming host the Academy Awards has pulled out of its ass since Johnny Carson died and everyone got sick of Billy Crystal.
There is another card I wish to send. Well, it’s more of a package. It has no writing. Just poop. Stinky, stale, maggot-ridden, I-might-have-had-curry-last-night feces. And it will be addressed to Mr. Russell “Cell Phone in the Face” Crowe (yeah, no one has forgotten that one, bucko). Now, I’m fully aware that if I ever met Mr. Crowe, this next paragraph will earn me a punch in the face because, you know, he does that. I don’t give a fuck. So, here goes:
Good paragraph. But seriously, when I auditioned for this show, when I fell in love with it, when I sang it all alone in my room and my parents quietly questioned my sexuality, I wanted to play Javert. I don’t know what it is about his character, but he spoke to me. He’s a man who lives by a code, much like Batman. He fights bad guys, like Batman. Sometimes he talks about stars and jumps off of high things, like…Batman? His quest to destroy the virtuous Valjean is the emotional through-line that weaves this thousand-fucking-million page novel into something edible for the illiterate public. He is so stalwart in his view that bad is bad and will always be bad, while Valjean entirely undoes his basic understanding of existence. The only option? SPOILERS. Suicide. You know what I just described? A character arc. A tale of emotional growth and destruction that makes sense. Have you seen movies recently? You’ll be so lucky you get anything so worthy. Mr. Crowe, you stumble into this film a blank piece of wood. You sang badly. You look as though this was court-ordered community service. What the fuck? Do you not know what a musical is? What about singing? What about acting? I know you got your Oscar early so the rest of your career is just coasting on fumes, but come the fuck on. Don’t just piss on my favorite character! You are the worst. Just the worst. You know what? Hitler did a lot of bad things (Holocaust, World War II, painting, vegetarianism), you know what he didn’t do? RUIN LES MISERABLES. That’s right, in this specific case, you are WORSE THAN HITLER. You know what? From now on, everything will be judged on a Russell Crowe scale of terrible. Level 1 is Gladiator, where, yes you kill people good and make some speeches, but every scene of you talking to another human being is about as interesting as me scratching my balls for two days straight. Level 5 is Robin Hood. I went through the entire movie thinking you were Little John because, goddammit, lose some weight! Level 10 is going to be the probably terrible Superman remake because, let’s be real, it’s directed by Zack “DERR-I-LIEK-BOOBS” Snyder. Level fucking 50 is Les Mis.
So, in conclusion, did I enjoy Les Mis? Yes and no. Was it agonizing to sit there for 3 hours? Yes. Will I buy it on DVD? Absolutely. Will it be in Blu-Ray so I can literally count every single pore on Hugh Jackman’s face? You fucking know it. The second it comes out I’m going to have a Whiskey and Swearing at Russell Crowe Party. You’re all invited.