REVIEW: Les Miserableson January 7, 2013 at 11:45 PM
I’ve been hoping to avoid this, but, apparently, some of my friends have lost their minds completely, and I want to bring them back to sane, rational paths of thinking. Not to say that I’m always right -I’m willing to admit when I’ve made a mistake and do better the next time- but when it comes to the suckitude of 2012′s movie version of the musical Les Miserables, saying “It’s GREAT!” without the slightest hesitation or hint of a qualification makes me think they should be on mood stabilizers.
It’s not great.
It’s barely passable.
I’m not going to delve into the feminist aspects of the story because it’s like talking about which dinosaur Jesus rode. Nor will I discuss the “datedness” of the music – it was 1986 or so, and we were in the middle of some New Wave and Bushy trends. Nor the plot.
If you are hellbent on seeing the movie no matter what I say, then go for Anne Hathaway and leave right afterwards. You’ll see all of the mistakes that litter the movie in the Prologue, then be treated to Anne as Fantine before she dies and the rest of the movie collapses under its own conceit. See a matinee so you don’t feel bad about wasting money on 45 minutes of cinema, but for God’s sake, take a lesson from Fantine and get while the getting is good.
LET’S TALK ABOUT SETS
I will give the movie this: the opening moments, though rife with really terrible CGI, are among the best in the film. The convicts are trying to dock a listing battleship while singing “Look Down”, and for the first time, I saw how it really is a chain-gang work song. It’s amazing. And then, dammit, Javert gets this rising camera zoom through CGI rain shot and the illusion just dies right then and there, like dropping a bowl of raw scrambled eggs before they ever get to the pan. Exactly then, I knew it was going to be a terribly long three hours.
And this is problem number one with the movie: the direction is awful. The single-take songs, the lost momentum when someone takes an interior moment to stop singing and “emote” or carry a mizzen-mast (RENT is equally guilty of this; nothing brings one out of a musical like the abrupt departure of the music), the yellow parole ticket that flies all the way to Montreuil-sur-Mer 6 years into the future, the convenient rain for “On My Own” that appears without warning and disappears just as abruptly with nary a puddle to be seen at sunrise, the wishy-washy portrayal of the drunk Grantaire who ideologically is uninterested in Enjolras’ rebellion but doesn’t mind a rousing chorus of “Red and Black” to show his support thereof… so uneven and weird.
At first I thought the director, Tom Hooper, was involved with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series, which made me think, “Oh yea, that’s too big a transition in styles to make. Poor thing must have been overwhelmed.” Then I found out he actually directed The King’s Speech -which suspiciously also stars Helena Bonham-Carter (sans clown wig)- which from all accounts is an excellent movie despite the gay porn thing.
STAGE-TO-SCREEN: IT’S NOT a ONE-TO-ONE RATIO
Because stage is such a finite world of finite funding -contrary to what Julie Taymor might think- there is a lot of short-handing when it comes to how real world events, things, and actions can be physically presented. Film does not have those limitations, so when staged elements are blown up proportionately to fill the cinemaverse, their is some pixelation. The most obvious place this is seen in Les Miserables is during the end-of-Act-One montage-song “One Day More”. On stage, one simultaneously sees all the major players singing about how different (“better”, but that’s relative) tomorrow will be, but imagine that on film -multiple characters, overlapping voices, thematically united but separated by space and many people (you know who you are) will probably think of this. Hooper had a chance to do something inventive but instead we got a Tilt-a-Whirl of cutaways that didn’t bring the story to a climax but rather… something that I’ve broken up with boys for doing in bed.
I’ll just say it: limp dick.
This was the limpest dick of End-of-Act-One dicks out there. So limp. So soft. I wanted this song to jizz all over my face then slap me with its hardness before zipping up and telling me we’d do it again next week when his wife was at work. That, sadly, did not happen.
On stage, Javert’s suicide note (“No way to go OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooooo………n”) represents his jumping off a bridge and falling to the water below. In the movie, Javert sang the note. Stood there for a minute. Then jumped.
