"The Definition of Insanity is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results" - Albert Einstein

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Yes, I Saw Les Mis, and No I Didn't Love It.

I know what you all are thinking. 'HOW could you not just LOOOOOOVE Les Mis?' And 'Somebody exorcise this heartless demon from the human race.' But before you do that, just hear me out:

No, I didn't love it. And I didn't really think it was that great of a film, but that doesn't mean it was total smut.

It was really only partial smut. And I'm not sorry.

For starters, answer me this: How was anyone supposed to go see Les Mis and not be automatically a little disappointed that it didn't live up to the hype it got? The Godfather couldn't live up to the hype that followed the premiere of Les Mis. I can barely believe Tom Hooper could put up a decent film given the micro-scrutiny this film was given beginning with just the casting and carrying through the premiere.

To begin, I'm not entirely sure why this is a Tom Hooper project at all. There is absolutely no train of thought that makes sense in my mind where the follow up to The Kings Speech is a movie-musical adaptation of a beloved work about the French Revolution. Unless Tom Hooper is trying to make his name in overly-sentimentalized historical pieces. But at least The Kings Speech was good.

(On a separate note, if I do have one major Kudos for him, it would be the decision not to cast T. Swift. I just know that while she would be "singing" On My Own, all I would really see is "Marius, You Belong With Me!" And then I'd be waiting for her to take her glasses off and Marius realizes that he's really loved her all along, and that Cosette is trilly and mean, and then this wouldn't be Les Mis, it would be the fan-fic of Les Mis written by every 15 year old Gay male theatre fan living in Iowa.)

If my boyfriend has one Kudos for Tom Hooper, it's that he appreciated the un-proportionate amount of cleavage to dresses in the film.

I will start with what I did actually enjoy about this film. 1. Anne Hathaway. Her acting is superb, I genuinely feel sorry for her (which is a pretty huge feet by any standards, let alone that she's sort of America's Sweetheart), and despite that I'm sure Tom Hooper told her to cry during most of her singing, she belts out some notes like a champ. She really could have only been better if Tom Hooper had just let her sing like she really can sing, or if he hadn't directed this movie at all.

That critique goes for Hugh Jackman as well. His singing is less than stellar in Les Mis, and Why? He has a fantastic voice. Don't believe me? Here's his opening in the 1994 version of Oklahoma.

Hugh Jackman in Oklahoma

He can really sing. And yet, he chose to go with some weird sprecht-singing hybrid that totally defeats the purpose of his casting. It's not that he's bad in it, I just don't understand his choices. Because they were bad.
And yes I know he just won a Golden Globe for this, but my money is still on DDL for the Oscar. Even if I am the only person who thought it was weird that Ireland's favorite son is playing America's favorite President, he has the statuette wrapped up like Mary Todd in all of her costumes. See Also: Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher last year.

And while I'm on the subject, this was the least French version of the French Revolution I have ever seen, and I can't understand why I'm the only person who is conceivably bothered by this. For starters, much of this is filmed at the University of Greenwich, which was designed by Christopher Wren, AKA England's favorite architect, and it was distracting and weird when at the very end of the film at this barracade of all dead people, the background is iconic English architecture.

Maybe I only noticed the specific location because I've been there, but I'm not really sure how you couldn't be a little confused. Let me explain it to you.

University Of Greenwich:




Now that we have that sorted out, there's a second huge problem with the film. Or more appropriately, a tiny child sized one. Gavroche speaks in a Cockney-English accent. Newsflash, He is French. Like everyone in this film. And I know some people are going to say that no one else speaks with a French accent, so everyone can speak in whatever accent they want because why should cinema have any sense of authenticity?

You are wrong. Given that people are speaking the English language, I find their American accent mildly passable, since they are singing most of the time anyway, and it becomes indiscernible. But Gavroche's accent is out of place (and Helena Bonham Carter's too), and I'm sure was included because it makes him cute and adorable, crushing the audience's soul even further when he gets repeatedly shot and dies because he's being an idiot and walking in front of a platoon of soldiers.

This production of Les Mis was more like Oliver! than a production of Les Mis.

It got to the point where I was just waiting for him to help Eponine and her slum parents pick the pockets of the wealthy rich-folk, and then head back into their sewer home after singing a rousing chorus of "Consider Yourself." Gee, I hope the Artful Gavroche helps Marius get adopted by a wealthy Mr. Brownlow, I mean Jean Valjean.

