December 4, 2012

Why I'm Cautiously Excited About the Les Miserables movie

Let me just start out by saying two very important things:

1.) I can be a bit of an asshole about the arts, and most people are going to disagree with this blog.  If that's why you're here, save your breath, because I've heard it before.  I realize that, when it comes to music and acting, I can be a purist to the point of being obnoxious (see also: my recent Facebook rant about Carrie Underwood playing Maria in The Sound of Music).  Usually I just keep quiet and only vent my opinions on to people who tend to agree with me because, otherwise it's just a giant exercise in futility.

2.) Les Miserables is probably #1 on my list of Favorite Musicals. I love it.  Even (maybe even especially) that 10 year anniversary recording with Michael Ball in all of his schmaltzy freakin' glory and Colm Wilkinson's ridiculously thick Scottish accent.

There, now that that's out of the way, and just before we get into the meat & potatoes of this blog, here's the extended international trailer for the Les Mis movie (top), and an inside look, going behind-the-scenes and explaining why this particular movie musical is different from any others before it (bottom):

Still with me?  Okay. 

Let me just start by saying that I flipped my lid (with joy!) when I saw the first teaser trailer for this film.  When I heard Anne Hathaway's heartbreaking rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" in that clip, I was one of the few musical theatre performers/fans who did not get upset about her choice to not belt it to the back wall, as the song is usually performed. There was a general outcry of "NO! THAT SONG SHOULD BE BELTED!" from fans everywhere, but I was intrigued. It made the hair on my arms stand up and brought tears to my eyes.

(See? That right there should tell you that I'm open to new interpretations of my favorite music!)

As longer trailers were released, and the above clip going inside the making of the film made the rounds on the Interwebs, I got more and more excited.  I am especially excited about the way the songs were filmed -- LIVE.  There was no recording that happened months before filming started, to which the actors would lip synch during filming.  Ohhhhh no. They are singing LIVE, y'all.  They wore earpieces on set, through which they heard an accompanist playing live, and there was a direct relationship happening between singer and music. The orchestra was filled in later, during editing and post-production.

This is groundbreaking for a movie musical, and I'm thrilled about it. It's about as close to a stage performance as a movie musical will come, as they still film out of order and do several takes, which never happens in a live stage performance.


At a recent showing of the movie Lincoln (excellent film, by the way), I saw the extended international trailer (the first clip above) and my heart sank a little when I heard clips of Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman singing. Especially Crowe.  Remember Pierce Brosnan in the film version of Mamma Mia? Handsome, renowned actor...had no business being in a musical.  None. That's kind of what I'm worried about with these two men.

Now before you get all defensive...I'm well aware of Hugh Jackman's musical theatre resumé.  I've heard him sing, and he's not bad at all in the things he's done.  But is he Valjean-worthy?  Hmmm.  Time will tell. So, you people who get your undies in a wad and sputter at me that "Hugh Jackman is classically trained, Mandy!" just...calm yourselves.  I want him to do well.  Truly.  But even "classically trained" singers struggle with "Bring Him Home." That sumbitch is high.

As for Crowe, the only thing I've heard is that he has a "musical background."  Sheesh.  That doesn't tell me much.  A quick glance at Wikipedia shows me that he was in The Rocky Horror Show as Eddie/Dr. Scott at some point, and that he's done a lot of recording/performing as a non-classical singer.  Pop, rock, whatever. 

For someone who's used to this performance by Javert, I think I'm justified in being a little worried:

I mean, I didn't even like Norm Lewis as Javert in the 25th Anniversary Concert version of Les Mis, and a LOT of people loved him.  See? I'm an asshole about my singer-actors, especially in Les Mis.  And just don't get me started on Nick Jonas, ok?  Just...don't.

Also...does it not seem a tiny bit fishy to anyone else that with huge names like Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe, the marketing campaign for this movie has been centered around Anne Hathaway?  The actress who is already getting Oscar buzz just based on a few clips from trailers and from those lucky enough to have attended pre-screenings?  Just something to think about...

As for the other actors chosen...I am pretty stoked about Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thénardiers, and Aaron Tveit as Enjolras (my favorite character!).  I don't know much about Eddie Redmayne (Marius), but he seems like he'll be fine. I liked Samantha Banks (Eponine) in the 25th Anniversary Concert, though she does get a little poppy at times for my personal taste.  Amanda Seyfried and her tinny little voice and fast vibrato will probably annoy me, but Cosettes usually annoy me, and the best one ever was Judy Kuhn anyway.

Here are my final thoughts. I'm not so much of a musical purist that I think opera singers need to play all of the classical-type singing roles in musical theatre (or film adaptations, in this case). Hell, a lot of times the best singers in the world can be some of the worst actors!

There are times when an actor will be so very good that I will forget about the voice, or that I'll even prefer their interpretation of the song.  Again, Anne Hathaway, ladies and gentlemen.  I know the girl can sing.  Do I usually prefer a little more power behind Eponine? Sure.  But she's still making such excellent acting choices and still staying true to the integrity of the song and the character.  And that is the most important thing to me -- not the level of technique in the vocal performance.  But rest assured that the vocal performance is only a very close second.  It's so close it's almost tied.  Why? Because it's a musical. And the music, in musical, should be the first priority.  Crazy talk, I know!  If even the most world-renowned, award-winning actor can't carry a tune, I'm going to hate his or her performance in a musical, most likely.

Also, let me be clear once again that I am very excited for this movie.  I'm going in with moderate expectations, though.  Expect a follow-up post on this blog once I've seen the movie 2-3 times (which is gonna be the bare minimum, methinks).

1 comment:

  1. Hear, hear!

    I'm right there with you, Mandy. I don't have the same music theater background, or even a familiarity with this musical. I enjoy musical theater very much, both live and movie versions, but I avoid watching things that will make me bawl like a baby... and this is one of those things.

    The genre - musical theater - has to be handled properly. I love film, but not all musicals have been made into wonderful movies. I hope this is one of them. The fact that the actors are singing live is AMAZING and Anne Hathaway's rendition of that song in the trailer has me in tears every time I hear it. I hope the others will do as well, but I don't think I'll be able to see it for Christmas. One, I'm working, and two, I REALLY hate crying in public. NOT how I want to spend Christmas. :-p

    I will definitely see it on the big screen at some point, because I think it needs to be experienced that way. Anne's trailer guarantees that, but I'll bring a small towel, pick a seat way back in a corner, and hopefully a showing that has very few others in the audience. Then I'll hope the other cast members do as excellent a job as Anne does.