Misery Loves A Little Company

Well, not misery so much as Les Miserables. Les Mis loves company. To the tune (see what I did there? Tune?  It’s a musical and all) of 600 people squashed into a theater the day after Christmas.

It’s our tradition. The girl-child and I go and see a movie on Christmas eve and leave the boys to fend for themselves. This year, though, the only movie she actually wanted to see opened on Christmas day. We went, but barely. By the time we got there, the line for the movie was out the door. As I stood waiting for the guy to ring up my tickets, he commented “I hope it doesn’t sell out before I can get this done.” Me, too, pal.

I know most of the people in the theater had already seen at least one stage production and probably owned a soundtrack or two, judging by their ability to sing along. Not me. I was a first timer, my experience limited to a reading of an abridged translation in the 8th grade. Or a speed-reading. Or a quick glance before the paper was due. I remember something about a sewer.

Anyway, I didn’t have a lot of preconceived ideas like I did for The Hobbit, or even actually remember what the thing was about. I knew there would be a little singing here and there, and no overdubbing or flying monkeys (don’t ask!). That’s all a body needs to know before seeing a film, really.

I can’t totally decide how I rate this movie. It’s either a 3 1/2 or 4 1/2 stars.

The music was incredible. Mind, my knowledge of the soundtrack is limited to Susan Boyle’s audition for Britain’s Got Talent, so I have little to compare it to, but I loved the music.

The singing was 75% really good, 15% spectacular, and 10% painful. Hugh Jackman’s first few songs made me want to crawl under my seat, but he did get better. Anne Hathaway was so good that I almost forgave her for being such a worm in Brokeback Mountain. Almost. And Amanda whats-her-face was stellar as Cosette.

The acting was superb. Every single actor committed to their performance in a way I’ve never quite experienced before. Maybe it had something to do with the powerful music.

So if I loved the music, the singing, and the acting, what’s left? Um, the cinematography. Dear heavens. I am praying that the film isn’t nominated for an academy award for cinematography because we do not want to encourage this kind of behavior.

I know the bouncy footage is supposed to make me feel like I’m there. It didn’t. It made me feel like someone had just handed the camera to their five year old nephew and told him that there was a Ninja Turtle around the corner. And some of the shots are retained in the movie because the actor nailed the song, but the cameraman didn’t. There were many shots that were totally out of focus, or focused on weird things. And not in an artsy kind of way. In one scene, the only parts of Marius’ face that were in focus were his right ear and his left cheek, and he was the only one in the shot. That was some cinematic magic right there. How they pulled that off, I will never know.

And what is with the tight shots? And I do mean tight. Close ups take on a whole new meaning here. Hugh Jackman’s head took up 2/3 of the movie screen. His Michael Landon/Pa Ingalls hairdo was a bit distracting at 20 feet tall.

A dramatic scene loses some of its impact when the actor has nasal leakage larger than the average preschooler hanging off their face. I didn’t weep over Fantine’s lost innocence because I was too concerned she was going to drop a snot-runner on my new purse. The people on the front row should have been issued umbrellas. How could I focus on Marius’ incredible voice when his Adam’s apple was the size of my dining room table?

The movie was haunting and beautiful in so many respects, but I don’t think I can watch it in a theater again. Given that a good 70% of the filming consisted of super-tight closeups, I think it will actually look better on my $10 yard sale television than it does on the big screen. It was off-putting enough to cost the movie a star in rating. I think. I can’t decide if the actors make up for the lousy camera work.

I would like to watch the movie a second time and a third, and a fourth (all on a smaller screen, of course), so I will likely buy it when it goes on sale, but I can’t see it in the theater. I can’t look up Russell Crowe’s nostrils again. I could see his brain.

48 thoughts on “Misery Loves A Little Company

  1. I saw a clip of it when Hugh Jackman was on Kimmel and I had the same reaction you did: why are they so close up?

    I thought it just seemed weird because I was used to seeing it as a play and expected them to set the scene rather than just be close up on one character, then another. Based on your review, it has nothing to do with being used to the play and really was just weird camera work.

  2. Thanks for the warning. I hate the shaky camera effect. It make me want to hurl. I “watched” Cloverfield with my eyes covered. Not because I thought it was scary, but because the shaky camera was making me movie-sick.

  3. I’ve seen it on stage a bunch of time and love it. The idea of the shakey filming doesn’t do much for me. I think I may wait for the video!

    But this must be one of the funniest lines in movie review history: “I was too concerned she was going to drop a snot-runner on my new purse.”