This points to a further trend that I'm seeing in movies today, that American film audiences hear a British accent and they understand it as foreign/european. For those of you who know anything about the 2012 film version of Anna Karenina that just came out, EVERYONE in that movie speaks in British RP ("received pronunciation" AKA like Julie Andrews sounds) and no one seems bothered at all that the entire film is set in Russia and everyone in it is Russian.

I don't expect anything to come from this revelation. We all already know that American film audiences are remarkably stupid. But maybe if we all recognized the difference between the accents of France/Russia/England/America, we could make interesting, more culturally realistic film.

This is the problem with people like Tom Hooper and Joe Wright. It's all fine and dandy for them to over-sentimentalize their own culture and history. They want to have their Kings Speech and eat it with a side of Pride and Prejudice. And nobody blinks an eye when the scores of those films are composed of pieces of classical German music, because they feel like they are entitled to whatever cultural European capital they want to use in representing the English because, well, the English are the only "real" culture in Europe right? Apprantely for American audiences, this is true.

But when they feel like this right as Englishmen gives them the right to impose their cultural capital on others, I take offense, because first of all, who gives them the right to make films version of the works of Tolstoy and Victor Hugo? How do you think Joe Wright would feel is Guillermo Del Toro decided his next film was an adaptation of Jane Austen? Or for that matter, how does any English-person feel when American's adapt Shakespeare?

(On a side note, if Michael Haneke is reading this, Call Me! I have ideas!)

Disclaimer: I do no personally know Tom Hooper or Joe Wright, so anything I say they are thinking/feeling is a representation of what I'm sure they actually are.

Don't go see Les Mis. It's about 45 minutes too long and the best character/singer dies after the first 20 minutes anyway. I recommend just watching this clip 10 times in a row instead.

Les Mis < Oscars Opening 2009


  1. I'll break this down bit by bit, so sorry if there are weird jump cuts (hey, that'd be appropriate given the movie we're talking about! :D)

    I completely agree with you about the hype. It really got out of hand, and though I did get caught up in it from time to time (aka crying when I saw the trailer in theaters), I really tried to enter the theater trying to be open and knowing that there were going to be issues. And guess what? There were!

    (abrupt jump)

    The singing. What to say about the singing? I totally understand that people didn't like the singing, and that's fine. At times, it was really not pretty. Case in point: When Anne Hathaway won the Golden Globe on Sunday, they played the audio from her performance as she walked to the stage. OUCH. When you take the visual out of that performance, it is actually rather painful to listen to. That’s my main point about the singing, though. While it may not be the best to listen to outside the film, I thought it worked fine within the acting performances. Would I love a soundtrack where the actors went into the studio and did prettier performances? Very much so. Within the film, though, I actually preferred it to the typical practice of studio recordings which often sound incredibly out of place. Also, this approach means that Fantine isn’t belting 30 seconds before she croaks, something that I didn’t know pissed me off until I saw Hathaway’s performance.

    (Side Note 1: If you remember last Oscar season, Meryl did not have the Oscar “wrapped up.” It was a very tight race with Viola Davis through the whole season and Meryl’s win was considered an upset.)

    (Side Note 2: Les Miserables’ second act doesn’t revolve around the French Revolution. It’s about the June Rebellion, which took place 41 years after the death of Louis XVI. Yes, I did research on that.)

    And once again, we come to the issue of accents in movies. Although it didn’t bother me in Anna Karenina, I will admit that there is no logical reason to have British accents in the film. I feel that’s not the case with Les Mis. The musical, while it was originally written in French, has always been much more of a British commodity. The original French production played 100 performances. The West End production is still running at over 11,000 (more research). As such, it has become somewhat of an expectation to have the show performed in English with British accents (and if you have a huge problem with that, your beef is more with Trevor Nunn and John Caird than with Tom Hooper.) I’ll completely give you the architectural issues, though.

    Also, I will completely say that I’d rather see “stupid American movies” that are super highbrow and full of interesting discussion than 800 Michael Bay films.

    And as a final note, though I agree with you that Anne Hathaway is spectacular, I have to say that I think that Samantha Barks’ performance is nearly as good (her “Little Fall of Rain” actually made me cry more than “I Dreamed a Dream”), and anyone who skips that is doing themselves a disservice.

