**This review of Les Miserables contains spoilers**
I’ve seen Les Mis in the theater at least 4 times. I know the music. I know the characters. And I always thought that I knew the story. But over the past few weeks, as I’ve been listening to the Broadway production while I work, I realized that I didn’t actually know the story. Not really. When you see a Broadway show like Les Miserables, you see the set, you see the dancing, you hear and live the music, and you see the show. But following the story… it’s hard to follow a story when there is so much to watch–so much not to miss.
My sister was eight when she first saw the show–oh, how she loved it. But I wonder, did she understand the life that Fantine suffered? Did she recognize that there was so much love, so much war, so many people being slain and dying? Did she recognize the love, the brutality? The loneliness? The desire?
Last night, I attended the preview of Les Miserables in Philadelphia. The music was moving, the storyline so much more clear than on Broadway. I realized so much more than I ever had before. (I’m writing this under the assumption that you, too, know parts of the story and, therefore, will not go into details. For those who don’t know the story, no need to read the Cliff Notes; it’s very clear in the film. But do know before you read on that this review includes spoilers.)
It’s a classic story of good versus evil but twisted. This story explores the question could an evil become good? At what point do we forgive?
I recall, years ago when I saw the show on Broadway, asking my dad how Javert (played by Russell Crowe) could have not forgiven Valjean (Hugh Jackman) after all those years of being a good man. He explained then that Javert was an officer of the law–there was no gray in his world, no changing. There are rules that must not be broken. Crowe’s theatrical performance excelled in emphasizing just this and reminded me of the conversation. He walked a line, he struggled, but to his character, the law is the law. And when it is broken, one must pay.
In light of recent events and the questions, so many of us have right now, I am struck by how this theme sticks out to me. We are all questioning life, good, bad, life decisions. The law… is the law. And there are those who only see that.
This is also a story of love. Of a mother’s love, a father’s love, and love of friendship and desire. This is a story that will hold a place in your heart.
The musical performances were, in many cases, astounding. I’d like to see more credit given to Samantha Barks, who plays Eponine in the film (as well as the 25th-anniversary concert.) The depth of her voice it’s powerful. Her love, her acting… amazing. She was born to play this part. Anne Hathaway (Fantine) gave so much of herself to this film, and it’s evident. She embodied Fantine and portrayed her with beauty. Hugh Jackman (Valjean) was enjoyable. His performance is believable, his transformation striking. Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Marius was beautiful and believable. Amanda Seyfried, who stole hearts in Mama Mia, played the lovable Cosette — I’m amazed a voice can hit notes so high. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, playing the comical Thenardiers, were able to not only lighten the deepest moments but enveloped their parts playfully. I fell in love with the young revolutionary cast–their Drink with Me was stronger than any performance I remember from Broadway.
We have a little crush on Russell Crowe around our home. My husband and I have probably seen every one of his films. You can always tell just how much he becomes his part, and he truly became the good, but somehow, evil, Javert. It’s a reach to say his singing voice matched the performances I’ve seen and listened to for years. I’ve always imagined Javert to be powerful, and while this portrayal was that, his musical performance was lacking. (You have to know how hard this is to write. But as my husband said so well last night, “really? Does he sing? Hm. really?”)
I have the CD on order. I’m not certain whether I want it. I LOVE the power of the males on Broadway and in the 25th-anniversary edition. That power was missing from both Valjean and Javert in the music (but not at all missing in the performances. Perhaps I should hold off on the CD and, eventually, buy the DVD.)
I remind myself that when you see a film, you don’t see it as much for the musical performance as you do for the story. And, as I said above, the story was beautiful. So well portrayed, so well told. From the closeups to the scenes of France, they did a phenomenal job of bringing the stage onto the screen–of bringing the story to focus and of helping you to live the story yourself.
Should children see Les Miserables?
In a word, no. The film is rated PG-13 but is so very graphic I’m not sure young teens are even ready to see it, especially in light of recent events. Songs (like Empty Chairs at Empty Tables) and scenes (like young Gavroche being shot twice and all of the young revolutionaries being lined up after their deaths) — it all is just too real. Eddie Redmayne’s Empty Chairs at Empty Tables told two very hard to hear stories in my mind last night. I had trouble separating them. 12 hours later, I’m still having trouble. (And I’m crying every time I read this paragraph.) And as much as you want to turn off the thoughts of the recent shooting while you’re enjoying a movie, it’s just too hard right now.
So, no. I do not recommend taking your children. I always knew that Javert killed himself in the show, but I never saw it happen like I did last night. I always knew that nearly, as my dear friend Alex said when we saw it years ago, “everyone dies in the end.” But that death was different last night. It was far more real than actors who fall and then run off stage at scene change.
Should you see Les Miserables?
Absolutely. Get a sitter and see the movie. See it in the theater where you’re truly brought into their world. Where the close-ups are reachable, where you can feel the passion, see it where the voices of Samantha Barks, Anne Hathaway, and Eddie Redmayne make audiences applaud as if it were life. But recognize, before you go, that you are not seeing something light. That you are seeing something that will become a part of you for years.