  4. I’ve seen it on stage 3 times. Going the 4th time in May. It is one of my favorite musicals. (First show I saw in NYC on Broadway as a wee college Amy!) I’m tentatively excited about this version (there are so many people I love in it, and I have been assured that my most favorite song, “On My Own,” was quite wonderful by someone who knows about such things) but this camera thing has me very nervous. I’m actually debating going to see it in the actual theater, which would be the first movie-theater movie I’ve seen in probably 7 months or something. I hate the theater. I like my house. Because, less kicking of my seat. And people on their cell phones.

    I’m so glad you liked it otherwise, though. I wish you were closer; I’d bring you with me to see it in May at the fancy theater. It’s going to be an EVENT.

    • This first-timer thought it was a beautiful movie (with nothing to compare it to, of course), but I really think it will be awesome on a smaller screen. Maybe wait until it has been out awhile and the movie house moves it to the tiniest theater they have?

      I would so love to see a real stage performance. A good one, I mean. Save me a seat?

      • SMART. I always wait til they move the movie to a small theater and everyone’s seen it so no one’s there. I’m totally antisocial.

        I would TOTALLY save you a seat! I wish you were HERE!!!! I would love to see it with someone who’s never seen it onstage before!

  5. I don’t see myself trekking to the theater for this one, even though I am a big fan of the musical. If I have to sit next to a bunch of strangers during flu season, I would much rather it be for a theater production. 🙂 And I am not a fan of bouncy cinematography. I don’t understand the appeal.

    • I’m actually about to purchase two different copies of Les Mis soundtracks, so I am discovering I loved it, too. I just had a terrible time with the camera angles. I wanted to pat the director on the head and say “He/she’s doing their own singing. I believe you. There, there. Now pull BACK!”

  6. I must be one of the 5 people in this world who doesn’t have the slightest desire to see the movie or the play. I read the book. That was fine enough for me. Of course, I take issue to characters breaking out into song, so I’m a poor judge of this genre.

    • I despise musicals. When I was at the theater for something else, I saw the trailer for this one pop up. I thought to myself “How many versions of Les Mis does this world really need?” After watching the trailer, my thought was “At least this one!” It was powerful. Although it could have been more so if the cameraman had done a better job!

  7. Russell Crowe has a brain? I thought it shrivelled up and leaked right out in his alchy days! I can say that.. he was born in NZ, though we let the aussies own him unless he does something really good! c

  8. I’m a Les Mis geek and have been salivating since I watched the trailer of this movie. But I don’t remember any of those ultra close-up scenes. The fact that they didn’t run those on the trailer is telling. I’m still having nightmares about the giant snotball hanging off the girl’s nose at the end of Blair Witch Project. What will this do to me?

    Thanks for the fantastic review!

    • You will want to wear a hat. And a rain slicker.

      I am contemplating returning to the theater to see it, though. It’s haunting, and there are some truly lovely parts. I can’t believe I waited so long to see it!

  9. One of my favourite musicals ever! And it’s kind of telling how far removed from everything I am of late that I didn’t even know they made a movie out of it. Alas, breastfeeding mommy’s fate, I won’t get to see it in a theatre. So thank you for this review and letting me know that this is actually the best thing that could have happened to me.

  10. I am a Les Mis groupie (the stage production), and I too went to the movie theater as soon as it opened. The lines were horrendous. My husband loved the concept of “great actors” doing the singing and I had a fit that “great singers” weren’t chosen to do the acting (I’m an ex-singer, WW is an ex-actor). The close-up camera work was to make it feel more realistic. It was okay the first 4 times but by the 24th time, it was tedious. When you get the DVD you ordered (hope it is the 25th annivesary concert), sit back and just absorb the excellent music and you’ll see what I mean (“Lord on high, hear my prayer” brings the listener to their knees when it is sung correctly). Hugh Jackson is a really good singer, but the Director pulled him in so much that he sounded tinny. It was unfortunate. All in all, I’ll still by the movie DVD and watch it because I love this musical no matter what.

    P.S. The old priest in the movie that gave Jean Valjean the candle stick holders is considered to be the best stage Jean Valjean on record and no one has been able to top his rendition of “The Prayer.” Eponine was the actress I saw play it on stage and she was stellar then and in the movie. There were others from the stage productions (I heard on the final scene of the barracade), but I won’t know who they are unti I study the movie DVD.

    • I have listened to several excerpts from different recordings. It’s a bit overwhelming, but I am afraid I am now a groupie, too. I am going to have to see it on stage at some point in my life.

      Agreed on the closeups. They were okay at first, but by the end, I wanted to scream “Hugh Jackman’s face was not meant to be seen 30 feet tall!”

  11. Pingback: Peter Jackson Didn’t Ruin My Birthday | Becoming Cliche

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