Thursday, January 3, 2013

Les Miserables

Les Miserables is an exercise in fifty thousand characters. Victor Hugo must have had the patience of an extremely patient thing, because I could never write anything with as many character as Les Miserables has; I'd get frustrated and annoyed and wouldn't be able to keep track of them all.
It also has an interminably unending story that is very serious and all about war and France and seriousness and there's nothing about it that appealed to me.
Except I really, really liked it.
It's all war and history and seriousness and (SPOILER, in case you care) pretty much everybody dies. A lot. They all die a lot. The only people who survive are the ones you give fewer than any fucks about.
Admittedly, I like a lot of movies where everybody dies a lot, but in gruesome and hilarious and creative ways, not seriously serious ways that are serious.
Okay, so, it goes something like this:
Russell Crowe really hates Hugh Jackman. A lot. Like, a whole, whole lot. The movie never really explains why Russell Crowe hates Hugh Jackman so much, other than "Hugh Jackman is a prisoner and Russell Crowe is a cop," but my friend explained to me that it's because Russell Crowe was the son of a prostitute and born in jail and had to work his whole life to become "respectable" which in his mind means "absolutely law abiding no matter what." Hugh Jackman stole a loaf of bread so his sister's kid wouldn't starve to death, but in Russell Crowe's mind he may as well have raped the pope because all crime is evil, the end.
There's thirty seconds of really, really clunky plot exposition and Hugh Jackman has an epiphany after a bishop he stole from (played by the original Jean Valjean, apparently) gives him some candlesticks to go along with the entire silver service he ganked. So Hugh Jackman takes on a new identity and becomes a successful man, which infuriates Russell Crowe because he violated parole and is therefore the devil. (Again, my friend had to explain a lot of this to me.)
I think that covers the first five minutes or so of the movie. Only twelve more hours and eight thousand more characters to go.
Seriously, I usually try to be very concise in my description of movies's plots so I can go on and say what I thought of them, but the plot of Les Miserables is so dense and full of characters that I may never get to my opinion of the movie because I'll be explaining the plot until the day I die of French Revolution.
I guess I should point out that, until tonight, I was completely unfamiliar with Les Miserables. I knew the tunes of some of the songs in the play and the extent of my knowledge of the plot was "There's a guy named Jean Valjean and a bunch of other people who also have French names." Honestly, that was the plot. I knew I wanted to punch the song Castle On A Cloud in the goddamn face for convincing a generation of terrible little girls that they're great singers even though not one of them seems to realize your voice isn't supposed to come out of your nose.
I'm getting off topic.
Hugh Jackman meets a dying Anne Hathaway and vows to take care of her daughter, who's currently living with Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter at their inn where they sing the most fun song in the show and steal everything from everyone. Russell Crowe continues to hunt Hugh Jackman down and then seem surprised and confused when their paths do cross (more on that later) and then nine years later there's an uprising in France, led by Ugly Face, Generic Face and Gavroche, who's name I probably spelled wrong, but he's a confident, grubby little urchin kid who is the coolest thing in the history of man. I want to have five sons exactly like him.
That's as much of the plot as I'm going to go into right now.
I'll start with Russell Crowe. Every time he sang, I kind of twinged. His voice was not what I'd call "great." And I think he knew he wasn't great and got so worried about it that he forgot to act, too. He spent the whole movie seeming just kind of confused and worried and surprised and then more confused. I really want to write parody lyrics for his character's last song describing how it seemed like he felt through the whole movie. ("I simply do not understand. I don't know what is going on.") So there's that. He's just so useless and adorable and really fails at playing a character who is apparently supposed to be terrifying and menacing.
Hugh Jackman is fine, if a little nasally at times, but not enough that I want to punch him.
Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are great in their roles, even if Helena Bonham Carter looks like she just wandered in from the set of one of her husband's movies 'cause she hears some singing and wanted to know what was going on and the director just said "You're hired," and that's how she ended up there. Master Of The House is by far the most fun song in the show and I would love to play her part.
Amanda Seyfried is in the movie as grown-up Anne Hathaway's daughter and she's dreadful. In addition to having the weirdest face in the world, I'm pretty sure her voice pierced my eardrums. Very high, very thin. (Lauren described her voice like creme brulee; if you tap it with a spoon, it would shatter.)
Surprisingly, I have something nice to say about Anne Hathaway. You see, I don't like her as an actress because I never see the character, I always just see Anne Hathaway trying really hard to pretend to be the character. But holy shit, she can sing! I was not expecting that. I think the take they used of I Dreamed A Dream in the trailers is different than the one they used in the actual movie. I wasn't impressed when I saw (heard) the preview but in the movie the song was an impressive, stand out moment. There's a bit near the end of the song where she's so deavastated she starts hyperventilating, which was also the only believable bit of acting I've ever seen Anne Hathaway do.
