Less Miserable Than I Expected

In dread of attending within a month a second three-hour movie I knew I would hate, I nonetheless accompanied Girl Weed, several girlfriends, and another brave mom to Les Miserables.

Had to be done, I s'pose. How long can you claim to love the theater and hold out on Les Mis?

Girl Weed's review speaks for me:
Beautiful story, highly over-rated movie.
I liked it better than I expected to, mostly because the music isn't as awful as I feared. Don't get me wrong: it's plenty awful, but it's mostly sort of a recitative with a couple of songs instead of endless stormy ballads, so I sort of got used to that and didn't mind so much.

Most reviewers have said that Russell Crowe is a disaster as Javert because he can't sing. I was surprised, because while he's no Bryn Terfel, he was respectable enough I thought. The actor who really can't sing is Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean. Jackman is terrific --new respect for him as an actor-- and because he doesn't seem to have any real tunes to sing it doesn't mar his performance-- but he can't hold a note. Everything sounds like Tony Bennett hitting high notes as an octogenarian. (I asked the rest of our group about this to see if I am crazy. They agreed with my assessment of the two voices, but the gals who have seen stage productions and have other performances to compare thought Crowe was awful as I did not, so I suspect other reviewers must have been comparing Crowe to past stage productions.)

Nothing's going to do justice to the 600-pp novel, so I forgive many of the cuts and liberties, but the objection I have to Crowe's Javert has nothing to do with his performance and everything to do with the play's interpretation of the character. Les Mis turns Javert into a religious fanatic: the source of his coldness is (in song) revealed to be Christianity. He's one of those guys who thinks he must defend God. That's just bogus and makes Javert's eventual suicide inexplicable. I don't know what the stageplay does, but in the film there's a moment where Javert lays his medal on the chest of a young boy who's died in an uprising (utterly out of character) and you get the sense Javert dies because he sees he's on the wrong side of the political struggle and regrets the "collateral damage." That's to completely miss the point. For Hugo, Javert exemplifies strict Justice and scorns religion.

The beautiful redemptive ending is marred by the final scene. I don't know if the play does that -- I suppose it must since a musical needs a rousing finale. It just doesn't work here, though. Justice has been done, the saintly Jean Valjean is greeted on his path to heaven by the equally saintly bishop who "claimed his soul for God" ... and then everyone mans the barricades once again to sing a radical anthem? That was weird.

My legs fell asleep sitting for that long, and I feared blood clots. And I definitely tired of gritty close-ups of tear-stained faces. I can't relate to people's gushing over it, but it wasn't as awful as I thought (hurrah for low expectations!) In justice I must say there were some scenes I found genuinely moving.

Extraneous observations:
  • I think it is cruel to show 20 minutes of previews before a three hour movie. And I was deeply ashamed of the content of the previews. Before the Hobbit it was 20 minutes of post-apocalyptic sci-fi dystopia. Before Les Mis it was 20 minutes of relationship dystopia with lots of coarse humor and simulated rutting. Sheesh. 
  • If you can judge by a preview -- and you can-- Leonardo diCaprio looks perfect as Gatsby, but Hollywood has completely misunderstood that story.