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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

I Do Hear The People Sing

I first saw Les Misérables when I was 18.  It was in Toronto at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, and I was lucky to catch it in its first year when the original cast - with Michael Burgess as Jean Valjean, no  less - was performing.  I was captivated by the music, the songs, the costumes, the sets (that barricade was nothing short of awesome) and of course, the characters.  I didn't really analyze then what it was about a Victor Hugo long drawn out, convoluted tome about 19th century French revolution in dank, depressing Paris that appealed to a Malaysian-Chinese immigrant living in Canada; I mean, I went back to fork out good money to see the musical three more times (once more in Toronto, another in Singapore and the third in London's West End) and buy the 10th anniversary "dream cast" DVD for good measure.  And of course - was there any doubt? - I stood in line at my local cineplex box office a few days ago and snapped up tickets to the big screen version for Christmas Eve. But if I really had to dig down (and frankly, not even that deeply,) I guess I can readily admit that, bloody Paris uprising or no bloody Paris uprising, it was the sub-plot of young, unrequited love and first thunderstruck crushes which reasonated as subtly as the hunchback madly clanging the Notre Dame church bells in my former teen self which got me hooked on this musical in the first place. I mean, with boy-band worthy lyrics like "In my life, she has burst like the music of angels, the light of the sun"?  Every swooning die-hard romantic could definitely relate.  Like, totally.

For that reason, I had to laugh when I read Rachel Maddux's "I Dreamed a Tween" article in Slate. An excerpt:

The ABC student revolutionaries are understandable as perennial childhood favorites: young, passionate rebels willing to fight and die for their freedom! What could appeal more to a kid on the cusp of middle school, that most oppressive of human institutions? Perhaps only Éponine, the stage's most tragic third wheel, the patron saint of square-peg girls in love with their oblivious best friends the world over. Reports of kids weeping the first time they saw the show live are not uncommon, and it's usually the fault of “On My Own.”

So contrary to Eponine's lament, I'm not on my own with my Les Miz tween/teen obsession after all.

But how then, the movie?

Meh.

The much-lauded and oft-gushed about "live" singing concept was fine by me.  Having sat through live performances at the theatre, I wasn't concerned about not hearing "prettified" singing in Tom Hooper's film version.  But Russell Crowe's mumbled mangling of my favourite song "Stars"?  Oy, not cool.  I so wished they could've cast any one of the scores of Hollywood actors (presumably, they want a name to headline this movie - no problem with that bit of marketing reasoning) but General Maximus singing Javert's Suicide?  For the first time, I couldn't wait for him to [SPOILER ALERT] jump off that bridge.  And I also caught myself reflexively rollling up my eyes one too many times at the over-the-top, overwrought overacting that was unfortunately magnified by the handheld camera movements that were milimeters away from the singing cast; and I have to say the biggest culprits of the ham-fisted, down-your-throat, and dammit-watch-my-suffering-in-all-its-bloodshot-eyes-and-snot-nosed glory are Anne Hathaway, and yes, even song-and-dance man extraordinare Hugh Jackman.

The younger characterizations of Marius, Cossette and Eponine were more than competent (who knew Eddie Redmayne could sing so well?) and the two kids were downright good.  However, the entire Master of the House scene was a disappointment.  I know what the director was striving for - to depict the unrelenting chaos and thievery that are hallmarks of the Thenadiers' saloon, but unfortunately the execution fell way short of the mark; the bawdiness and tawdriness of the two conniving Thenadiers' - played with utter camp by triple-barrelled monikered duo of Sascha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter - didn't and couldn't for some reason translate into its full debauched glory on screen.

One highlight for Les Miz geeks is the casting of Colm Wilkinson - the originator of the musical's lead role in London's West End in 1985 and later on Broadway in 1987 - as Bishop Myriel in the film.  Think it would've been cool if he'd stepped in to play Valjean in the final third act - age-wise, it could work. 

But - sigh - all these what-ifs are now water under the Pont Neuf - the movie's made, and that's that (something that Star Wars fans - and I'm one of the legion - still can't reconcile with the Prequel Trilogy.)  Ah well, at the very least, we still have the inevitably gorgeous cast photo spreads below by Annie Leibovitz to look at - this time for Vogue.  And yes, despite the anti-climax of this disappointingly mediocre movie, my heart, which was ramped up full throttle by those excellent trailers in the past couple of months, is still "full of love" for Les Miz.
Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne
Isabelle Allen, Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe
Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne

Helena Bonham Carter and Sascha Baron Cohen
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