Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Do You Hear The People Caterwaul?

Mark Twain once remarked that nothing could make an opera more perfect than to leave out the vocal part. I would generally extend that to musicals; I've always thought they'd be much more tolerable if it wasn't for all that singing. And so it was that I skipped seeing Les Miserables, the musical adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel, when it was in theatres at Christmas. I know the novel well, having had first read it in my high school days. The story remains a classic; at its core are these two men, a convict who finds redemption in an act of mercy and the obsessed lawman who spends years searching for him, all amid the unrest, upheaval, and rebellions of France in the early decades of the 19th century. It has of course been adapted for film several times before; the most recent before last year had been the Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush version (if you haven't seen it, check it out). The musical, meanwhile, got adapted to great success for the stage, and ultimately by director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) for the big screen, starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, and Amanda Seyfried.

The other night, there it was, on the express shelf in the library. So, I figured, what the hell?

Well then, having had seen it now... obviously I'm still firmly of the musicals are like fingernails on a blackboard mentality. Though I will freely admit that the reprise of Do You Hear The People Sing at the end with Valjean and the spirits of the dead on the barricades (oops, did I spoil it for you?) is pretty stirring. This would have worked better for me with the actors adapting the book in a non-musical way. We can't always get what we want though. Anyway, that aside, Hooper does give us a France of two centuries ago in vivid detail, the grubbiness of the streets and the condition of the poor all too obvious (and for some reason, everyone's singing). There's a rich attention to everything, from sets to costume design to put us in that place. And most of the casting is pretty good. Hugh Jackman makes for a good Jean Valjean, a man spending the prime of his life in prison for the minor crime of stealing a loaf of bread, and spending years afterwards seeking redemption in a quiet life and the foster daughter who comes into his world. Crowe embodies Inspector Javert well, carrying an authoritarian air, a man who sees the world in strict black and white. He finds himself at a crossroads, struggling with the notion that a convict can become a better person, a fact that defies everything he has ever held dear. As to the quality of their singing, I'll leave that for fans of musicals to comment. I would have just preferred everyone stop singing.

Anne Hathaway sympathetically plays the tragic Fantine, doomed to an early death (death is a big thing in this whole film, in case it's not already apparent). She's had it tough in life, and yet finds energy to sing. And sing. And sing some more. And just when we think she's done, she's singing a little bit more. Amanda Seyfried plays her adult daughter Cosette, raised by Valjean. She's the ingenue role of the story, of course, falling in love in an instant... but stuck with someone who, well... we'll get to that when we get to the bad parts of the film. Samantha Barks plays Eponine, who features into later parts of the film during rebellions in the streets of Paris. She's got her heart set on a fellow who seems completely oblivious to her- and she deserves better. Yes, you guessed it, she buys the farm too ( they could have just named the film Everyone Dies). Still, she plays the role knowing her character deserves better than this. While singing. Did I mention the singing?

This brings us to the bad. Marius is a key figure in the novel, and he's been played well before. In the Neeson & Rush film from 1998, Hans Matheson played the character with conviction, and we got the connection between he and Cosette in that film. In this, however, we are stuck with one Eddie Raymayne, who is singlehandedly the worst actor in the ensemble. There's no conviction, no strength, no spark, no intelligence in the role. Not a thing. It's like we're looking at Kristen Stewart's long lost brother, with maybe one or two extra facial expressions. And for some inexplicable reason, both Cosette and Eponine seem to find the nitwit irresistable.

The other bad actor in the cast has a way of tarnishing a very good actress, seeing as how she spends most of her time onscreen with him. Helena Bonham Carter, whose work I consistently enjoy, finds herself cast as Mrs. Thenardier, the innkeeper and something of a thief, with a husband who's just as much of a thief. Unfortunately, however, he who is cast as her husband is the problem, and being in his company doesn't do the usually wonderfully spirited Carter any favours. Sacha Baron Cohen is one of the world's most obnoxious human beings (yes he is, times infinity plus one... this is Russell Brand level obnoxiousness). To say he is an irritating rock troll is an insult to rock trolls, who have better manners and charm. Every second the man appears on the screen, I feel compelled to throw something at him. He's essentially playing his own obnoxious self (I suspect variations on that are all he's capable of, judging by his previous work), and I would have rather liked to see a French soldier come out of nowhere, take him out, and just put the audience out of its misery.

