(Note: The following reactions are recorded here because somehow myself, Andrew, and Alex all went and saw this movie on the same date. Needless to say, we all had differing reactions and viewpoints. Andrew’s response can be found here. I have since taken the liberties of providing Alex’s response, for reasons that should be immediately understandable. You’re welcome, Earth.)
1) I came into Les Mis a complete virgin to the musical. I was aware of the plot, and had seen the 1997 movie with Liam Neeson, Geoffery Rush, and Uma Thurman, or as it’s collectively known amongst theatre people, the one based on the book that otherwise has nothing to do with the stage show. (Work that out in your heads as you will.)
Consequently, I approached this with a fresh eye and a mostly fresh ear. I must admit, I’ve heard “I Dreamed a Dream” before several times, but I knew that it dealt with how sucky it gets to be Fantine during that first third of the movie. In addition, I’d had the epic trailer shoved down my throat several times as I took in several movies this year. Now, there’s nothing wrong with having Anne Hathaway shoved down your throat, but there’s only so much of a starving waifling that I can take before it starts to get mildly irritating. Because of this, I feel like I came into the movie with a mindset prejudiced against any possibility the film had of succeeding.
Like most people, I do keep tabs on reviews from people whom I respect and trust as critics, and will (willingly or not) be swayed by their opinions. I monitor trends on websites such as RottenTomatoes and MetaCritic, and generally pay great heed both to the ravings on AintItCool and also to a select crowd of Facebook friends. Does this work for or against my appreciation of movies? As I’ll explain below, yes and no, because you see…
2) After Anne Hathaway’s character, Fantine, kicks it by the end of the first 1/3 of the movie, I could have given two shits about what happens in the rest of the film.
(Sidenote: I feel like that should come with the tag “Spoiler Alert”, but at the same time, think that such things are silly. A) In the preview, you can tell that Hathaway’s character is obviously in dire straits, starving, hairless, and not long for this world. B) This is a show that debuted in 1985, after being C) Adapted from one of the great novels of Western Literature. If you didn’t know that Fantine dies fairly early on in this sprawling, bloated epic, then let me know which rock you’re living under, because I’m sure it’s comfortable.
Seriously, having to write spoiler alerts for movies that are remakes or adaptations of the great works of civilization is fairly irritating. Even for a movie like Empire Strikes Back, the only time that you should write spoiler alert is if you’re explaining what happens to a six year old kid. There is a decided necessity for a Stature of Limitations on Spoilers and Twists, and it is our job here at the Addison Recorder to establish such a Stature. So, humbly, I take this upon myself.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS ON SPOILERS
1) If the book/movie/play has been in release for 25 years, its statute of limitations has expired.
2) If the book/movie/play is an adaptation/remake of a previously released property (released at least 25 years prior), the statute of limitations is expired. CORROLARY: Unless the adaptation/remake in question has changed the narrative structure so greatly as to not resemble the original property in the slightest. (Think of how Internal Affairs is the original inspiration for The Departed. Have you seen it? I think not.)
3) If the book/movie/play has become a force of popular culture on the grounds of a Harry Potter or an Avatar, the Statute of Limitations becomes reduced to a 10 year window. (It became an O.K. thing to reveal the twist ending of The Sixth Sense right around mid-1999. Granted, this became an O.K. thing a couple of years prior, but the Statute of Limitations on Spoilers is intentionally designed to be a flexible set of rules.
4) Anything released over 100 years ago is automatically released from the Statute of Limitations on Spoilers per Rule 1, on the condition that the book/play in question remains intact in its modern day form of release. (Any play by Shakespeare. By the way, Hamlet dies at the end.)
The Statute of Limitations is designed to promote conversation about products of our culture, as a means of inducing dialogue rather than limiting it. I remember two years back, right after the Coen Brother’s remake of True Grit had been released, relating the climactic charge to someone who had little interest in seeing the movie, but wanted an explanation provided for the quote: “Fill your hand! you son of a bitch!” Upon my relating of the scene’s nature, a friend flipped out over my spoiling the ending of the movie. By following the Statute of Limitations on Spoilers however, we can see that the Coen’s movie is a remake of a movie released in 1969 (itself based upon a novel released earlier in the decade) that has subsequently become semi-renowned in popular culture. In the interest of talking about an epic scene that has technically been in existence for 43 years, the capacity of talking about said scene should not be limited because of one person’s failure to grasp what the rest of us had already seen or expressed interest in seeing in addition to a failure at having seen it. Essentially, don’t gripe at me because you’re not familiar with a 50 year old story.
And that’s why there are no spoiler alerts on Les Miserables. Fantine dies.)
