Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Les Miserables

Yesterday, after asking unsuccessfully for family members to accompany me to see Les Miserables, I finally took Anna along to town, and we went to the movie. Since I'd heard so many varied assessments of the movie, I thought I'd give my own.
the child, Cosette
I expected to be overwhelmed emotionally and aesthetically by the film. Several friends had acclaimed it as the best film ever. Quite a few warned me to take lots of kleenex along; Anna took a box. Perhaps I entered the theater with exalted expectations? But I did not find myself overwhelmed by the event. I'm not even quite sure that I found it good. I did find the experience intriguing. I needed no kleenex.

I knew I was going to a musical, and that many songs would be familiar. I didn't realize that the movie was nearly all singing, i.e., the characters rarely spoke at all. Even simple conversations were sung. I'm a musician myself, so I have nothing against music. But I like movies to be movies, and music to be music. I did not enjoy this kind of blending. By the end of the movie I found myself missing the sounds of the actors' voices, wishing they would just speak.

So, the voices first. It's true, Russell Crowe is no great singer. From my listening, he sounds like a bass or low baritone, trying to oversing those high notes. When he sang softly in his lower range, his voice was lovely. When he reached very high, his tone went dull. His voice did not fill the large spaces the cinematography required it to. This weakened the character presentation of Javert, who is supposed to personify power.

And Hugh Jackman, whom I adore! I found his voice unpleasantly nasal, especially in the opening scenes. The pathos of his emotional songs was wonderful to behold, but the voice itself was not pleasant. Perhaps it wasn't supposed to be pleasant? They are miserable, after all.

And this is what intrigued me:  how much do these actors depend on their speaking voices, to deliver the power of their performance? It seemed to me that Russell Crowe was nearly stripped of his ability to act well, when his speaking voice was taken away. I found his character to be very plain and undeveloped, until the very end when he jumps from the bridge, and that development was brief. It's almost as if he couldn't present a fully fleshed character, in song. Every time he came on the screen, my mind said to me, "Here comes Russell Crowe. Let's see how he sings this time."  The musical format crippled my Willing Suspension of Disbelief as I watched the movie.

The women were amazing. I was sad that Fantine died so early because I wanted more Anne Hathaway. She was able perfectly to combine the singing voice and the acting. And Cosette was rendered beautifully, although her character is rather simple. The actress's singing voice is elegant, light, and high as a kite. I also enjoyed all the tenors in the barricade gang, particularly Marius. Their voices were clearly better trained. And therein lies, I guess, my complaint against Crowe and Jackson, excellent actors though they certainly are:  they're not great singers.

Who can argue against the story itself, however?  Not me! What a tale! What a story of inner spiritual conversion! Jackman did this so very well. Jean Valjean's struggle to redeem himself and deal with his shame and secrets is a great human story.  I'll add that I found the entire movie too dark -- like some of those Harry Potter movies. Yes, they're miserable, but I'm sure even miserable people have daylight every 24 hours.

And I have one nit-picky complaint about Anne Hathaway. After dying and being in heaven all those years, don't you think God would have grown her hair back out to its beautiful length? When she shows up to escort Jean to God, I was unimpressed with her shorn look.

I enjoyed the movie. I enjoyed the big songs. The lengthy barricade section I found a little tedious, for some reason. I thought Helena Bonham-Carter was fabulous, by the way. What a face she can put on! But I did not enjoy the constant running sing-speak that never gave my ears a break. Just my preference though.



  2. I loved it and I did not cry because I think it is a man's story. Bill was very moved and I love that about him. I loved the singing; the voices were so real.

  3. I have not seen the movie, but your review is so clearly from a heart and mind that sat in a movie theatre and knew where she was almost the entire time. I appreciate your insights about the speaking voice and the nature of story involving the willing suspension" of the audience. I also appreciate your rootedness in your response there is much praise in it but it is also a gift to to be able to say "meh" when others are spilling out rapturous praise.


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