Adam’s Film Friday – A Review of Les Mis

lesmisposterWhen waiting for a movie to come out, often times anticipation plays with our mind. When we finally see the movie, it doesn’t live up to the hype that we imagine the final product will be. Often times, even though we have a pre-conceived notion of what the movie will be and how it will look, as well as what choices the director and actors will make, it just doesn’t hit the mark somehow. There’s no denying I have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Les Miserables movie. I even wrote a post about the women of Les Miserables (which you can read here). Although it is not the first film adaptation of the classic Victor Hugo novel, it is the first adaptation of the musical, which itself is adapted from the novel. I have been following the progression of this film from the first announcement, to casting announcements, to the first leaked pictures, to the first trailer, TV spots, and even random cast members on talk shows. I couldn’t get enough clips and literally could not wait any longer to see the movie. Would the hype of the movie ultimately ruin it for me? Would it be everything I had imagined it to be? Would it be a bigger let down than Mockingjay of the Hunger Games series? So many questions were finally answered when I saw the movie on Christmas Eve.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Les Miserables begins by introducing us to Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a convict who served 19 years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread. After he is paroled by the no-nonsense Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), he realizes he cannot exist with his old identity because his papers have labeled him a dangerous man. After a chance encounter with a bishop, Valjean vows to be a better and honest man. Over the course of the movie, you witness the story of a student revolution, a mother’s unwavering love for her child, a love triangle, and finally a story of redemption, all told with an amazing score and incredible songs.

Ok, I cannot wait anymore to tell you what I thought of the movie. I absolutely loved it. I thought it was one of the best musical movies ever made. One thing which made it one of the best musicals ever made was the decision to sing live while the cameras were rolling, as opposed to pre-recording the songs. With live singing, you experience the emotions the actors were trying to get across.  The songs came across much more genuine than they would have had the actors pre-recorded the songs. Although this is not the first time an actor has sung live on the set (I believe Rex Harrison sang live for My Fair Lady), this is the first time 100% of the scenes in a musical were sung live 100% of the time. It was an incredibly intimate way to portray the story of Les Miserables, and it worked perfectly. I hope more musicals decide to try this in the future.

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The performance of the movie was none other than Anne Hathaway as the factory worker-turned-prostitute Fantine. From her first scene to her last scene (over the course of 20 minutes), she captivates the audience with her portrayal of this tragic character. She gets her hair cut on-screen and you can see the fear and despair in that particular shot in her eyes. She became this character who literally is in a downward spiral with no hope of ever getting out of it. Fantine’s signature song “I Dreamed a Dream” was moved around in the movie compared to its placement in the musical. In the musical it is right after she is fired from the factory job, and in the movie it is right after her first experience as a prostitute. The movement of this song made the already sad lyrics even sadder. To put the cherry on top was how Hathaway decided to sing the song. She decided against belting it, instead going for a quieter version. Her version was so emotional, so raw, and so heartfelt that every time I’ve seen the movie (which is now up to three times), it breaks my heart and I feel a single tear coming down my cheek. I also have to give credit to director Tom Hooper for his shot choice during this song. It is shot in one long take with a minor cut in the beginning, and is just focused on Hathaway’s face. You could feel her emotions jumping off the screen. It was an incredibly effective way of shooting this scene.  If she is not this year’s best supporting actress for her performance as Fantine, then clearly all the Academy members went to the bathroom during that scene because it is utterly heartbreaking.

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Some other strong performances were Samantha Barks as Eponine, the street urchin who gets the short end of the stick in a love triangle, and Eddie Redmayne as the student revolutionary-turned-love sick puppy named Marius. Samantha had previously played Eponine on the West End Stage and the O2 25th anniversary concert. She lights up the screen with every scene she is in, and she really showed restraint in her vocal changes. Having come from a stage background, she said that she was used to singing to 2,000 people in a theater and that she had to learn to retrain her voice to strip down her singing. She really gives a great debut performance and will have a long movie career ahead of her. Eddie Redmayne as Marius was able to take one song I really don’t love, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, and make it a heart-tugging performance. He had a boyish quality that Marius is often missing in the stage show, and he really added validity to the story that he had never been in love until he saw Cosette. Hugh Jackman was also Oscar-worthy as Valjean, and is probably in the final five of my Best Actor Oscar list, but unfortunately for Jackman it looks like nothing is stopping Daniel Day-Lewis and his incredible performance as Lincoln. However, Jackman was the perfect screen adaptation of Valjean.

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Someone who I feel is unfortunately getting the short end of the stick by many critics is Russell Crowe as the persistent inspector Javert. At the end of his career, would this one performance be what he is known for? Probably not, but he didn’t ruin the movie as many critics have stated. I actually thought as the movie went on his performance got stronger.  He was by no means one of the strongest voices of the cast, but he wasn’t as bad vocally as Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia (just even mentioning his croaking singing makes my ears hurt). In truth, he really had the unrelenting quality that any good Javert should have. His soliloquy was actually one of the strongest parts of the second half of the movie, and as in the play, we finally see some humanity in Javert. Also, I’ve heard that people don’t like Amanda Seyfried as Cosette because of her vibrato. I will say that after hearing the soundtrack, I was afraid it would be annoying and would make me hate the character of Cosette more so than I do already. However after seeing the movie, the vibrato in fact makes Cosette a more endearing character somehow. You often forget that Cosette is someone who (until she meets Valjean) has never known the true love of a parent. You forget how Valjean guards her, and through the imperfection in Seyfried’s voice you really understand the sense of innocence that her character has. Her performance in the epilogue was really heartbreaking and if you don’t tear up, you may be hollow on the inside.

lesmishughIn closing, I will answer the question I posed in the introduction: did the hype ruin the movie? No, it lived up to all of my expectations and surpassed many more. It wasn’t a let down like Mockingjay. It was everything I imagined it to be and was pure perfection. Not many movies can be labeled perfection and I think this is one that deserves that title. I would recommend this movie to anyone and everyone, even if you don’t like musicals. I think this story has developed a way to transcend the barrier of the musical. It has figured out a way to tell the story with music, rather than the music becoming an annoyance and taking away from the beauty of the story. In short, you have to go see this movie.

