Saturday, February 23, 2013

Les Misérables movie review

With the Academy Awards tomorrow night, I wanted to do a movie review of one of the movies that is up for Best Picture. It is a film adaptation of my favorite musical: Les Misérables.

I must share that I entered the movie theater with some hesitations. In the past 10 years, we've had some really good adaptations of musicals to movies (Hairspray and Chicago come to mind) and some not-so-good adaptations (I didn't love Rent or Phantom of the Opera). Because Les Miz is my favorite musical of all time, all I kept thinking was, "Please don't screw it up....please don't screw it up...PLEASE don't screw it up..."

I loved it. 

And when I say I loved it, I mean it wrecked me.

I wept throughout the whole movie and felt so much emotion that it took me a few days to recover. 

Basically picture me in the movie theater for 2 and a half hours like this:

And I wasn't even smart enough to bring tissues with me. So my sister and I had to use napkins that were covered in popcorn butter.

But I loved this movie.

First of all, the book, musical, movie, and story have amazing themes. Love, sacrifice, running from your past, redemption, bravery, friendship, standing up for what's right, and the main theme that weaves itself through the whole thing: law vs. grace. Inspector Javert represents the LAW. No grace, no mercy. Jean Valjean represents a man who is given grace at the beginning of the story and spends his whole life giving the same grace to others, while trying to evade the LAW (Javert).

Ok, let me highlight all the times I cried in the movie. Warning: SPOILERS! Do not read if you haven't seen the musical or movie. 

* First time crying: when the bishop gives Valjean the silver candlesticks. 

the bishop

Valjean had been a prisoner for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread (for his sister and her children because they were so poor) and then trying to escape from prison. When he is put on parole, he is branded an outcast and his passport (identification card) is yellow colored—identifying him to all as a former offender. Everywhere he goes, no one will hire him or give him food. He finally comes across a bishop who lovingly invites him into his home, feeds him, and gives him a place to sleep. How does Valjean repay him? He steals the bishop's silver and runs away.

However, he is caught by the police and brought back to the bishop's house. Instead of sending Valjean back to prison, the bishop gently says, "No, you don't understand. I GAVE the silver to him. And my friend, why did you forget the candlesticks, too?" He proceeds to put them in Valjean's bag and tells the policemen they may go. Valjean is stunned, he can't even speak. When the world has done nothing but hurt him and break him and make him a man shows him grace.


After the policemen leave, the bishop turns to Valjean and challenges him to change his life.

"And remember this, my brother. See in this some higher plan. You must use this precious silver to become an honest man. By the witness of the martyrs, by the passion and the blood, God has raised you out of darkness. I have bought your soul for God."

* Second time crying: the song Valjean sings right after the bishop does this - "What Have I Done?"

Valjean can't comprehend grace. He has never experienced it. He sings:

"Yet why did I allow that man to touch my soul and teach me love? He treated me like any other. He gave me his trust. He called me 'brother'. My life he claims for God above. Can such things be? For I had come to hate the world, this world that always hated me.  

'Take an eye for an eye! Turn your heart into stone!' This is all I have lived for. This is all I have known.

One word from him and I'd be back...beneath the lash upon the rack. Instead he offers me my freedom. I feel my shame inside me like a knife. He told me that I have a soul. How does he know?"

The words of this song pierce me. What must it have been like? To know nothing but pain and fear and despair. And then someone shows you kindness and love that you did NOT deserve. How do you respond? How can someone comprehend the beauty and craziness and unfairness of grace?

* Third time crying: Fantine.

Ok, Anne Hathaway better win Best Supporting Actress for her role as Fantine because she was perfection. Fantine is such a sad character. I mean I should expect it because the title of the movie literally translates to "The Miserable Ones", but it's still tragic. Fantine is a young woman who works at a factory in a town where Jean Valjean is the mayor (this is years later and Valjean has changed his name and is now an honorable man.) She fell in love with a man and they had a child together. But then he abandoned them and she was unable to take care of their daughter, Cosette, alone. So she sent Cosette to live with an innkeeper, his wife, and their young daughter, Eponine. All the money she makes at the factory she sends to the innkeeper. Little does she know the innkeeper is corrupt and sends her letters filled with lies about how they need more money because Cosette is always sick or needs new clothes. The reality is Cosette lives in rags, is a slave in their inn, and is abused greatly.

Fantine loses her job at the factory when her co-workers (and the factory manager) find out about her illegitimate child. She cannot find other work and is forced to sell a precious locket, her hair, and even some of her teeth. And finally, she becomes a prostitute. After sleeping with a man who flips her a coin as he leaves, she sits up and sings "I Dreamed A Dream", one of the more popular songs from the musical. It really showed Fantine at her lowest of lows. Her love left her, she can't be with her daughter, she has lost her job, her beauty, and now her innocence.

"I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I'm living. So different now from what it seemed. Now life has killed the dream....I dreamed."

This song was shot in ONE take. It gave me goosebumps and I wept throughout the whole thing. It showed Anne's face in close-up and you caught the pain in every note and expression. Absolutely heart-wrenching.


And THEN she is in the hospital because she has gotten very sick. While she lays there dying, she is hallucinating and sees her beautiful young daughter playing in the room. She sings out to her as if she's there.

