Monday 21 January 2013

La Misérable (A Cranky Movie Review)

(or The Outlook of a Newborn in a Movie Theatre)

I, the Cranky Book Reviewer, have seen Les Miserables on stage.  I attempted to read the very, very long book when I was in high school, and made it about halfway, I believe.  (In my defence, it was really long.  And there was no singing.)  I own the 2-cd set and I know all the words to all the songs by heart (go ahead -- test me!).  And, every time the Les Mis concert comes on, I drop everything to watch it, explaining to Chris, through tears, what's going on and why it's so amazing and romantic and tragic and inspiring and why he's cold and unfeeling to be so unmoved by 17 Valjeans marching down the aisle singing in different languages... but I digress.

So you can imagine how excited-yet-trepidatious I felt when I heard it was becoming a movie.  I mean, what if it was another Hitchhiker's Guide???*  What if I paid my money and lost something precious? 

The first step I took to ensure a satisfying movie experience was to bring Tamsin along with me.  I know what you're thinking:  I'm an idiot.  Well, yes, but as the mother of the fussiest baby in the theatre (and there were tons of babies in that theatre - she can be proud of herself), I must say that the Stars and Strollers people have it sort of right. 

First, they keep the lights really dim, but not dark.  That way, when you fumble around in your bag for the soother that you forgot at home, you can sort of see that it's just not in there.  Eventually.  And, when you get up to change the child (again), you can see your way to the change table that's set up inside the theatre, which is great, because my little angel needed changing twice, each time during the most emotional (and therefore most necessary for me to watch) scenes in the whole 2 plus hour debacle:  Fantine's death and Eponine's death.  Oops, too late for a spoiler alert.  Actually, to spoil more of it, almost everyone in the whole damn storyline dies.  But anyhoo.

Secondly, they invite lots of people with babies.  Each time I heard a baby cry, I would actually be surprised all over again, in an I-can't-believe-people-bring-babies-to-movies way.  Also, whenever I looked around and saw yet another baby, I would first think it was a doll, because again, it's such an unnatural mix.  But to digress, the successful bit was that at least mine wasn't the only baby that was fussing, and therefore you don't feel like a pariah everytime there's a whimper, grunt or howl. 

They purport to keep the sound turned lower than its usual eardrum-cracking volume to make it easier on the poor babies and moms.  This, they got wrong.  Let's say you go to see a musical (or any movie, really), in which the nuances (or dialogue) are important.  Wouldn't it make sense to turn the volume, oh, say, up over the sound of crying babies?  I was hoping for some kind of soaring score, but had to strain to hear, sometimes.

But what does this have to do with the movie?  Not much, but I do go on. 

Musically, it stayed fairly true to my memory of the play, although some lyrics were slightly changed (thus thwarting me from singing along the whole time...which is best for everyone), and the one added song (put in solely for an Oscar bid, no doubt) felt out of place, out of theme, and easily forgettable. 

The actors all put in solid performances, I thought, and I was quite impressed with the vocal talents of all the leading men (prerequisite:  be Australian) and ladies.  Even Marius was less smarmy than usual.  I guess my one criticism of the whole thing was that Russell Crowe's Javert wasn't self-righteous and imperious enough.  Javert has some amazing scenes and songs, and although Crowe's voice was very nice, it lacked the strength and timbre that the role required.  The Thénardiers, despite being played by the three-named duo of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, were not overacted, as I had feared they would be... they just seemed to fit the roles perfectly.  And of course, I can't miss mentioning Colm Wilkinson, who rocked the role of the Bishop... though he should have been Valjean.

The overall feel of the movie was cold and gritty and made a more realistic impression than the stage performance with all of its colourful comic elements.  A harsher existence was exposed, with the poor filthy, miserable and covered with sores, and it really delved deep into what it meant to go into the sewers of Paris, which I admit I hadn't really thought of until Hugh Jackman was completely covered with poop.**  Yick. 

On the whole, I loved it, despite being distracted by the aforementioned whiny baby.  And her poop.

* I revered Douglas Adams.  And I'm truly thankful that he passed away before he saw what they did to his books.  It was that bad.

** As a mom, I can relate, although I try not to fully immerse myself.

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