Live singing, anachronistic hairstyles, filthy sewers and STAAAAARS

…..alternate title: Les Miserables: Quelle Fromage!

Which I cut because it wasn’t really fair — in fact, the thing I appreciated most about the dark and gritty (and seriously hygiene-impaired) Les Mis was the up-close-and-personal, scaled back approach to the solo numbers so it never did feel cheesy. Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway in particular were strong and affecting and I MAYBE CRIED A BUNCH because they humanized those larger-than-life solos-slash-arias in such a personal way, taking the emphasis off physical chops (though they both have them) and putting it right back on emotional expressiveness. When people were singing and dying, they actually sounded like they were dying instead of miraculously recovering from their consumption for a swan song. True story, I really only cried for Valjean’s pacing anthem, Fontine’s dream, and Gavrosh. The tragic timing of this movie — and a gesture of respect from Javert I didn’t remember from the stage show — meant I didn’t have a chance.

Compared to the grown-ups’ (and kid’s) real struggles and pathos, the problems of a bunch of puny adolescent revolutionaries really didn’t seem to amount to a hill of beans, frankly. Cheer up Eponine there is a cuter revolutionary right next to that one. Marius, you have a legit grief because you’re about to die but Cosette, there are boats back from England. C’mon. Sasha Baron Coen and Helena Bonham Carter seemed to be having a blast, and did their disreputable roles credit.

Giving the Javert role to Russell Crowe was a total waste — instead of a ringing tenor we got a broody coffeehouse acoustic-sounding baritone with all the emotional intensity of Winnie-The-Pooh. Brian Stokes Mitchell would have been great. If Jackman could have somehow played both roles, that would have worked for me also. And Amanda Seyfried. Oy. I loved her in Mamma Mia, but live-singing was not her friend. I won’t say it reminded me of nails on a chalkboard, instead I will say that her casting as Cosette appeared to be designed to reinforce our instinctive rooting for Eponine. Because she was plucky, underprivileged, and could sing without making me want to claw my eyes out. Matching Seyfried up with a Marius who had a great voice (Eddie Redmayne, My Week With Marilyn) was an unfortunate double-whammy.

Also, the numbers game. It’s probably just the issue of translating stagey crowd scenes from the stage, where you suspend your disbelief/dispatch your imagination to fill in the other barricades/instances of revolution around the city, to the screen, where you only believe in what you see. But what I saw was like 8 guys. Taking over a funeral procession where they would only reach people who already agreed with them and riding a coffin all awkward-like. Once the showdown started, it looked like they would be ok for a minute because there were only around 8 French soldiers. But then they went and rounded up a bunch of other guys and borrowed cannons from somewhere and shiz got real. And real graphic, while also somehow feeling stilted. The set designer’s insistence on replicating the feel of the stage set for the barricade scenes (also, what kind of barricade has a back door Javert can just walk out of? Worst. Barricade. Ever.), the choreographer’s recycling original fight choreography and scattering of the fallen… that felt a little awks.

The only cut I could have made in good conscience was “Drink With Me,” a song that I love but that came too soon after the revolutionaries’ “w00t let’s fight” song (though I thought “Red and Black” was great) and after a too-brief battle for me to feel like they’d learned anything in the last ten minutes. What felt weighty in stage time translated as a quick transition, crowded by “Bring Him Home.” I agree with whoever on my twitter page tsked at Hugh Jackman for not singing that in falsetto — his tenor belt is so solid it was up to the task of even Valjean’s highest notes, but it just came across as loud. Ditto when he met up with the man he rescued outside the convent. Jean, Jean, SHHH, people are trying to SLEEP. If we’re going for stealth for the love of God stop singing so–SHHHH.

The frailties of the movie were mostly only the frailties of the musical itself — Valjean’s creepy paternalist possessiveness (…And um, maybe tell your DAUGHTER and not her new HUSBAND why you’re skipping town before their wedding?), the reliance on operatic tropes instead of character development (I know you’re heroic because you SOUND so heroic! I know you’re good because someone just SAID how good you are), the overabundance of leitmotif instead of through-composition, the fact that both the “Do You Hear The People Sing” reprise and “One Day More” function as eleven o’clock numbers so you’re like I’M UP ALREADY …. and its strengths were its leads, its realism (except for the sewer scene. When has anyone ever said “I really want to taste the sewage in this moment”) and those booming minor chords that let you know something is rotten in the two towns and a coastal prison that apparently make up France.

See it. Try to find a sing-a-long viewing if you can if only to drown out “A Heart Full of Love” and make your teen heart happy during “On My Own”

I liked it, even if I snarked my way through the middle melodrama a bit, and the non-musicals-loving boyfriend liked it more than he expected to. Musicals that commit to being exactly what they are–instead of being sheepish (Chicago) or undervaluing the musical talent needed to perform them (Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd seriously what was your deal)–will always, always have a place in my heart. 
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