I will start by telling you how I liked the ending of Les Misérables:
I cried non-stop for 10 minutes straight, even while quietly singing along with the film in the last scene. I needed all of the rolling credits at the end to get my sobs under control.
And oh yeah, Georges used a tissue, too, at the end. That made me so happy!
And the predominantly French audience APPLAUDED. Which was very cool, too.
Now, other impressions I had, in no specific order:
We went to see the film in the big Gaumont theatre on the Champs Elysées and they used one of their largest salles, but the room was not at all packed full even though we were at a 7pm show on a Saturday night with the film being open here only since Wednesday. I suspect the film will just not do as well here as it has done elsewhere. Perhaps French audiences are just not going to be as open to this idea of a musical Les Mis, no matter how much great press the film is getting.
Which is a damn shame because it really was amazing. Georges liked it much better than he thought he would (actually, just before we went, he got a quick coffee because he thought he might fall asleep! As if!) and he felt that it really WAS more true to Victor Hugo's original work than he imagined it would be after having watched the 25th anniversary concert with me last week. I was delighted that he really did enjoy the film and that he was also moved by the incredible music and stellar acting.
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Either the Thenardiers were deliberately made a bit less funny in this very serious film than they are made out to be in the stage version (which is definitely possible, this being a very serious literary work with NO humor in it whatsoever), or the French audience didn't quite get all the funny bits in Master of the House. Because as often seems to happen here, the French don't always laugh at the right places in English-language films. However, they DID laugh at a few of the Thenardiers' lines elsewhere in the film (especially the parts where Monsieur T kept getting Cossette's name wrong; "... our darling Courgette" - our darling ZUCCHINI?!), so it wasn't totally lost on the audience. I did think Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter (wow, that's a lot of names) were excellent casting choices, though. They were absolutely gruesome in their complete lack of morality.
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Where do I begin with Anne Hathaway? There are not enough words.
She broke my heart. No, I take that back. She didn't just break it, she shattered it, with her performance as Fantine. And I mean that as the highest form of compliment. This might just be the role she is remembered for, for the rest of her life. If she doesn't take the Oscar for this one, there is no justice.
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The only singing voice I really took issue with was that of Amanda Seyfried as Cossette. She actually has a wonderful singing voice (did you see Mama Mia?) but in this role, her voice came off with far too much vibrato and was thin and shaky compared to the other actors. Even Russell Crowe did a better job; his voice coaching clearly paid off! I know a lot of people didn't like Hugh Jackman's singing, and it's true he's a bit nasal at times (I chalk that up to his Australian accent) but the man CAN sing and he didn't shame himself or the role. Marius? Loved him. Eponine? She was incroyable. The ensemble singers? WOW.
I loved that Colm Wilkerson was cast as the Bishop of Digne and that he had one last cameo at the end. What a wonderful way to honor his contribution to this character and show!
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Only those of us who know the original London recording well would probably notice or even care that some songs were added, changed, or cut. I liked the addition of "Suddenly", which Valjean sings in the carriage after having taken Cossette; it seemed to fit the rest of the show nicely and filled in a gap in the original score by showing us how Cossette's sudden presence changed him and brought love into his life. Some of the other small cuts seemed to make a few of the songs feels "chopped up" to me; examples would be the scene where Thenardier and his stooges were about to rob Valjean & Cossette's house, and the scene where the young students are getting fired up for revolution in the café. Those small cuts weren't catastrophic, though. The only part I truly missed was a large cut in the Thenardiers' final number "Beggars at the Feast" at the end, but again, I suspect that was done to tone down the comedy.
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One of the things that made this film so dramatic, I think, is how it was filmed. So many scenes had the camera right IN the actors' faces, and some had them singing and looking directly into the camera lens, which made me feel like they were looking at ME, interacting with the audience. It made it feel more personal, more connected. You could FEEL the raw emotion coming out of these actors, these characters. You could see that their tears were real, no one stopped rolling the film to put eye drops in their eyes.
And how the hell these actors could sing as well as they did WHILE GENUINELY CRYING is beyond me. I couldn't do it, I know that.
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My mom, who saw the play with me on Broadway the first of the two times I saw it on stage, told me that while she liked some aspects of the stage play better, she really liked that in the film, she got a much better feel for what life was like in those times and in that place. She specifically mentioned what a strong impression it made on her when people started throwing furniture out the windows in order to build the barricades.
Having now seen it, I totally agree with her. Film can make a much stronger visual impression than a stage play (although the staging on Broadway was INCREDIBLE, I have to say)
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I think they humanized Javert a bit more in the film, which I liked; the touch where he pins his medal on poor little Gavroche's dead body showed that he really DID have a small heart buried deep inside, somewhere. Russell Crowe is not one of my favorite actors but damn, he was a fine Javert.
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And while we're talking about Gavroche, did you not want to just adopt that little waif? Georges was very gratified that they included what he says is one of the most important lines in the entire book, when Gavroche says (sings) about Voltaire and Rousseau just before he is killed at the barricades. In the book, it's written like this:
"Joie est mon caractere, c'est la faut à Voltaire, Misère est mon trousseau. C'est la faute à Rousseau." (I have a cheerful character. It's Voltaire's fault. Misery is my bridal gown. It's Rousseau's fault). [Source: Wikipedia]
He's speaking in parody about the so-called "corrupting" influence of Voltaire and Rousseau during the French Revolution, which was a common conservative view in Victor Hugo's time.
They never tell us, though, neither in the stage version nor in the film, that Gavroche is actually the abandoned son of the Thenardiers.
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There are probably a hundred other observations I could make, but suffice to say that I am very well satisfied with the film, and that's putting it a bit mildly, actually. I LOVED it, truly. I would still go and see it again on the stage in a heartbeat (already trying to figure out how and when I might get myself to London to see it there), but the film did not disappoint me in any significant way.
I will most likely be seeing this movie again very soon. It was too good to see only one time. And yes, I will certainly need more tissues. It's worth every tear I shed.
And now, I have to go and read the book all the way through and finish it this time. I promised I would. Georges has already read two Jane Austen books (in English, no less!), and I'm way behind on my Hugo and Dumas. Although I will be reading them in English and not in French. I'm not up to reading those epics in their original language. Yet.
Bravo to everyone who made this film, and especially to the original French creators of Les Misérables, The Musical, for such outstanding and powerful music and lyrics.
Et merci mille fois, Monsieur Hugo.