HAVE YOU SEEN LES MISERABLES YET?????
(Note: It is only through a sheer willpower that I am resisting the urge to write this entire post in all caps. Still, if the occasional sentence slips through in my Owen Meany type, I can’t help it. And if you don’t understand the reference I just made, stop what you are doing RIGHT NOW and go out and get John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany because it will give you THE SHIVERS.)
First, my own personal Les Misérables backstory, because I have found that everyone who writes how they felt about the movie first must establish their right to write. (Like this article, which I liked a lot, despite not totally agreeing with it.)
Now, please know that when I say Les Misérables, I actually mean the book. Yes, it was a book once, with no music. I read it my sophomore year of high school, after having fallen in love with the characters via the Liam Neeson film version. Because if Liam Neeson has made a version of ANYTHING, I am there. For those of you who love really long depressing French novels wih hundreds of page of [potentially pointless] description, the book is perfect. The characters are all appropriately miserable, their destinies are wonderfully doomed, the depection of Paris is perfectly grimy, and the overt narrative of redemption slaps you in the face with just the right amount of force.
Which is why I thought the movie was PERFECTION.
Before you start typing angry comments in all caps to the effect of “BUT RUSSELL CROWE CAN’T SING AND THOSE SUPER LONG CLOSEUPS WERE UNBEARABLE!!!!” hear me out.
I have seen the musical three times, and the first time (pausing to consider typing this) I was disappointed. I thought, is this it? Yes, it was great, but it wasn’t the book, it wasn’t the anguish and triumph of humanity that I had found in the book, it wasn’t the same as the pages on which my tears had fallen. It was too… pretty.
The second time I saw it was in Paris, from the front row, and some of Jean Valjean’s saliva actually hit me in the face. The production seemed more real and this time I fell in love with the music. By the time I saw it in DC for the third time, I was singing along and breaking out in goosebumps before every good song.
AND THEN THE TRAILER FOR THE MOVIE CAME OUT AND I CRIED EVERY SINGLE TIME I WATCHED IT. (Sorry, the all caps thing just took over. Under control now. But if you haven’t seen it yet, DO IT NOW RIGHT HERE.)
On Christmas day, the whole Stone troup went to see it and it lived up to everything I wanted from it. No, it was not the broadway musical, but it was the actual story set to the music I love. Its Hugo’s miserable characters struggling their way to redemption and love. It was dirty, and raspy, and sometimes when your life is falling apart you can’t sing pretty and THAT IS HOW IT SHOULD BE.
Yes, Russell Crowe is not the typical perfect singer that usually plays Javert. (Maybe this would be the time to admit that I also loved the bad-singing Gerard Butler as the Phantom in the 2004 Phantom of the Opera movie better than the amazing singer who played him when I saw it live. ) In a three hour movie of perfect singing, I connected more with Javert through his rasping voice and stern face than I would have if he had actually managed to hold that final death note. Throwing yourself of a bridge is rough… singing your way through it is even rougher.
Even if you didn’t like Russell Crowe, I have two words for you: ANNE HATHAWAY. Because she was perfect. As my friend Amanda messaged me after seeing it: “SHE BECAME A PROSTITUTE IN A BED THAT LOOKED LIKE A COFFIN. Lord have mercy.” And as for those indefinte closeups that made you see every dirty poor and quivering lip, they were the cinematic incarnation of Hugo descriptions that last for HUNDREDS OF PAGES.
But what I loved most of all was how the dirtiness, flawed singing, and forced closeness to abject misery allowed the redemptive message to shine. “To love another person is to see the face of God.” When that line rang out through the theatre, after over two hours of pain, ugliness, and struggle, I think something broke within every person watching. And when they all climbed back on the barricade for the last notes, you realized, more than the Broadway musical ever showed, that Les Misérables – the book at least – isn’t about the French revolution, or some doomed love story, or even the long chase of Valjean. It is about the glorious fraternity of miserably damned humans, and the final redemption that is coming.
So for those of you who have seen it… what were your thoughts?
(Also, given our country’s recent financial issues, check this out.)