Thoughts on Les Misérables

It might surprise some readers to learn that I went through a pretty serious musical theater phase in high school. (It will surprise me to learn that there are some readers.) That phase was dominated by a love for and fascination with Les Misérables. It was the first show I saw on Broadway. I bought the CD’s on the way out, devoured the libretto, read the novel (really, the whole thing), you name it. So seeing the movie was like sitting down with old friends. I hadn’t listened to the music in well over 10 years, and it was delightful. Here are some thoughts.


It was just a beautifully done film. Faithful to the musical (I mean, basically it was the musical, but still), told the story well, the singing didn’t seem awkward like I feared. Just excellent.


Hathaway. Jackman. Oscar.


Seriously, Anne Hathaway was terrific. I’ve seen the show on stage three times, I think, and the anniversary concert, and listened to the original cast a bunch, but Hathaway was far and away the best Fantine I’ve heard. Her tortured, wistful, bitter “I Dreamed A Dream” rescued the song from the audition-piece cliché it’s become. Her voice was good enough that I stopped thinking about whether or not she could sing. None of the other Hollywood actors in the movie pulled that off.


If she doesn’t get Best Actress, they should create a new Oscar called “Knocking It Out Of The Park In Two Movies In A Single Year.” Then, because that’s a bad title, after this year they could call it the Hathaway Oscar.


My only real complaint was with the pace. It seemed like there was a need to shave the time, but they didn’t want to cut songs, so they’d do a little of each song. That made it seem hurried to me. I mean, why do “Drink With Me” if you’re only going to do two lines of it? I wouldn’t have minded some songs just not showing up if it let the story move a little more gradually.


OK, another complaint: In the book, musical and film, it doesn’t make any sense how Valjean all of a sudden decides he has to still be punished once Marius and Cosette get together. I’ve always thought this. Throughout his life he’s this picture of receiving and extending grace, and then he seems to revert to some uber-Catholic notion of needing to be purged of his guilt. This is probably me wanting to make Hugo a Protestant instead of merely an anti-Catholic, but it also shows one often cannot shake the influence of worldviews one is trying to throw off.


When I was in high school I thought Marius was terrific and that he and Cosette had a great love story. Watching the movie I thought “Who is this sentimental fool, and what is he good for other than preening in front of beautiful women?” Probably the difference between being a fairly dramatic and romantic 16-year-old and being 30+ with a wife, kids and job. (Incidentally the 30+ me is much happier and loves much more deeply.)


Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop just absolutely made my week. I’m still thinking about it. Such a perfect pick. Brilliant. Totally took me by surprise, and I sat there grinning like an idiot through his whole scene.


Other characters: The adult Cosette was fine, but sort of forgettable. I think it might be the character, not the actress. The Thenárdiers were great; Helena Bonham Carter sort of overshadowed Sacha Baron Cohen, I thought, which is quite an accomplishment. The revolutionaries all blended together, and we don’t know why one of them was especially broken over Gavroche’s death.


Bless Russell Crowe’s heart. He just doesn’t have the best voice, but he put it out there. I felt like it worked, perhaps made him an even better Javert. (Trivia: “Stars” was my cliché audition piece. Shockingly it never really got me anywhere.) He played the self-confidence, the vindictiveness, then the confusion and lost-ness very well.


I’m ready to see it again.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Les Misérables

  1. I too have read Les Miserables and loved the CD in high school but never saw the Broadway show. David is taking me for my birthday on Friday to see it-should I read your comments before or wait until after?

  2. I totally agree that the Carholic influences were prevalent despite the over-arching theme of forgiveness and grace. None of us can be unbiased! Yes the movie was fast paced but expected when condensing 1500 pages into 2.5 hours. Glad the whole history lesson on Waterloo was omitted! I too loved Hathaway and thought Russell Crowe was great-I was surprised. What were your thoughts of the last scene? I have never seen the musical so perhaps it is the same

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