"Cosette, it's turned so cold. Cosette, it's past your bedtime. You've played the day away and soon it will be night. Come to me, Cosette, the light is fading. Don't you see the evening star appearing? Come to me and rest against my shoulder. I will sing you lullabies and wake you in the morning."

I lost it. Tears, tears. Fantine reaches out a hand to Cosette and Cosette stands up and walks toward her but then slowly disappears as Fantine dies. Cannot. Handle. It.


* Fourth time crying: Eponine's unrequited love for Marius

I have ALWAYS loved Eponine. She is my girl. I relate to her so much. I could never stand adult Cosette. She's boring. What does she do? NOTHING. She's blonde and sings too high and is boring. Have I mentioned she's boring? Pardon my French (Haha, get it? This movie takes place in France?) but Eponine KICKS ASS! She loves Marius, but alas, it is unrequited. Marius sees Cosette one day and instantly falls in love with her - boooooooo! He uses Eponine to find out where she lives (dagger in heart) and deliver love letters (now twist the dagger). And then Eponine has to stand back and watch Cosette and Marius sing a beautiful song promising their love to each other. Why does she do those things for Marius? Because sometimes you can't help who you love. And it hurts. I've been there, girl.

And THEN she has to go sing one of my favorite songs in the pouring rain: "On My Own".

"Sometimes I walk alone at night when everybody else is sleeping. I think of him and then I'm happy with the company I'm keeping. The city goes to bed and I can live inside my head. On my own, pretending he's beside me. All alone, I walk with him till morning. Without him, I feel his arms around me and when I lose my way I close my eyes and he has found me. I love him but every day I'm learning: all my life I've only been pretending. Without me, his world will go on turning. A world that's full of happiness that I have never known. I love him. But only on my own."

And here's me, watching her sing.

A "revolution" starts and male students build a barricade. While the students and French soldiers are shooting at each other, Marius climbs down a bit to pick up a powder keg. A French soldier climbs up the barricade to shoot him. Suddenly another student comes out of nowhere and covers the muzzle of the soldier's gun with his hand. The soldier fires, fatally shooting the student, while missing Marius. Meanwhile, the French soldiers are closing in. Marius climbs to the top of the barricade, holding a torch in one hand and a powder keg in the other. He threatens that if they don't back down, he will blow up the barricade and they will all die. The soldiers retreat. When Marius goes to find the man who saved his life, he realizes it was...Eponine. She secretly dressed as a boy so she could fight and be near him.

She sacrificed her life for him.

They sing "A Little Fall of Rain" and she dies in his arms.

(Ahem, what did Cosette do for Marius? NOTHING. I don't see her fighting or taking a bullet for the man she loves. She's boring. Eponine is a hero and Marius is an idiot.)

* Fifth time crying: Marius singing "Empty Chairs At Empty Tables".

Again, just like Fantine's song, this one was done in close-up and almost all in one take. Therefore we got to see every bit of sadness and grief upon Marius' face as he sings. All his friends died at the barricade and he only survived because Valjean dragged him through the sewers to save him (because he knew Cosette loved Marius).

"Oh my friends, my friends, forgive me that I live and you are gone..."

* Sixth time crying: Valjean's death.

As he nears death, he imagines Fantine singing to him and bringing him to heaven. Valjean realizes he finally gets to leave this life of running from Javert and living in fear that he will be caught. He gets to be free of all his pain and sadness and go to heaven. As he gets up to leave, he also sees the bishop welcoming him toward heaven. Which then reminded me of the beginning of the movie when the bishop changed his life with his act of love, grace, and kindness. *tears* And then the whole cast sings "Do You Hear The People Sing" and you see all the people who died (and there are a LOT) singing along. Which of course leaves me like this:

Other great things about the movie:

* Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the innkeeper and his wife. They were PERFECT casting.
* The girl who played little Cosette
* Enjolras, Marius' best friend and leader of the student revolution. His real name is Aaron Tveit and he is from Broadway. And a babe. I met him when I was in NYC two summers ago.

 Not-so-great things about the movie:

* Russell Crowe as Javert. He had one expression the entire movie. And he sang like his mouth was full of cottonballs.
* Amanda Seyfried as adult Cosette. I'm sorry but I cannot see this girl and NOT think of Mean Girls. I just can't. And she was not a good choice for Cosette. Cosette sings super high soprano and Amanda's voice doesn't go that high naturally so she sounded too trill-y on the high notes.
* "Bring Him Home" - this is the song Valjean sings to God, asking Him to save Marius' life during the revolution. He knows Marius loves Cosette and he would take care of her if anything should happen to Valjean. In the musical version, this song is very slow and very heartfelt. In the movie version, Hugh Jackman sort of shouted it, and it was much faster than I remembered. I loved Hugh Jackman as Valjean, but this was the only song of his I didn't really care for.

So there's my review, friends! Feel free to leave comments to any of these questions. Have you seen the movie? What were your thoughts? Do you prefer the musical or the movie? What theme stood out to you the most in the movie? Who do you love more - Cosette or Eponine? (Please don't say Cosette.) Did you have a favorite song? Did you cry as much as I did? Should Anne Hathaway win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress? Why do you think Russell Crowe eats cottonballs before he sings?

1 comment:

Smarshie said...

Anne Hathaway did indeed win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress! HOLLA.