Last night my mother and I went to see Les Misérables. Having seen the stage production 3 times on Broadway, it’s my favorite musical, I know it well, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up for the movie. All in all I think it was a solid performance by the entire cast.
Warning: Spoiler alert and über long post, because I’m obsessed.
• Legitimate Stage Actors – When this movie was announced there was so much buzz about celebrating casting that you could barely find any other information related to it. Taylor Swift and Lea Michelle were considered for Eponine (had either of those ladies been cast I would have been forced to boycott the film entirely, stage background or not in LM’s case) and Amy Adams and Jessica Biel were considered for Fantine (the former I could see, the latter makes me question the validity of IMDB’s sources). Thankfully the skill of legitimate stage actors in roles both big and small (actual West End actors were used as extras) carried this movie home.
o Eponine - While every female in the cast was pretty terrific, Samantha Barks is just leaps and bounds ahead. Barks makes the leap from the stage to the big screen with ease. Having played Eponine in the West End as well as in the 25th anniversary concert, she obviously knows the character inside out, so I found myself wondering if it was liberating for her to be able to deliver her lines more softly than one needs to on the stage (not quite as much projection required when the camera can focus in on you for key lines). Since she’s relatively unknown, she really was the character for me and I found my heart breaking for her in all the right ways, well played, Ms. Barks.
Side note: props to wardrobe for giving her the tiniest waist I have ever seen. Seriously, I think Dita von Teese could take a lesson on cinching in the waist from whoever dressed Eponine.
o Enjolras – For the first half of the movie I could not place where I knew him from. In the back of my head I kept thinking, ‘Gossip Girl, he looks like one of Serena’s (many) love interests, but, he’s so good, that can’t be it, I have to know him from something else!’ Finally I realized that I was indeed correct, Aaron Tveit had played Nate’s cousin Trip van der Bilt on the show – how had the Vulture Les Misérables Advent Calendar not given me the heads up on this? After doing my research (translation: IMDB search) I found that Tveit has been acting on stage and screen since ’08 (Catch Me if You Can and Next to Normal, and as a replacement in Wicked and Hairspray). During “Red and Black” when Marius is singing, “had you been there tonight” I could help but think, ‘had he been there tonight, he might have given you a little run for your money with Cosette.’
o Gavroche – This character is always a fan favorite, but whoever cast Daniel Huttlestone in the movie deserves the gold star that Javert pins on Huttlestone’s character post-mortem. Apparently, although not surprisingly, he was in Oliver in the West End. My biggest regret about my 3 week trip to London (it was for a grad-school program, so there had to be a work/play balance) is that I did not see Les Misérables in the West End. I’ve heard it’s the best production – ever.
• The Thenadiers – Was there anyone who thought that Sascha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter weren’t going to kill it as this clever criminal couple? Yeah, I didn’t think so. The subtle delivery of their comedic asides was brilliant every time, they never missed an opportunity.
• Clarity – This is going to be difficult to articulate, but there are some aspects of the play that are a bit abstract (Javert’s suicide, the symbolism of the candlesticks Valjean receives from the Bishop of Digne at the beginning, the relationship between Valjean and Cosette) that the movie seems to expand on and, in most cases, I think it was a wise decision. In the stage version Javert just sort of jumps from darkness and you “hear” him fall and splash, but it’s definitely more blunt in the movie (slight drawback mentioned in the Cons below) and there is no doubt as to how he meets his demise. As for the candlesticks, the ability to zoom in on them does an awful lot for their significance. In the play they are highlighted in the beginning and I’m sure they’re there throughout, but the movie was able to call attention to them briefly throughout and remind the audience of how far Valjean has come and why.
• Eddie Redmayne – Before seeing this movie I didn’t really get what was so attractive about him and, even now when I see a still shot of him I just think ‘eh,’ but to see this man in motion it’s like the freckles and the bone structure and the metro-sexual hair combine and you have to submit. He's damn good. Androgynous, maybe, but damn good.
• Hugh Jackman's fake teeth - I get that they were going for authenticity and all, but I think his regular teeth would’ve been less distracting since the prosthetics made him look like he was singing through the effects of Novocain. At certain points it was like I could hear the spit pooling in his mouth. To be honest, I was kind of disappointed in his performance on the whole, but that is probably just because I have come to expect so much from him.
