December 25th, 2012

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Les Miserables

Time was when Les Miserables was scheduled to open the same day as The Hobbit, and I was incredibly conflicted as to which I'd go see first. Then it got moved to Christmas, where it's competing with Quentin Tarantino. Well, if I was gonna be able to escape to the movies on Christmas Day, it'd be with Mom in tow. While I knew she'd follow me blindly to whatever film I chose, it was kind of a no brainer when thinking about what she'd enjoy. Damn, I played that one well.

I'm a fairly hardcore musical theatre geek, although I was kinda late to the Les Miz party. I barely saw it on stage this past March, and I don't know the music too well. More specifically, I don't know the music with the actual lyrics too well. I was in a musical version of Star Wars where the songs were all parody, and the majority of the songs used were the majority of Les Miz. So I'm very much familiar with just about all of the melodies, and I love them. Yes, it's a bit of a longwinded show, but its such a rich and full story and just absolutely gorgeous and beautiful to see and hear. My hopes for the movie were incredibly high, but I had such a strong faith in each cast member, squealing with excitement every time another was announced over the production period. Before we get to my somewhat biased opinion, let's look at a control subject: Mom.

She'll go to movies when dragged along, but isn't particularly interested in them. I'd been telling her for the past week or so I wanted to take her to this (mostly selfish because I just wanted to \m/ see this movie) and she couldn't remember the name or the plot summary or any of the quick details I'd repeated over and over. She does however enjoy the arts: theatre, dance, etc. After most movies I make her sit thru, I just get a halfhearted response. This time, as soon as the credits rolled, I got an extremely enthusiastic "It was beautiful" and a willingness to see it again if her friends asked. I was listening for her reaction throughout. She seemed most into the Valjean/Javert storyline, gasping and lamenting everytime Javert popped up on screen at an inopportune moment. She sighed for Gavaroche and laughed at all the antics of the Thenardiers. She commented about how pretty Cosette was and how Fantine looked like my old roommate. The end brought her to tears. I'm guessing all this means that I'm allowed to gush about this movie, yeah?

I found it absolutely stunning on so many levels. Adapting from stage to screen is friggin' _tough_ but this was done perfectly. Everything was there, with just the right amount of artistic license taken. The decision to have the actors sing live rather than lip synching to prerecorded tracks was truly inspired, and prolly what really made the whole movie. They each felt so much more connected to what they were doing, and the performances felt more real and grounded. It also solved the usual film problem of how to handle the long solos. On stage, and this is for any show not just Les Miz, if an actor has a big solo number, they're often alone on the stage with minimal movement because simply performing the song is enough. On film, you can't get away with that as easily and you often find montages or side action overlayed with these songs. But with the actors singing live, you did get a genuine performance, with the full emotional impact. Not only that, but instead of seeing a tiny little speck of a person from across a large auditorium, you got full closeups. Nowhere to hide, everything laid out there. "On My Own" "I Dreamed A Dream" "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" any number of Valjean's solos were just phenomenal in their simplistic presentation.

You really could not have asked for a better cast (okay maybe Paul Bettany as Javert, which almost happened). The theatre world has been dying to see Hugh Jackman take on a large musical mainstream role, and this was exactly it. You know the man is awesome. Do I really need to ellaborate? Much of the buzz surrounding this film is about Anne Hathaway, even though she's only in about 20 minutes. But holy \m/ is that talk well deserved. I got chills during "I Dreamed a Dream", words I've heard many times, but never felt them the way I did when she was singing. That was one of those aforementioned just closeup, nothing else happening. Similarly with Eddie Redmayne's "Empty Chairs", I started getting choked up just feeling the performance. I'm incredibly happy that the team was smart enough to skip all of the big names that were circling Eponine and go with Samantha Barks, who'd played the role on stage multiple times. She was just so expressive and beautiful and really lived a part that I feel I relate to very much. I also want to take a moment to sing the praises of unsung hero Aaron Tveit as Enjolras. With all the bigger names in this film, not enough people are talking about this Catch Me If You Can Broadway star. He certainly captured my heart on stage and my attention on film.

Is there really anything else I can say about this film? Truly truly beautiful, and I wish all musicals translated to film at least half as well.

Les Miserables - \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/