I’ve been sick and mopey the last few days so I didn’t really get a chance to write my 2013 New Year’s resolutions, but one of them is to be better about writing about every movie I see (I did not do a great job in 2012). The last movie I saw in 2012 was Les Miserables, and I want to report that it made me cry in the theatre like no other movie in maybe a really long time.
I’m not that much of a stage musical buff, but I did go through a Les Mis period, like everyone, so I had a lot of expectations about the movie. I’m not totally sure about the whole live-singing, intimate-staging tack that Hooper decided to take. Les Mis (especially the musical version) is not a realistic story, it’s kind of a nutso sentimental religious story that dramatizes complicated things is really overly simplistic ways. Like the scene where Fantine gets drummed out of the factory, there’s nothing “realistic” about the ladies ganging up on her or her gross supervisor who just wants to bone her, no one would actually say this stuff, but you can see that kind of thing happening more quietly. You can tell it’s melodrama because everyone sings what they’re feeling all the time. So you kind of want the style to match, to be equally gaudy and overblown. It’s really hard to make this kind of thing “gritty” effectively. I have to agree with the prevailing view that the “I Dreamed A Dream” scene was kind of the best-case scenario for Hooper’s approach. Ann Hathaway’s not the greatest singer, but she’s good enough, and the scene is well-acted enough that it manages to be just devastating. At some points she looks kind of like Maria Falconetti in Dreyer’s Joan of Arc - hair shorn, trapped in these tight close-ups, tormented by off-camera demons. I didn’t just do the elegant movie theatre cry - the dab away a few silent tears cry - I was audibly weeping, to the point that Alex noticed and kind of patted my hand, at which point I kind of started laughing with embarrassment. I’m a pretty soppy, but I still kind of want to disown that kind of emotional display, even with someone I’m super-comfortable with. Anyway, what more can I ask for from a melodrama?
It wasn’t a great film-as-a-film though. I wanted some places to be more musical theatre, I wanted there to be more big sweep, fewer closeups, more spinning cameras. Samantha Barks’ performance as Eponine already had so many more musical theatre mannerisms, there’s no reason not to just go all the way to big with it.
(Also I’m not talking about Russell Crowe. I kind of felt bad for him, he’s not the worst singer in a bar band kind of way but he was just completely out of his depth. Alex hadn’t heard the soundtrack in a while and actually thought “Stars” was a new song, it was so unrecognizable.)