Lost in Les Miz

So it’s the credits of Les Miz and I’m trying to dry my face off discreetly with my scarf, and two women in front of me are chatting cheerfully.  I decide that they are Martians.  Then three women are talking about escaping their kids and going to Les Miz.  They call it La Miz and chatter pleasantly together.  I decide that they, too, are Martians.  Then I remember that not every sobs all the way through Les Miz.   Then I realize that it is a book, and then a play, and now a movie both thematically, dramatically, and musically designed to evoke sobbing; thus, the name, and that if you’re neither sobbing nor rolling your eyes on the way out, then there’s something wrong with you, Martian or otherwise.  You have to react somehow.

First act: brilliant.  I would never have guessed 24601 as Hugh Jackman, and kept getting lost in it.  Yes, there were some large faces, but I agreed with the choice there: you’re supposed to cry.  There is just noplace to look that isn’t someone’s tragic facial expression. Just TRY to run from that emotion.  I was really impressed that so many of the actors gave them over to hideousness, too.  That sobbing was not pretty.
Second act: very nearly dull.  I think that’s by purpose, that if you sustained the intensity of Act I throughout the show, that people would off themselves, just walk into the bathroom and slit their wrists.  Grownup Cosette never does anything but put me to sleep, and Amanda Seyfried was no exception here, although she was less annoying than most.  Screw her; let’s keep Eponine next time instead.  Also, I kept staring at Marius, going, “That kid just looks odd,” but I liked him here.  Another non-pretty, almost infinitely stretchable face.  I love watching people with large mouths sing.

Third act: The horrible uselessness of it all crashed in on me here, to the point where it kicked me out several times.  And seeing the palace where Marius lived didn’t help at all: that’s right, not-so-pretty boy!  Run home to Gramps!  Probably also intentional.  Also wept to wretched excess here.

Thenardiers: boring?!?  How do you do “boring” and “Thenardiers”?  Whoever made the call to tone them down will be drug out to the wall when the revolution comes.  I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the actors making that call.  Or the costume designers.  I think that was my only real issue.

Some have called out Russel Crowe for less-than-stellar singing (especially compared to Hugh Jackman, who was not flawless but in an enjoyable way); however, whether intentional or not, I thought he was charming, the best Javert that I’ve seen – he came across as a kid in a man’s clothes, with an almost innocent voice.  I normally eyeroll my way through Javert: good Lord, man, just calm down for two seconds!  But here I just kept thinking, “He really does believe in all that crap.”  A boy’s spirit.  Law!  Honor!  Someday I will grow up to be a man of Justice!  And the scene on top of the tower where he’s walking the edge of the balcony…it was a) a nice setup, and b) reminiscent of Batman, which made some nice echoes.

Overall, nicely done, easy on the ears, enjoyable, and about as sad as I can stand to watch more than once.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Hard to argue with any of your points above.

    I’ve never read the book (nor, from what I’ve heard, have I any great desire to), but I would to find out more about Javert. I’ve always enjoyed the role, and his music, and his counterpoints in the various numbers. Such a gloriously rigid, yet vulnerable, character (vulnerable, perhaps, because of his rigidity).

    While I love the music and enjoy the play/movie, the story (of the play/movie) has always confused me a bit, in terms of being complex and unsatisfying. What’s the theme? True love conquers all (as long as you’re not Eponine)? A man can change and redeem himself (except JVj starts out okay, then is changed against his will into bitterness, then dragged back into redemption, then is a nice guy for most of the show, until he turns coward, but the redeems himself again, and then runs off … um, what?) (Except that for a play about JVj, he spends a lot of time offstage)? A man can redeem himself by changing (cf. Javert — but hardly the main character)? Triumph of the will (the revolutionaries all die bloodily, but they will, maybe, someday, prevail in spirit)? It’s something of a mess, and we’re all too busy sobbing and/or singing lustily along to the final number to notice.

  2. De

    I had a friend in college, a musician, who read the whole thing, unabridged. If I remember right, she liked it but didn’t recommend it if you didn’t like the first 50 pages kind of thing.

    I’d never seen Javert as vulnerable before, just as a steamroller of an unjust society. But, then again, I never saw the uprisings as pointless before, either. Is it just that this is the first time I’ve really processed the musical as an adult, with experience of raising a daughter? My heart went out to Marius’s grandfather, the few times he showed up.

    I want to say that Les Miz is a machine for making people cry, and that while the original author (and, like you, I haven’t read it) may have intended something like, “For happiness we must risk all,” the various versions are tilted so that the “theme” is whatever will happen to make you cry at the moment.

    In this one…I want to say that “creating a world in which we wish to be” is the theme. Phase 1: the world sucks. Phase 2: JVj creates a better world, but creates injustice in it by blowing off Fantine. Phase 3: JVj tries to protect Cosette, but gets in her way, being so overprotective as to cut her off from friendship, home, and happiness. Phase 4: JVj sacrifices his vitality in order to let Cosette make her own life–and her own mistakes–with Marius. He cannot give her a perfect world to be in, but he can control his own actions in it.

    Well, a guess, based on what they pulled forward. I haven’t studied the musical, but I seem to remember that a) it was longer and b) it focused more on the fairness/justice aspects of thing, rather than clinging to JVj even as much as they did here. Even more saga-ish.

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