Just saw Les Misérables. Want to write my thoughts down without reading reviews (and then go and read reviews and see whether I agree). I’ve managed to stay away from most of the reviews, except for people saying that they loved it or otherwise on Facebook. Sometimes I don’t mind review spoilers, but for this one I wanted to make up my own mind.
So, some background…
Musical theatre is one of those weird things that you can get fully absorbed in when you’re young without really understanding anything about the story. All you care about are the big, standout songs and the romance of it all. For some adults, that’s also as far as their appreciation goes (if that wasn’t the case there would be fewer singers with show off albums featuring Andrew Lloyd Webber songs).
As a teenager, I loved Les Mis. I had had passing passions for embarrassing boy bands and the like, but with Les Mis, it was love. The drama! The passion! The music! The endless opportunities to pretend to be a lovelorn waif in front of the mirror while blasting the Complete Symphonic Recording (no abridged highlights for me)!
|From the dog-earedness, I obviously had a good crack at it|
I even tried to read Victor Hugo’s book. I tried. It was long, okay? Blah blah blah, political stuff, blah…It only really starts to get interesting when we meet Cosette in the inn, and even after that I skipped a lot. (I just found a card that was inside my copy of the book – I was in year 8 when I tried to read it…I should probably give it another go!)
As far as the musical went, Act 2 was where it was at. Jean Valjean…yeah okay, he was important. But Fantine? Boring. I dreamed a dream? Bor. Ing. I guess Lovely ladies was kind of a fun song…but I realised that, being about prostitution and all, I probably shouldn’t sing it too loudly. But Act 2 with the Cosette-Marius-Eponine love triangle and the angst and the dying in the rain, that was where it was at!
Ah. Adolescence. What a deep, well-rounded, thoughtful human being I was.
In preparation for the film (yes, I needed to prepare, so what?), I listened to the complete soundtrack a couple of times. I hadn’t listened to it for a long, long time and a lot of what I loved came flooding back. But what surprised me was enjoying it on a whole new level. Relishing the themes of grace and redemption, understanding Fantine’s story and feeling her sorrow, being interested in the stories of Valjean and Javert and – shock! – finding the love triangle stuff a bit tiresome.
It was like I had grown or something.
And now, finally, onto the movie…
I was very excited to sit in the cinema tonight (with over 100 other people who had all bought tickets to raise money for Anglicare – awesome!), even if the lady next to me kept making obvious remarks (such as “oh that was silly” when Valjean steals the church’s silver), and even if a kid down the front said, horrified “what? It’s a musical?” as it started.
I really enjoyed it. The production design is very well done. The casting is mostly good – even if some of the actors’ singing voices weren’t super powerful, they made up for it by, well, acting. Yes, Anne Hathaway is incredible; she manages to hit the right mix of vulnerability and tenacity, but her slide into despair is just heartbreaking.
Act 1 was, by far, the strongest part of the film. I think up until we meet the Thenardiers it is absolutely spot on. And then…then it started to feel a bit like they realised it was a really long show so they needed to start trimming lines and verses of songs here and there (I guess that’s where it’s a downside to know the score so well). The Thenardiers were pretty disappointing and flat, surprising given that Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are some pretty big personalities.
Act 2 felt like a bit of a mushy mess – and that was the bit I had loved the most as a teenager! Eponine – my dearly beloved Eponine – felt like more of an afterthought. The little phrases and interactions between her and Marius that show their friendship were cut, so when they sang A little fall of rain together, the intimacy was kind of weird.
It picked up again by Act 3, with the battles on the barricades and it all wrapping up. Hugh Jackman is pretty wonderful towards the end.
Overall, though, I thought it was great. Not perfect, but one director’s vision of the musical.* I cried a lot. I want to see it again.
The themes of grace and redemption, the idea of a life won for God and a strong faith in him were clear. Our friend K, who recently became a Christian, came to see the movie with us and she said how she couldn’t understand how anyone who wasn’t a Christian could enjoy it. I told her how much I’d loved it as a teenager, but I didn’t really get it (even though I thought I did), and that a lot of people probably just enjoyed the music without really thinking about it. Maybe people like the love story. Maybe people just like epic sagas. Maybe people can look at it at a distance and say “well, it was set in the 19th century, people were more religious back then” and think it has nothing to do with them.
But ultimately, it’s about how none of us on earth are happy. We are all restless, all searching, all longing for things to be different. We are all longing for that day where there will be no more injustice, no more crying. We all want to be loved. We all want to be free. I think that’s why the show has gone on so long and resonated with so many people; we all feel these things.
But so many are like Javert, who cannot stand grace being shown to him and would rather die than be in debt to another. So many think they can bring about heaven on earth through success, money, social change. But it is only through accepting God’s gift of love and grace – his son Jesus dying to pay our debt – that we will ever join him in his kingdom, that place where chains will never bind us.
* It occurred to me it’s possibly like comparing the BBC Pride and Prejudice to the 2005 Joe Wright version…both, in my opinion, excellent adaptations, but both very different.