Basically, every time I'd heard I Dreamed A Dream before this movie, I'd only heard it in the context of girls singing it as solos at choir performances, and they were always cutesy sopranos showing off their sopranoiness. They were all so impressed with their own technique that they never bothered to convey any emotion in the song. I knew from the lyrics that it was supposed to be sad but I never really realized it was sad; none of those girls made me care. Hathaway, on the other hand, sings it in such a way that every bit of it sounds like a woman saying "Everything that has ever happened is wrong and I can't think of anything worse than staying alive for even one moment longer." It's a brutal song and I can't believe it took this long to realize it.
So, while I still can't say I like her, I think she nailed it in terms of that song (and also her death song).
Ugly Face has a weird moment of breaking the fourth wall that made me really, really uncomfortable.
And then there's Eponine. Dear lord.
Okay, Eponine is the daughter of the innkeepers and she grows up to be completely in love with Ugly Face, who you can tell only sees her as a friend and will only ever see her as a friend no matter what she does and no matter that he's known her for longer than twenty seconds and her eyes aren't on the sides of her head like Cosette, who he falls in love with when he sees her walking down the street and we're supposed to be happy for them.
Basically Eponine is deavastatingly in love with someone who has friendzoned her forever. And that's what all of her songs are about. And every time she opened her mouth I started crying like a little sissy girl and it actually took all the energy in my body to be quiet about it.
My friend Joanna (who loves Les Miserables but refuses to see the movie because she hates how they cast it) once mockingly said something to me about all the girls in high school who want to play Eponine because they think they relate with her and, because I was completely unfamiliar with the show and didn't want to have it explained to me, I just agreed with her.
If I had been familiar with the show, I would have been offended. If you take away the part where she's gorgeous, I am Eponine. It sounds so stupid and teenage girlish, but I've been in that situation. I was in love with someone for years and if he noticed he never told me, and then he went and married someone else and that was years ago at this point and I'm still welling up with tears right now thinking about it because he's wonderful and he never saw me as anything but a friend and apparently that never stops hurting.
In fact, every guy I've ever had a crush on has only ever seen me as a friend, and it always sucks, but it hurts a lot more when it's more than a crush.
So, yeah, I could have done without that whole subplot because now I'm really sad and don't want to go to sleep but I have to get up in the morning.
And I probably shouldn't have included something whiny and personal like that in my movie review. I'm certainly embarrassed now that I've written it.
But I don't feel right taking it out because reviews are supposed to express one's reaction to a movie, and this movie happened to dig up a bunch of old, painful feelings that I really would have liked to keep buried. That was my reaction, I may as well be honest about it.
Also, I had no idea until tonight that I Dreamed A Dream wasn't from near the end of the show. I'd heard the song before and it always sounded like an end of the show song to me. The way Anne Hathaway sings it, it sounds like an end of life song. Like, this is a woman who's going to go slash her wrists, which doesn't happen but from now on I know that any other version is going to sound wrong to me.
And, I'll say it again, Gavroche is the best thing in the whole movie. I fucking love that little kid. I want to give him cookies and watch him pickpocket the whole neighborhood. Words cannot describe how fucking cool this kid is. (SPOILER: Even his death is badass. You can see it in his eyes, he's essentially saying to the soldier "Fuck you, I'm going to make you shoot a little boy.")
So, yeah. That was wordy and embarrassing and poor Russell Crowe just seemed so confused the whole time. I feel bad for him.
On the other hand, seeing the movie and then hearing my friend explain to me the plot points I missed due to his lousy performance and how the character is "supposed" to be, I think I actually kind of like Russell Crowe's failed attempt at characterization better. Javert is kind of more interesting when he's bumbling, useless and genuinely confused. It's like an alternate universe version of Les Miserables.
Even though I'm not familiar with the show, I guarantee it's in dire need of alternate character interpretations. People get too stuck in their ways. Like Little Shop Of Horrors; I would love to see a version where the woman playing Audrey isn't just doing an Ellen Greene impression. I've never seen that. And, yes, Ellen Greene was wonderful, but there are so many other ways that part could be played, and no one will ever use any of them because they just think "This is the way the show is." And I hate that. Switch it up, people! It's more fun to make the character your own.
Fuck it, I'm just going to change my mind and promote Russell Crowe from almost-worst cast member (right above Amanda Seyfried) to almost-best cast member (right below the kid who played Gavroche). He did something new and different with his character, and for that I salute him.
Final thoughts: Les Miserables is surprisingly bloodless for a show where most people get shot in the face. And this review is really funny.

End of line.

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