Wha…? What was the point of that marbles-in-the-throat Crowe caw if he backed away from what the note meant, shucked off the emotional momentum, and then jumped? And did I mention the hi-LAR-ee-us noise he made when he hit the Seine yet?
And finally, the finale, where all the souls who passed during the film -and that’s most everybody if you’re counting; seriously, Hamlet wasn’t this deep in the grave- return to tell the audience that life isn’t all shit. However, in the film, the souls stand on an immense barricade surrounding an idealized Paris looking out on… nothing. No people. No Earth-bound souls. No Devils. Just an abandoned Paris slum. And I thought to myself, “Whom are they singing to? There’s no one there. Jesus, of all the times they should be staring right at me like they have been all along, and now they don’t?” I’m unsur what this may mean except that we’re not invited to Heaven or to participate in making the world a better place. This looks more like a nyah-nyah taunt. They’re not singing to God (why would they even?). And who the hell is this barricade keeping out of Paris? It’s a confusing and off-putting metaphor for Heaven that I’m sure appeals to a certain kind of Christian since it seems there are no brown people there.
SAY IT WITH ME: SOUNDTRACK
Or, better yet, don’t say it; just turn it up. What is a musical with only a whisper of music to carry it along?
SPLOOSH AND CRACK
What were the loudest and most distracting spectacles in the entire movie? Jean Valjean and Marius flopping into a sewer full of shit, and Javert snapping in half when he hit a retaining wall jumping into the Seine. I was laughing and Oh, my God!-ing so loud I was shushed by the couple in front of me.
IT’S NOT SYMBOLISM IF YOU DON’T HAVE TO DE-CODE IT
Coffins at the forefront of the barricade. Butterflies that flit between Marius and Cosette’s inaugural love song. It’s this kind of un-nuanced presentation that is motif throughout the film.
IT’S NOT TALENT IF YOU SCREW IT UP THIS BADLY
The trend to cast personalities and not voices needs to stop. It should have stopped as long ago as Madonna in Evita, but most certainly should not have gone on so long that Gerard Butler was able to be cast as the titular character in Phantom of the Opera. Oh horrible, most horrible, but shades better than Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe do here. Hugh Jackman’s unimpressive voice surprises me most because he’s actually been in musicals before. Granted, I’ve never see The Boy from Oz (I think it was called…), but I can’t believe that he would have been hired to be in any show with his kazoo-like voice.
And Russell Crow.. oh Lord, please stick to being some rough-around-the-edges toughie in gangster films. Or a gay man on the make, whichever. I’ve been told you front a band, but -beyond a single moment when Valjean releases Javert at the barricade when your voice is scratchy and filled with pain and confusion- you cannot emote when you sing. You’re flat and unimposing and petulant.
AND SWEET BABY KAL-EL IN THE RUSHES, Helena Bonham-Carter, STOP SINGING!! PLEASE!!!! You made a total hash of your role in Sweeney Todd and did nothing to redeem yourself this time. Being Tim Burton’s DNA receptacle isn’t edgy or a free-pass to better gigs anymore. You peaked with Room with a View.
Sasha Baron Cohen (I’m unsure if that’s your exact name, but I can’t be fucked to look it up), were you ever funny?
That being said, Samantha Banks, Anne Hathaway (as I’ve said), Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tviet and Daniel Huttlestone are amazing. So sad they didn’t have more screen time.
A FINAL WORD
We Erieites, being a hardy and crass sort of people, go out every December 26 to see a movie, mostly to get away from our families whom we’ve been cooped up with for the last several days, and eventually, they can pierced even the thickest alcohol haze. This year, a friend of mine and I braved bad weather reports to see Les Miserables and driving home in a snowstorm was the part that sucked the least.
That’s it. I would love to hear from people who didn’t find Les Miserables to be a waste of time and money, and maybe they can explain to me what was good about it. I am curious and willing to entertain any conversation.