Several people told me to bring tissues to Les Miserables. I guess people cried. The only time I felt tears coming on was every time Russell Crowe sang. Actually, I think they should've just let Colm Wilkenson sing all of the parts.
But, that is an exaggeration. I'm being a dick. Perhaps I should back up. Like every other theater major my age, Les Miserables is my favorite musical. I've read the book. I've seen the touring company nine or ten times. I've been listening to the soundtrack since I was in Junior High. In my life (see what I did there, fellow Les Mis geeks?) I've owned four different Les Miserables shirts. The one I currently own I wear without embarrassment. (See above photo.) I am completely and totally unabashedly in love with the show.
So. We sat down in the crowded theater on Christmas day. The music swelled, they showed the ship on its side and my heart soared. There was my favorite character, Javert, looking perfectly Javert-like with rain pouring down over him and his grizzled face. This is going to rock, I thought. I wanted with all my heart to love this film. I wanted to love it and buy it and watch it again and again. I wanted to tell everyone it was wonderful. I WANTED TO CRY! I was the perfect audience member: ready wanting and needing to geek the hell out over the movie.
But then it just kinda died for me. I mean, don't get me wrong, there were magical moments. Some things worked. Anne Hathaway's Fantine, for instance, was perfect to me. If there were a moment I would've burst into applause like some of my fellow theater-goers, it would have been after she sang, "I Dreamed A Dream." I've never been a Hathaway fan. She's always struck me as one of those insufferable theater chicks who talk with their hands and like to remind people constantly about how they played Rosiland in the eleventh grade. She was the only casting choice that gave me pause. (I assumed they could all sing since they were cast and all.) "She's no Patti LuPone! Come on!" I said to anyone who would listen. But, she was wonderful. She nailed it. I eat my words.
I also really liked the group scenes. The students, for instance, were fantastic. All of them. (I loved Enjolras. Aaron Tveit can sing to me any time.) The Thénardiers were awesome. Every time there were two or more people singing, I was in. It was everything I wanted. Then Valjean would have a solo and even though he didn't suck, it just felt to me like I was watching a community theater production. I did some eye-rolling in my seat. I suppressed some deep sighs. Hugh Jackman is a good actor and I'm sure he was fantastic in Oklahoma but Valjean sings some of the most beautiful songs in Broadway. Why not cast someone who can do them justice?
But Hugh Jackman seemed like the best singer in the world next to Russell Crowe. To me, the story of Les Miserables is really about Valjean and Javert. They are the most important part! Javert is a fascinating complex character and his songs are haunting and wonderful. "Javert's Suicide" is my favorite song in the show. But, Russell Crowe's Javert should have killed himself before he had to sing a note. It was hard to listen to him. And I don't blame Crowe. When someone casts you in something and tells you that you can do it, you believe them. I'm sure he did his best. But, I think the casting of Crowe was an affront to the show itself, to all of the wonderful actors who have played Javert before and to us, the fans who love the music.
I realize they needed big name actors to sell this thing. I know the general public wasn't clamoring for a Les Mis movie. I'm okay with stunt casting if the person can pull it off (ahem, Hathaway) but the film would've been exponentially better if they'd gone with a Broadway actor (like they did with Samantha Barks' Eponine) as Javert. After seeing the film, I laid awake that night trying to think of what actor with a big enough name I would cast in Crowe's place. I suddenly sat up in bed and screamed, "Mandy Patinkin!" (My poor husband. I always scream out the names of older bearded actors in bed.) But, seriously, did Patinkin even get an audition? How did this Crowe thing happen?
So, the two weakest singers in the cast were playing the two biggest parts. Great. That was annoying and frustrating to me. The other problem I had was that on stage, the story works. It's big and over dramatic and, well, theatrical. But make it realistic with the mud and the blood and the shit and the super up-close cry singing every five minutes, and it just seemed cheesy to me. For the first time in my life, I looked at Les Miserables and saw how overboard it is. And that, to me, makes me almost wish I'd never seen the film. I wish I'd never noticed how whiny Valjean is (I'm a martyr! Waaaah! Loaf of bread LOAF OF BREAD!) and how there's a fucking butterfly fluttering near Cosette's head during "A Heart Full Of Love." Ugh. Really? We're not being sickeningly sweet enough, we need a butterfly?!!! I HATE that butterfly.
Maybe I was expecting too much. Maybe I'm too close to it? Maybe I would've been disappointed no matter what. But, I don't think so. I sooo badly want to love it. So, I'll leave you with these positive comments: Anne Hathaway was wonderful. "Red and Black" gave me chills. "Do You Hear the People Sing" completely lived up for me. Gavroche was perfect and adorable and I totally get why they gave him more to do in the film. I loved that Colm Wilkenson was The Bishop. Love love loved that.
But, I dreamed a dream that this film would do the play justice and it just didn't.
Sorry if I pissed anyone off. Please don't murder me. Yeah, sure, of course I'll watch it again and give it another chance but I can't promise I won't fast-forward through any and all Javert songs.
*photo of me pre-butterfly.