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A few Les Miz thoughts

I saw Les Miz, the movie, yesterday and thought I’d share a few thoughts if anyone is interested. Lots of spoilers, so reader (who hasn’t seen the show) beware.

I’ve seen the show four times and I’d be happy to see it again. One of the problems I have with a lot of the reviews of the movie is that the reviewer doesn’t tell us if she or he likes the show or not. So the thoughts that follow are from someone who loves the show.

I enjoyed much of the movie and loved lots of it. There are transcendant moments and beautiful moments. And there are some moments that fall surprisingly flat. Here is what I didn’t like and what I did like about the movie.

What I didn’t like:

The relentless use of not just close-ups but close-ups with no depth of field (only the singer’s face is in focus) wore me down after a while. At times I liked the intimacy but at other times, it was just too much. When Eponine sings On My Own, it starts out on a rainy Parisian street and it’s beautiful. But she shortly settles into an alcove while she sings the rest and we mainly see just her face. It loses all context and not every performer can carry the emotion at that level of a close-up. This happens again and again. There a few exceptions. Empty Chairs and Empty Tables has some perspective outside of Marius’s face, but even there, the room is mainly smashed up and could be any smashed up room anywhere. Master of the House has lots of cut-aways and background but it never catches fire–too many scenes of pickpocketry. It’s a show-stopper when it’s done live. Here it was mildly amusing. Not sure why it didn’t fare better.

Bring Him Home on the stage is a tour-de-force that is usually a high point. It fell totally flat for me in the movie. Jackman paces around and we follow him as he paces. (Again, the stuff you do see in the background is surprisingly non-descript. It’s as if they couldn’t afford good sets to make you feel you were in France.) He sings it strong, with little dynamic variation and it missed the mark big time, for me. On stage it comes welling out of Valjean. Here, it’s just another song. Huge disappointment. For those who miss the original, nothing tops the quarter version, here. Sung strong, but these four have better voices than Jackman.

The revolt goes on too long. This is a problem with the show as well. It’s just not that interesting and the deaths fall a little flat for me, to my surprise.

The new song, Suddenly, is totally blah.

What I liked:

Everyone says Anne Hathaway will win Best Supporting Actress but I Dreamed a Dream was even better than I expected. She’s magnificent. Here, the close-up has a huge payoff. It’s extraordinary.

When we do get scenery, background, and Paris, it’s great. The scene where Valjean tears up his paper on a mountaintop is stirring and the movie just takes off from there. The overhead shot of the working women is beautiful.

The scene introducing Gavroche is beautiful.

The whole style of intimate singing (recorded live on-set) and works extremely well to my relief.

Jackman’s acting is first-rate. Who Am I is excellent–the conversational style is is very effective. His singing is fine throughout except for Bring Him Home and that may just be my taste.

A lot of critics have panned Russell Crowe. I really liked him. I hate Stars and he almost made me like it. His sung dialogue is very effective.

One Day More in the show is one of the great Act I enders of all-time. (Defying Gravity may be better. Maybe not) Hooper can’t put all the actors on the same stage but his cuts and settings for each actor singing works very well.

Confrontation is excellent. At the End of the Day is fantastic. Drink With Me is very good.

The ending is very moving and even a little more sentimental than the show’s ending. But it didn’t affect me quite as much as the show does. Again, I think Hooper gets in too close and you don’t get the panorama of the people on state that you get in the show. I thought it could have been much better.

Overall, I enjoyed it a lot. Critics have said it’s too bombastic, too intense. Well of course it is. It’s Les Miz. That’s what makes it great. If you don’t like bombast, you won’t like the show or the movie. I found myself clutching my wife’s hand through huge stretches of the movie, on the emotional edge of my seat. So the bottom line is that it’s not as good as a staged version of the show but it’s awfully good and so much better than so many musicals that are ruined when brought to the screen (Man of La Mancha, for example.)

I saw the movie at a big theater (maybe 500 seats). We got there 20 minutes before the show started and we had to sit in the 3rd row in order to sit together. Every show was sold out. When the movie ended, there was applause and then applause for the the first few names when the credits rolled. Colm Wilkinson who had a minor role as the Bishop got the biggest applause, an inside tribute for the biggest fans of the show who obviously were going to turn out on opening day. So it will have a huge box office at least initially. And maybe for a while. I look forward to the late night showings where we show up in costume and sing along.


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