Christmas was lovely—lots of family, good food, and, because it’s my mom’s side of the family, gossip about people from Lowell. Christmas, I forgive you for forcing me to wait one day for….
LES MIS! Yes, Internet, I’ve finally seen it after months of anticipation. And it was wonderful. Not perfect, but still incredibly amazing, and I will be seeing it again soon. (I have a cold right now—my first cold in over three years, which must be some kind of record—and I’d like to see the movie again while fully healthy, so I can use tissues for another reason.)
Anyway: my thoughts. SPOILERS LIE HEREIN.
- Everything you’ve heard about Anne Hathaway’s performance is true. She’s a heartbreaking Fantine—and I normally find Hathaway a little annoying, so you know I mean that. Her voice is gorgeous, first of all, and her “I Dreamed a Dream” is outstanding. That’s one of the more popular songs from the musical, and here they’ve moved it to after Fantine becomes a prostitute. She manages to capture perfectly, in less than five minutes, Fantine’s extraordinary pain while still singing it beautifully. You’ve heard the song before, but never like this. She’s totally going to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
- And if there’s any justice in the world, Samantha Barks will get a nomination as well. SO GLAD they went with a theater veteran for Eponine. She knows this character, she GETS this character, and she plays her perfectly. Her “On My Own” was lovely, and in the movie, they went with the book’s version Eponine’s death—she gets shot trying to protect Marius, which of course just makes her death even sadder. I have a feeling she’ll be the voice for a whole new generation of teenage girls with unrequited crushes—and I really hope that this is just the beginning of lots of great things for the luminously gorgeous Ms. Barks. If they ever do a movie version of Wicked, how about her playing Elphaba?
- Hugh Jackman was wonderful as well, and he should get an Oscar. The only reason I’m not more enthusiastic about his performance is that many theater actors (including Colm Wilkinson, playing the bishop here) have sung the part better than he did. But even with such intimidating predecessors, he was excellent. It’s a difficult role—the character goes from hardened convict to distinguished mayor to doting father to reluctant revolutionary—and he’s convincing throughout. And he does sing well, his voice just isn’t as pretty as many of the stage Valjeans.
- Biggest surprise of the movie: Eddie Redmayne! I’d never heard of him before Les Mis (apparently, he was in My Week with Marilyn), but he was excellent. (Cute, too.) He managed to do what I’d thought was impossible: he made me like Marius. I’ve never really liked Marius—he’s the rich kid who pretends he’s poor, like a nineteenth-century hipster, and he’s totally oblivious to his generous and caring friend’s love for him because he’s too busy mooning over the pretty rich girl. But Redmayne somehow made him much more sympathetic. I think I just bought his love-at-first-sight with Cosette more when we could see it up close on screen, and he captures Marius’s innocence well and makes him kind of adorable. He has a wonderful singing voice as well, especially on “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” That song doesn’t normally move me much, but Redmayne made me tear up a bit. I mean, really, poor guy—he gets to marry the love of his life, but only after every single one of his friends dies. Now that I think of it, who even came to the wedding? Anyway, I’d love it if Redmayne got an Oscar nomination as well.
- Amanda Seyfried was better than I expected as Cosette. While her voice is very thin, it’s also very pretty, and she hits all the high notes (Cosette has the highest range of any character). Cosette comes across with slightly more personality onscreen than she does onstage or in the book—but just slightly. Damn it, Marius, why do you like her better than Eponine again? She’s totally the simple girl to Eponine’s Katie girl.
- Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter were hilarious as the Thenardiers, although I’m not quite sure why he was the only one in the movie with a French accent. I was, however, a bit disappointed with “Master of the House.” That’s such a fun song, and I felt like they could have made it into more of an ensemble number rather than just using it to flesh out the Thenardiers’ characters through a frenetic series of cuts. I think it ultimately came off too cartoon-y in a movie that’s otherwise brutally realistic.
- Russell Crowe was the casting choice I was most apprehensive about, and that concern was…warrented. He’s not awful, and people who aren’t familiar with the musical or story will probably like his performance, but I just didn’t think the color of his singing voice was right for the character. His style is more laid back and croon-y, when Javert needs to be more dramatic and belt-y. I’d downloaded the highlights soundtrack before seeing the movie, so I knew what to expect going in, and that helped me to pay attention to Crowe’s good acting choices rather than his subpar singing. Still, during the confrontation scene, when Valjean yells at Javert, “I’m a stronger man by far!” I was like, “Well, duh.”
- Speaking of Russell Crowe, while most of the actors take advantage of the live singing and throw in some talk-singing to make it more realistic, he really sings every note. But that seems weirdly appropriate for a character who is dedicated to following the rules at all costs. “NO! This is a musical, and we’re supposed to SING, damn it! I’m going to SING!”
- One criticism I keep reading about Tom Hooper’s direction is that he uses too many close-up shots, and that’s valid. It works really well in some places, but in others I was dying for the camera to be pulled back. Ultimately, though, I think his good directing choices outweighed the bad, and the same can be said about the movie as a whole.
- One thing I though was really cool visually was the building of the barricade, which doesn’t come across onstage or in the book. The scene with furniture being thrown out of windows for the barricade was awesome.
- “One Day More” was perfect, as was the end scene. The latter made me tear up, and probably will do so more upon subsequent viewings.
- They barely left anything out! Unless I’m mistaken, the only song eliminated completely was “Dog Eat Dog.” Other songs were shortened, but nothing was left out. They also added “Suddenly,” which isn’t a particularly memorable song, but I think it worked well for an area of the plot that could have used a little something extra.
- The sewer scene was a little too realistic. Ugh. Somehow the stage show and book managed to make me forget that sewers are, quite literally, full of shit.
- “Lovely Ladies” is a song I don’t pay much attention to in the stage musical, but here it’s a much bigger number that illustrated the world of prostitution that Fantine is entering very well.
- They changed the order of some songs, but in a way that I think works. “I Dreamed a Dream” is more effective when it’s sung when Fantine really is at her lowest point. “One Day More” before “Do You Hear the People Sing” works onscreen since there’s no first act that needs a big number at the end.
- I like that there were a lot of things they added back into the movie that were in the book but not the musical—Marius’s grandfather, Fantine selling her teeth, Valjean escaping Javert by jumping into the ocean, Valjean and Cosette being helped out by Fauchelevent, Javert apologizing to Valjean prior to the “Who Am I?” scene. They were going to include a reference to Gavroche being Eponine’s brother, but settled for him shedding a tear over her death.
- Speaking of Gavroche, Javert leaving his medal on Gavroche’s corpse was a surprising but nice touch. It showed a bit of a crack in Javert’s resolve before his suicide.
- And speaking of Javert’s suicide, what was with that noise when he hit the water? Did they just want the audience to know that he was very dead, like Howard Graves?
- As nice as it would have been to hear Anne Hathaway singing with Samantha Barks, I like that the ghost of the bishop rather than Eponine shows up at the end. The bishop changed Valjean’s life, and I don’t think he ever even met Eponine.
I saw it with my parents and sister, none of whom had ever seen the musical or read the book, and they all liked it, too. It was interesting seeing it with people who weren’t familiar with it. My mom spent a lot of time ruminating on the story’s themes, and while I’ve always thought “A Heart Full of Love” was a little cheesy, she really liked that scene (which does come off better onscreen than onstage). My dad was a big fan of “One Day More” and the Thenardiers.
God, I haven’t been this obsessed with a movie since Titanicfifteen years ago. (Holy shit, FIFTEEN YEARS AGO?) And I was thirteen years old then.
So who’s going to go see it with me when I go again?