7 out of 5 Stars

Les Miserables (2012)
Working Titles Films
PG-13, 157 Minutes

Read-A-Thon Mini Challenge #1

Reading Through Life has posted a mini challenge for this hour that deals with translated books.  It asks the question: “If you could read any book that’s been translated into English in its ORIGINAL language, what would it be?”  It took me some time to think up a good book that I already haven’t read, as The Millenium Series immediately came to mind, but I eventually settled on Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.  Although I took a few years of French in high school, there is NO WAY that I would be able to read this thing in French!  Additionally, although the instructions are to post a picture of the original cover, I found a cool original picture of Cosette from the novel that I’m posting instead.  Additionally, for bonus points, here is the first sentence of the novel in its original French:

En 1815, M. Charles-François-Bienvenu Myriel était évêque de Digne.
C'était un vieillard d'environ soixante-quinze ans; il occupait le siège
de Digne depuis 1806.

Hope you enjoyed this mini challenge!  Tune in throughout the day to check in and see more mini challenges.  Now it’s back to reading…

The Women of Les Miserables by Adam Gorsline

If you’ve read my little biography or my about me, you should know that I love a good musical. For some reason, whenever random people burst out into a song that random people on the street magically know the lyrics and dance moves to, my soul feels a little better. Songs are a great way to express oneself and also tell a great story. My favorite musical happens to be based on one of the hardest, most difficult novels I have ever read (and I only read the abridged version), Les Miserables. With a movie now being made based on the musical, Kim and I have had many discussions about the musical and how it will translate to the big screen.  There are a lot of differences between the novel and the musical, so it will hopefully be unlike any other movie version of Les Miserables.

One of the biggest differences between the novel and the musical is the characterizations of the characters, in particular the female characters and the female leads, Fantine, Eponine, and Cosette. All of these characters play a crucial part in the different stories and interaction with the main character, Jean Valjean.

Cosette and Eponine are two of the younger females and are polar opposites both in the novel and the musical.  In the novel Cosette is someone who is charitable; she volunteers with the homeless and actually considers becoming a nun because of her charitable nature. She is very sweet and naive, but knows more about the world than musical Cosette. Musical Cosette is very unlikable (at least to me). She is made even more naïve, devoid of all personality, and comes off too Disney princess-esque. I feel like she should have animated birds follow her and she should have a friend who is a talking rabbit. I don’t know if it’s done intentionally, but she just seems so robot-like.  On the other hand, Eponine is portrayed in the reverse. In the novel she is described as having a voice similar to nails on a chalkboard and is very selfish. She is part of her father’s gang, who offers to help Marius get to Cosette, but has an ulterior motive. When she is killed, she says she took the bullet because she knew Marius wasn’t very strong and unlikely to survive the rebellion, adding that they would be together in heaven. Eponine in the musical, on the other hand, is extremely likeable. Many people who see the musical feel she is a better fit for Marius than Cosette, as Marius and Cosette have more of a platonic relationship which happens to be flirtatious at points.

One of the characters that is most interesting, heartbreaking, and has an all around great story is Fantine. Her character’s back story is discussed more in the book than in the musical, in the sense that it goes into such detail as her past before she just shows up on the scene. The novel goes into detail about how she and her friends fall in love with four friends, spend the most romantic summer in the French countryside, and how the four friends all leave their girls in the middle of the night. All the girls take it lightly and laugh it off, but Fantine is devastated. She soon finds out she’s pregnant with his child and eventually gives the baby up to the Thénardiers when she sees their children playing happily. As part of the deal, she is required to send 10 francs per month for necessities for Fantine. What she doesn’t know is that the Thénardiers take her money and force her daughter, Cosette, into labor.  She gives everything up to send money for her child: she becomes a prostitute, she sells her hair, she sells her two front teeth, and just descends terribly until her death (sorry for the spoilers, but there’s a song called “Come to me – Fantine’s Death”, so really this isn’t much of a spoiler). Much of her back story is left out of the musical, such as how Fantine meets the Thénardiers, and the lengths she goes through to be able to provide for Cosette and her death is really watered down. It’s interesting to see Fantine so watered down because in the book she is very raw and very real, where as in the musical she seems so demure and already defeated. I think by the time we are introduced to her she’s been through half the battle and is close to death. It is extremely heartbreaking to see her demise, and the story, albeit watered down, still tugs at the heart-strings.

I am extremely excited to see this movie, and I wonder if the movie will incorporate anything from the novel. Because the musical is almost 3 and a half hours by itself, it will be interesting to see what the differences there will be from the movie musical to the stage musical. I am just upset I have to wait till December 2012, and I heard a rumor that it might be pushed back. It better not get pushed back…I NEED THIS MOVIE.