• Russel Crow’s singing voice – This may seem like a bit of an obvious complaint, but ignoring skill level, he wasn’t even in the right vocal range. Javert is supposed to be this really rich baritone and Crow sings through his nose and often seems like he’s straining. His singing performance actually reminded me of Jim Broadbent’s portrayal of Zidler in Moulin Rouge, but not in a good way (sorry, Jim). His acting was pretty solid, but with all of the media hype it was truly difficult to stop seeing him as Russel Crow the celebrity and see him as Javert.
• Set design - In my not-at-all-professional opinion, the production designer took too much of a Sweeney Todd approach; panning out over 19th century Paris looked more like a video game than anything. I get that you're not going to actually recreate an entire city, but it seems like all of these cool new things are happening in film - we've got 3D and Peter Jackson using projection technology in The Hobbit, can't someone come up with a less cartoon-ish way of making a fake city? I half expect the actors to come into the scene looking like Grand Theft Auto avatars. That being said, I did like the physical sets that they used.
• "A Little Fall of Rain," radio edit - For whatever reason this song is seriously under-rated by the general public. One night at a piano bar in NYC my friend Laura and I requested it and were told something along the lines of, "no one's going to know it, but okay..." (much to the pianist's chagrin, everyone in the place joined in with no problem, know your audience, lady). Apparently the soundtrack advisor/consultant or whoever was in charge felt similarly to that pianist because they cut what I consider to the be the best part of the song, "the rain that brings you here is heaven blessed/the skies begin to clear and I'm at rest/a breath away from where you are/I've come home/from so far..." Sure, cut the singing from the one of the most talented members of the cast, that makes sense.
Random Snarky Commentary:
• Cosette’s dress in the marketplace scene where Marius first lays eyes on her would not make any man go ga-ga. She seems to wear something exactly like this in the other productions I’ve seen, but that doesn’t mean that I like it any more than I did any other time I’ve seen it. Those enormous rounded black shoulders are beyond unflattering and when designers tried to bring back that shape at the Fall 2011 shows, I just had to hope that they wouldn't succeed. Thankfully that revolution didn't do so well either.
• After Fontine has fallen and Javert comes to arrest her for attacking a John she’s wearing a red dress that looks brand new - what kind of money do these hoes make?! The funny part is that it looks an awful lot like a dress Helena Bonham Carter might wear during the upcoming awards season; HBC might even style her hair the same way.
• When Thenadier and his band of riffraff go to rob Valjean, but Valjean thinks it’s Javert coming to arrest him, so he tells Cosette they have to flee, Jackman comes out in this split neck undershirt/suspenders combo with his hair all curly and puffy and I swear he looks just like Michael Landon in Little House on the Prairie. I seriously wanted Amanda Seyfried to start calling him “Pa.” It took me a solid 15 minutes to shake that image.
• Whenever Javert walked on the edge of a ledge I wanted to scream ‘We get it! Stop focusing on his feet, you’re making me nauseas’
• The way that Hugh Jackman chose to play up Valjean’s feelings for Cosette hovers somewhere between creepy uncle and devoted husband to a child bride (think Doc Golightly and Lula Mae Barns, aka “Holly,” in Breakfast at Tiffany’s – sweet, in a way, but still totally weird). Maybe I’m used to a more religious-Daddy-Warbucks kind of portrayal, but the whole thing just seemed a bit off. Thankfully he’s not weird with Marius, so it doesn’t ruin “Bring Him Home” or anything like that, and as their relationship builds (who wouldn’t be brought closer together by carrying another man’s limp body through excrement? Kudos to the make-up artists and prop masters for that one, I swear I could actually smell the shit in the theater during that scene) the relationship between Valjean and Cosette seems normal again. We have stasis.
• There needed to be a “doof” sound when Javert off the bridge to his death at the end. He falls so hard into whatever cement structure the water is rushing over beneath the bridge that it actually looks like you can see his back break. Sitting in the back of the theater I saw at least half of the audience physically recoil at this moment.
Final verdict: I still prefer the stage version, but I still found myself getting really into it (so did the people in the theater behind me, I heard a woman tell her husband, "look, she's mouthing the words.").