Monday, December 31, 2012

Character by Character SMASH DOWN: Les Miserables

Prologue -

If I started by saying Les Miserables is my favorite musical and book, I would not be saying enough. It's my favorite musical and book by at least 100 degrees. It would fill the first hundred slots of favorites, and finally you'd get to 101 and that slot would be filled with some other musical the world, and Boonie, could live without. I'm sorry fans of other musicals, but as far as I'm concerned no other musical, and no other novel, comes close.

To explain to you why Les Miserables is such an amazing book seems almost pointless. Those of you lucky enough to have read the entire thing understand completely why I love it. Those of you who haven't read it couldn't possibly understand the entire beauty of it; so why bother to explain?

Instead, I'll simply tell you what's right and what's wrong with THIS production.

I should also include that I've seen this musical performed on Broadway, off-Broadway, and by a high school. I've sung Fantine's I Dreamed a Dream in concert. I appreciate ANYONE who puts on this musical or sings a song from it, no matter how terrible a job they do. I enjoy every second of this musical so entirely that when they're performed, and while I might find fault with the performances, I'm grateful for them.

I'll also remind you that there are productions I hate. I hate the 25th Anniversary edition, although I'm glad they did it, (I've just explained why.) I'm also hardly fond of any of the non-musical movies and mini-series versions. Some are better than others, but none capture the essence of the book quite like the musical does. I'm aware that sounds cheesy, but I lack the ability to explain it differently, although I'll try: The movies tell the story of Jean Valjean, but a novel is more than its story. Perhaps only music can capture the emotions without the aid of a narrator, (a narrator being provided in the novel.) Or perhaps what's lacking is proper character development. While the acting in these movies is usually fair, I might point blame at writing, and editing. Movies that leave out Eponine might as well leave out all the Thenardiers. Movies that leave out Gavroche might as well leave out Marius. Movies that leave out Enjolras might as well leave out the entire battle at the barricade.

One thing I learned in my study of acting is that you must find the moments in the script. The musical provides moments. The musical shoves the moments in your face and screams, "This is a big deal! Pay attention! Be moved!" When I saw one production of Les Miserables sung by PCPA in Solvang, CA, they did one of the best jobs of "finding the moment" that I had ever seen. Movie versions tend to roll over moments. Yes, yes, they do. And it matters.

You should know I'm a snob about this musical, and I have strong opinions about the best and worst performers of it. And if you haven't seen the 10th Anniversary edition, you should. Most of the parts are done better in this edition than anywhere else on earth. However, a few of the performers I wouldn't mind replacing. But I'm not here to critique that one, so I'll just provide a link so you can get your head out of your movie-going butt, and watch someone with an enormous vocal talent play the part.

In this version of the movie/musical, we sacrifice some vocal talent for acting talent and raw emotion. In the play the beauty of the songs and the beauty of the singing almost distracts us from the gruesome happenings. The movie hits us over the head with the gruesome happenings, and includes elements from the book nowhere found in movies, or the play. Watching this film is a different experience from seeing the play. If you've seen the play and want to skip the movie, go for it. But if you haven't seen the play, see the movie. Let it move you. But know that those songs are more beautiful on stage, whereas in a movie theater they don't need to be sung at the top of their peaks; the acting, cinematography and closeness takes care of the agony a better singer might show us.

All right, now. Don't mind me while I do a character by character smash-down. I have to.


Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean (right)
If you've ever seen the worst production of Oklahoma! that has ever existed, then you know that Hugh Jackman has an outstanding talent, as he almost, very nearly saved it. His acting was phenomenal, however I found myself wishing that his voice was a little more solid. What can I say? He was brilliant, and probably the best pick for the job.

Russell Crowe as Javert (below)
I'm endlessly proud of Russel Crowe for hitting the note so many Javert's cheat. He did an amazing job countering Jackman's Valjean during The Confrontation. That timing is not easy. As always, his acting is superb. However, I wouldn't have blamed them, no offence, Russell, if they dubbed his voice, or at least spent a little more time with it. I'm thinking he doesn't have the range the role requires, which might be why they left out his lowest note. He sings like a tenor, which is probably why he was able to hit and find his most impressive high note. The problem is finding a shockingly talented Javert is more important than casting a talented Jean Valjean. The antagonist is always the most important character cast, so having a Javert who isn't a very strong singer is kind of a big deal.