  2. I will respond to each of your points in order:

    1. I forgot that the jump cuts were badly done. Thank you for reminding me.

    2. You are correct that I am right about the singing, it's bad. And yes, it gets covered up by some of the acting in the film (which is pretty good), but I still think they should have just tried to sing better. We know that they can sing, Tom Hooper just wouldn't let them. I'm also glad they didn't pre-record, because that would have been absolutely tragic, but there still need to be improvements if people want to make some sort of viable formula for movie musicals. Although my suggestion would be: Stop making movie musicals.

    Side Note #1: My point wasn't really that Meryl had it wrapped up, just that given that she won last year, DDL will win this year. Perhaps it will be considered an upset when he beats Jackman, but I'm pretty much banking on it.

    Side Note #2: I concede that I was wrong about the specific years of the revolution versus rebellion, but the point I was trying to make was that it takes place in France. And this wasn't very French. That holds true for the June Rebellion.

    2. In this case, my issue with the accents is that in a film version, which is not being performed in London, the accents don't make sense, and they aren't consistent. And yes, I am bothered greatly by Gavroche, who may as well have been Oliver Twist. But I suppose we will continue to disagree about this until I bug you enough times that you notice it on your own in films and get annoyed by them too.

    3. Yes, Michael Bay Sucks.

    4. And you are right, I overlooked Samantha Barks, who was great. But I also knew she would be great, because she already knows how to act and sing well at the same time, so she doesn't have to pull any of the Sprecht-Singing crap. She does really well. And actually I thought Eddie Redmayne was pretty good too. I do love Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.

  3. 1. I have to say, I'm pretty sure the jump into Red & Black gave me whiplash. Even after multiple viewings, it caught me off guard.

    2. I honestly think the issue of the singing will be the biggest debate surrounding this movie as time goes on, with people deciding whether or not it actually works in this film. I do hope, however, that it sparks a revolution that inspires this kind of singing in musicals, but in shows that don't involve so much war, disease, and death which hinder the actors' ability to sing. Can you imagine how great this technique could be with a show like Next to Normal? (Side note: With the financial successes of Les Miserables and Silver Linings Playbook, along with its Pulitzer Prize, I see that movie getting off the ground in about 37 seconds.)

    Side notes: Neither of these factoids were that important, I just needed the ability to stretch out my show-off muscles. I haven't used them much lately.

    2. (again...hehehe) I should know better than to ram my ahead against this wall again. I have several points I could make, but considering I know exactly how you'll respond to them. I'll just end that chess match before either of us makes another move.

    4. So glad you said you liked Eddie Redmayne. I was afraid to mention him because I know he's been polarizing. That being said, I actually liked most of the cast's performances. I want Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter to be married in every movie. And Amanda Seyfried made me care about Cosette more than I ever had before (meaning I actually think about her when I think about the movie)

  4. 1. Did you just say multiple viewings? Tom Hooper owes you his new Yacht.

    2. To be fair, I could totally see Next to Normal working in this capacity. And given that it wouldn't get too much hype, and we already know Aaron Tveit knows how to sing, it could probably be pretty good. But I can't think of who would direct it. Maybe Sofia Coppola or Charlie Kaufmann he wouldn't try to make it too Kaufman-y, but neither of them seem like the perfect fit.

    2. (again) Stalemate accepted.

    4. Yea, I really liked Eddie Redmayne. And Amanda Seyfried didn't suck, but her voice is just really light and trilly, but that's what Cosette has to sing, so I guess whatever.

    And don't hurt me, but I didn't think Helena and Sacha were really that great together. I mean, she seemed pretty uninterested in the role, and I thought he was great, but he did all of the work for the two of them. But honestly, if you were HBC wouldn't you be bored doing another movie musical where everyone wants you to wear something ridiculous and act strange? I mean we all know she can really act, and she finally books a film that isn't a Burton film and he makes her play a typcast bit part anyway. Boo Tom Hooper Boo.

    In other news, How do I get my hands on the 2012 version of Great Expectations where she plays Miss Havisham?

  5. 1. I hardly think 3 tickets is considered yacht-worthy. Maybe if he buys a hot dog, my name could be attributed to it.

    2. I would love to see Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation.) try his hand at it. I just know that movie will end up being either brilliant or terrible.

    4. HBC really needs to do more non-Burton movies.

  6. 1. Well you can rest assured that Tom Hooper won't go hungry tonight because of you.

    2. Boo Spike Jonze. I'm not a big fan. Being John Malkovich is pretty good, but after Where the Wild Things are, I'm skeptical.

    4. Agreed.