Anyway... I'm not a fan of musicals. Fans of musicals might well have loved this one, particularly if they're long time Les Mis fans. Or they might protest that Hollywood actors don't sound the same as Broadway singers. Those like myself, who find musicals to be cruel and unusual punishment might want to seek out an earlier adaptation. I would have preferred to see Hooper assemble this cast for a straightforward adaptation that didn't involve caterwauling. As long as Cohen and Redmayne were stranded on some deserted island, or in the high Arctic (without wintercoats), somewhere they couldn't annoy us.

And so with that, it seems, as you'll see, that Les Miserables inspired a lot of twisted pics. I'll leave you with a whole pack of them.


  1. I must admit that Grumpy Cat made an excellent Javert! Gee, I'll bet you didn't like Singing in the Rain either. No, I haven't seen this one as I couldn't feature it done as a musical. It is not light material.

  2. I agree--Grumpy Cat as Javert is inspired casting (but then, I'd like Grumpy Cat in anything)!

    I haven't seen it yet, but now I want to!

  3. You hit the nail on the head!! (Coming from someone who loved the book and did not at all mind the stage musical.) Each time Russell Crowe opened his mouth, I cringed. (And enjoyed your comment on reading Dutch. Many of us tried but failed to sound like my favorite advisor at school, who was Dutch - we'd read her writings and cringe at how German we sounded.)

  4. hahahahahaha great review !

    None of my friend like this movie.
    I had no desire to see it even at the 3 dollar theater.
    The fact every one sang their songs on film and not in a studio was a real jaw dropper for many.
    I sorta/maybe like musicals but the talk talk talk singing talk singing talk is just way to jarring.
    I can just see me singing "oh Square ones get up time to go outside and poo then come in and eat your breakfast" is not going to make it, I think.

    cheers, parsnip

  5. You had me laughing out loud with this great review William. :-)
    I must agree with you that they could have done without the singing.
    And I love the pics.

  6. bwhhahahahhha...this was HILARIOUS to read, hehheehe. you have, with this piece, justified the existence of musicals. (STILL snickering!)...xo

  7. Grumpy Cat is always hilarious!

    I detested the book. I haven't seen the movie but unlike you, the only reason I intend to see it is for the music! I love musicals but I prefer happy musicals!

  8. Musicals? Just shoot me now.
    Jane x

  9. Am I the only one here that loves musicals? I love broadway shows...I was trained for the theater anyway...maybe that's why. ***shrugs***

    Hugs and chocolate,

  10. Won't EVER go and see a movie that is totally singing, no way not ever! I mean really, what's that all about anyway!! Loved your review William, totally agree about Sacha Baron what's his name, idiot! My fav pic is the expressions in "I left the stove on!' haha!

  11. Great pics! I, too, borrowed Les Mis from the library--I loooooved it!!! I cried, and cried. Then I watched it three more times. And I'm not really a fan of musicals!

  12. @Mari: Singing In The Rain would make me want a deluge to drown the singer.

    @Norma: Grumpy Cat makes Javert look positively sweet.

    @LondonLulu: poor Russell. And my parents would roll their eyes at the sound of my attempts at their language.

    @Parsnip: there's a moment in the remake of Sabrina, where Harrison Ford tells his secretary to get a couple of tickets for a Broadway show. She asks in a deadpan way if he realizes this will involve singing.

    @Lucy: thank you.

    @Raven (or so I assume my Anonymous commenter is Raven): thanks!

    @Cheryl: so we're reversed? I enjoyed the book, though it is very, very long...

    @Jane and Chris: so I'm not the only one!

    @Shelly: that would have to be why!

    @Grace: that and the occasional look of "geez, am I getting laid tonight?" are his fallback expressions.

    @Maria: we'll have to agree to disagree!

  13. Awesome review, as usual! Personally, I like musicals but this is one I'll probably skip. My go-to for gloomy story with singing is Topol et al in Fiddler on the Roof.

  14. Frankly, Grumpy Cat as Javert scares us...

  15. Rather than turning musicals into singing-free dramas (which would be an interesting take), the trend now seems to be making horror movies into musical parodies (see: Silence! and Rebecca).

  16. @Lynn: I take it that one is really gloomy?

    @Scarlett and James: She has that effect!

    @Susan: there's a musical based on Rebecca?


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