Anne Hathaway as Fantine (below)
I'm so proud of our "dreaded" Anne Hathaway. She's come a long way since The Devil Wears Prada. This role must have exhausted her, for she truly gave it all she had. I found no fault with her at all, which is refreshing to say. I also didn't find myself envying her the role of Fantine. I wouldn't mind playing the part on stage, where it's cozy and pretty, but I'm rather glad I had nothing to do with the depression that role carries on the screen.

Samantha Barks as Eponine (below)
Yeeeeeeep. You might recognize her from the dreaded 25th Anniversary of Les Miserables. She was one of the better talents there, but here.... Excuse me! Did everyone forget that Eponine is spunky!?! Sigh. Oh well. She sings well enough, but... girl's got no spunk. No spunk I tell you! Plus, they kind of dance around her character almost as if she has no purpose, which doesn't help the vanilla-ness of her acting. No purpose, no spunk... yilsh. No point.

Eddie Redmayne as Marius (left)
I'll take anyone over Nick Jonas! But honestly, this Marius might be one of my most favorites ever. Marius is a kind of "Raoul role," in the fact that the man playing him usually lacks great talent, has a wonky face, and possesses  one-sided acting. But not Eddie! His Empty Chairs at Empty Tables was gorgeous. He brought the role from drab to stunning, and the so-so singing to, "Hey, you're almost as good as Enjolras!" If not better.

Which brings me to -
Aaron Tveit as Enjolras (right)
He was okie-dokie, but I'm not sure I'd follow him to my death, if you know what I mean. Or even if you don't know what I mean - he didn't have the charisma most Enjolras's display. He was talented, for sure, but all his impressive notes were sung by the entire chorus. While this made the impressive parts powerful, it somewhat wussed-out Enjolras's part.

Amanda Seyfried as Cosette (below)
Raise your hand if you should have been replaced! **Amanda raises hand** That is all. **Amanda fans sob** FINE, I'll tell you why she should have been replaced. Well, I can name that reason in two notes, or, one note, sung twice, and sung badly.

Sacha Baron Cohen as Thenardier (below)
The Thenardiers play the role of villain/comical relief. The movie skipped Dog Eats Dog, (previewed here by my favorite Thenardier, Robert Billig,) one of the more sinister songs of the musical that is oddly and eerily beautiful. I did not approve of them cutting this song, which is sung by Thenardier while he robs corpses in the sewers. Personally, I feel without this song you miss part of the nastiness of Thenardier, and only really see his comedic side, (or, well, his MORE comedic side.) But that's not Sacha's fault. He did an excellent job. He could have been MORE, but we hardly needed him to be.

Helena Bonham Carter as Mme. Thenadier (right)
Notice the similarities between her name and Sacha Baron Cohen's. Weird! Anyway, you aught to know by now that she is my favorite actress and has been since Fight Club. Move along.

Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche (left)
In the play Gavroche annoys me and I love Eponine. In the book Eponine annoys me and I love Gavroche. In this I loved Gavroche. Daniel didn't play him like a pig-nosed little punk, but as a street-wise little gallant. Brovo, little Gavroche.

Isabelle Allen as Young Cosette (right)
Where did they find such a cute little talented girl? Just excellent!

And I'll end the smash down with

Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop of Digne (below)
You can catch Colm in that little video I attached as the greatest Valjean ever. He's the original, as well. Don't go home without hearing his Bring Him Home. I'm so glad they had him as the Bishop. And SPOILER I'm glad he was at the end. For in the play it's just Fantine and Eponine who are there. But in the book, all who's there is the Bishop of Digne. That's right; the guy's important.

So, I enjoyed it. It was epic, and moving, but it's not the play, and it's not the book. It's the best movie we have of it though. Although the music was over shadowed by the movie's movie-ness. I didn't leave the theater singing the songs, but nor did I leave washing my ears out. However, I don't think it will go down in history, or be remembered for the greatest film of all time, the way we remember the musical as the greatest musical of all time.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with almost everything you said. Didn't Victor Hugo say something like "Music expresses that which cannot be said, and on which is impossible to be silent."? I think music adds so much passion and expands the view of the characters to the audience. That is why the musical rocks so hard. Through the words, the music, and the movement you are given so much... you cannot possibly get the same bang for your buck in a plain old movie.

    You liked Russel Crowe more than I did. I thought his movements and actions were weak, and his singing and annunciation was weak, and therefore his character was weak. And you cannot have a weak Javert. And I liked Eponine more than you did. But seriously! Everything else. We agree.