Why did I not give two shits about the plot, you might ask? I admit, it’s quite difficult. The music, as Andrew extensively lines out, is gripping and wonderfully moving. It’s hard not to get wrapped up in the moving strains once you hear “Do You Hear the People Sing” or whatever it’s called. I did get “Look Down” stuck in my head, which might be more a product of Broadway musicals being infused by pop music sometime around 1985. And when Anne Hathaway wrenched her way through “I Dreamed a Dream”, I felt every ounce of her pain and may or may not have wept like a baby.
(Second Sidenote: Anne Hathaway, no matter how you feel about the rest of the movie, deserves Oscars. All the Oscars. Just hand them over, smile, and go about your business. If only for that one scene, Anne Hathaway defined what it means to musically perform onscreen.)
My problem is that any of the subsequent dramas and plots utterly failed to engage me. I was mostly familiar with the story and recognized that at one point a barricade would be made and Valjean would rescue Cosette’s young lover Marius, and Javert would have an existential crisis that warranted throwing himself into the rushing river. I knew of these things, and yet felt that they were played out rather blandly onscreen. As Andrew described earlier, there is a certain sense of “point-and-shoot” to the grand scenes. (The exception being the first “Do You Hear the People Sing”, at which point I wanted a red flag of my own to wave around.) Call me a cynic, but I felt far less engaged in this movie if only because I had nothing at stake with Valjean beyond his gripping need to visit a dentist. Seriously, this is France in the 1800’s, not the Middle Ages.
3) I disagree with (apparently) most everybody in regards to some of the acting choices. I enjoy Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, and think that there’s room for them in every period movie in some way, but the “Master of the House” musical number was completely distracting and jarring for me. I realize that something this depressing needs comic relief in order to prevent the audience from slitting its wrists en masse. At the same time, SBC and HBC felt like they were acting and performing in a movie entirely separate from Hugh Jackman and company. Which would have been fine if they didn’t somehow become completely integrated into the plot. At which point, I began to question Mr. Hooper’s decision making once again.
4) The camera work, by the way, while staid and unoriginal, was at least a choice on Mr. Hooper’s part. In some cases, it worked. (See Hathaway, Anne) In some cases, less so. (See any close-up of Hugh Jackman’s teeth) Regardless, it was a decision that I could live with.
5) Amanda Seyfried, bless her heart, is an accomplished singer. You could have fooled me. Her high notes were nasally and consistently flat, and every time she appeared and started singing, I wanted to stab her. Cosette, not Ms. Seyfried.
6) I liked Russell Crowe.
(pause for reaction while readers collect their jaws from the floor)
See, he didn’t explode any new worlds for me, but of all the characters, I felt that his was solid and truthful all throughout the movie. His singing voice might leave something to desire, but in this case, it worked fine. He was different enough from Valjean, and I could get behind him. Acting-wise, I thought he did fine. Javert lives his entire life by the word of the law, and it isn’t until dealing with 64201 that he begins to question his life and place in the world. I kept wondering why he had the same haircut that he had in Gladiator (2000), but that was only a minor distraction. His suicide was sad, but I didn’t get worked up about it. (See Reaction #2) At the end of the movie, I did realize that Les Mis had an opportunity for redemption in my eye. What would have tied everything together for me, while reducing me to weeping like a little kid once again, would have been if during the finale, when all of the dead are waving flags and singing “Do You Hear the People Sing” one last time, the camera pans past everyone to reveal Javert in plain clothes waving a flag alongside all of the characters, finally at peace with himself and with those around him.
Sadly, this did not come to pass, and I was merely left wondering when everyone would hit the three note finish and the credits would roll.
7) For a big budget epic, the streets of France looked remarkably CGI’d, taking me away from the epic scale of the film and returning me to watching a movie that looks as though it’s trying way too hard. It might be that I’ve seen Lord of the Rings make an epic world out of time look completely believable and consequently have developed unreachable standards. I don’t know. What I do know is that from the big ship in the beginning onward, my sense of grandeur was never really invoked. This could easily be cured by providing more Anne Hathaway.
8) I don’t think the Oscars are at risk of giving too many trophies to this bloated piece of cinema. Sure, Anne Hathaway deserves all the Oscars this year, but beyond costume design, I can’t see this one eking out too many technical awards in a year filled with technical wonderment. As for the Best Picture, I adhere to the belief that it’s a race between Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty. And I’m at peace with that.
9) Bottom line: if you’re dying to see this movie, you’re going to see it regardless of our opinions or not. If you’re on the fence, there are worse ways to spend your time. However, there are certainly far better ways to spend your time and hard earned dollars as well. Viewers take heed.
Dear Les Mis,
Let’s never do that again.
Your faithful enemy,