Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Miz-treated: Les Miz Reviews

The Les Miserables reviews have been popping up online. Will the Les Miz haters tar and feather the film?

Todd McCarthy at the Hollywood Reporter isn't a fan. Of the musical or those of us who love it.

"As the enduring success of this property has shown, there are large, emotionally susceptible segments of the population ready to swallow this sort of thing, but that doesn't mean it's good."
He goes on to say
"Although not terrible, the music soon begins to slur together to the point where you'd be willing to pay the ticket price all over again just to hear a nice, pithy dialogue exchange between Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe rather than another noble song that sounds a lot like one you just heard a few minutes earlier. There were 49 identifiable musical numbers in the original show, and one more has been added here."
Not terrible? Todd McCarthy may hate Les Miserables, the movie but what he really hates, what he holds complete disdain for, what he despises, is the Les Miz musical that started it all.  And that includes those of us who love it.    Yes! Another noble song ... I'll have some more please. The song added is "Suddenly" and lest fellow Les Mizzers object, the song was written by Claude-Michel Schonberg, the composer of the musical, along with Herbert Kretzmer, the show's lyricist.

Over at the Guardian, Catherine Shoard feels the need to 'explain' things for us, just in case we haven't heard.
"But beware: it's not strictly a musical. There's no dancing, there are no jazz hands and there is next to no speech. Rather, it is lobotomised opera, in which incidental dialogue like "I don't understand" and "I don't know what to say" is warbled, liturgy-style. The phrase "We will nip it in the bud" becomes a rousing chorus; presumably "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched" doesn't scan so well."
Jazz hands? Lobotomised opera? And clearly Shoard has never danced her way around the house quazi-singing a chorus of her own Les Miz inspired creation, like I do!
"Now I've got to do the laundry. Tell me what is next for you?" "You can a little break now. It won't hurt to take a rest. Have a cup of tea my dearie and think only on the best."
 There is sheer joy in that kind of sing along spirit - a shared memory, a mutual connection to the material that borders on the ecstatic when Les Miz fans start riffing!
As reviewers do begin posting their reviews I'm disappointed to learn that while there are scads of critics that were struck by Cupid's arrow as I was like Baz Bamigboya in the Daily Mail who called it a '5star musical extravaganza',  all the reviews are not 100% positive. That's the silly Pollyanna part of me that yearns for everyone to see what I see, love what I love. The truth is for every "emotionally susceptible" sucker like me there are other wiser, experienced voices and eyes who can educate and prepare we weaklings, so that instead of allowing ourselves to be swept up by the passion of the piece, we distance ourselves, sit nodding in our theater seats and look for things to criticize!

Are there things to criticize in Les Miserables the movie? Of course, there are. But why? There is so so much more to praise that the criticism becomes small and petty and meaningless. If you want to read my own small and petty snipes, please do so, but the most important thing to remember is that this film has the power to sweep you away. It is audacious and spell-binding from the small intimate moments we see closeup for the first time - moments even more empowered  because for the first time we don't just hear the passion of the music - we see it - the hurt, the love, the fear, all playing on the faces of the characters as well as the sweeping, soaring scale of the drama embodied by the young French students climbing the barricades, ready to die for their cause. It tears at you and it lifts your heart, both.

My petty criticisms, for what they're worth, which is ZERO are:

Ann Hathaway's character, Fantime, dies too early. Curse you, Tom Hooper, for not re-writing the musical and keeping Fantime around longer! Watching Anne Hathaway sing I Dreamed a Dream while her own hair is being hacked off is one of the most emotionally affecting film scenes I've ever seen. The audience is bereft without her ... and in this filmed version, Hathaway' powerful performance as Fantime not only doesn't play second fiddle to the star of the show, Jackman, she threatens to eclipse him while onscreen (I almost wrote onstage :))

Jackman's singing voice here is just a tad high and almost sounds strained initially, so at first hearing of his singing voice it's unexpected and a teensy bit jarring. But that's a fleeting momentary thought. He is Valjean, he embodies all that is honorable, merciful,and loving. He is always aware that his momentary happiness can be destroyed in an instant, and all because of his own mistakes which he takes to heart. What have I done? When he sings, we hear the prayer for peace -inner peace - in his voice. He's a good man, a devoted father who prays that he can continue to provide the best for Cosette, exhausted from watching over his shoulder for an entire lifetime. That rawness is in Jackman's voice and the authenticity works.

Likewise Russell Crowe isn't a perfect singer. He stands very rigid and tall throughout most of the film, the strong dedicated policman, ever vigilant, ever on the hunt for Valjean. His singing is quite restrained, mirroring that constrained feeling, the inner turmoil. Coupled with Crowe's bit of a rock-twang style, it ends up working for the determined Javert character.

Another criticism, I find it far-fetched that Valjean can escape Inspector Javert's clutches despite the fact that they both live and work in fairly close proximity. It's one of those moments where we realize we have to suspend our disbelief and we do.

And watch for the leaf that flutters in the sky and then down to the main action, very much like the feather in Forrest Gump. Cheesy and unnecessary but ultimately, unimportant and easily dismissed.

Here's a review from David Edelstein in New York Magazine I read on Vulture.com  that seems fairly balanced.


You don't have to have seen and loved Les Miz the stage musical to love the film - my husband has never seen it and was blown away by the movie - but equally important, if you hated the musical, the movie won't transform those feelings.  Don't expect it to!


2 comments:

  1. I loved the musical and I know that I'm going to love the movie -- based on your fabulous reviews. I read your blog regularly and agree with your taste.

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    Replies
    1. LOVE you, Paulita. You made my day.

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