Friday, January 18, 2013

Les Miserables

Oh, holy shit.

I'm trying to come up with a word to describe my feelings about this movie, and the word I keep coming up with is "ordeal." This was an ordeal. This was less a film than an endurance test. What do I get for surviving it?

I know there are a lot of people loving this movie, but I'm definitely not one of them. Some people have found the film uplifting and transformative. I found it almost completely unbearable. I'm not saying it makes me smarter than anyone else, I'm just telling you: I will be perfectly happy to never experience this flick ever again in my life. If you loved it, hey, good for you. I'm glad you found a film to love when, frankly, so many films are unlovable in this day and age. But it's just not for me at all.

Granted, I have zero experience of the musical. Maybe I'd like the film more if I'd loved the musical for years, although I think if you have to already have that going in just to appreciate it, the film hasn't done its job. I do know people who went into it without really having experienced the musical and who came out loving it. I don't know what they saw in it. I'd love to hear from them. I found it remote, ugly, emotionless, and lacking in humanity. There were glimmers now and then, but mostly it was... grotesque.

This film is critically flawed on nearly every technical level. The direction is awful. It's an ugly film to watch; even just looking at it is a nightmare for the eye. So much cutting; the camera sweeps over everything, but can't hold a shot for more than a few seconds before cutting to another angle, another close-up... everything's in close-up. It's just heads singing at each other. There's almost no interaction between the actors. Nothing registers because the camera is just sweeping over everything or close in on the actor's heads with handheld shots. It's never still. I think that's a real problem. I felt like I couldn't look at the goddamn thing. It's really hard to get to know characters when we can't even just slow down and look at them for a minute or two. The camera doesn't invite you in to the drama, it just insists on itself. It is so goddamn insistent about its own perceived greatness.

There are only a few instances where the film stops swirling around itself and gives us some powerful scenes of characters just singing their emotions, and in those instances, the film makes a real connection. Anne Hathaway is going to win an Oscar for her "I Dreamed a Dream" performance, played in one unbroken take, and she deserves to. (The scene's so good it makes up for the fact that she totally overplays her death scene.) It's a great glimpse into what the film could have been: a moving drama of humanity, rather than the giant mess it is.

The story itself just isn't there. It's not a story. It's amazing how much it's not a story. It's not a narrative, it's not anything. It's a collection of vaguely-related scenes, and even though the film feels 36 hours long, it's not enough. I feel like I'm watching Highlights of Les Miserables. We keep jumping around, and the film wants to pull so many threads together and none of them seem related. One minute we're watching this intense drama of Jean Valjean trying to escape the injustice of Javert, and then it's suddenly revolution in the air, and then suddenly we're in this terrible Nelson Eddy/Jeanette MacDonald movie because Eddie Redmayne saw Amanda Seyfried across the street for five seconds and is now madly in epic love with her.

It presents itself as an epic. It insists that it is. But the scope is very small. It's not big, it's just loud. And long. Very, very long. And it still feels at times like entire acts are missing. It's not a story so much as a collection of performances being performed at one another.

The tone of the film is all over the place. It wants to be both a musical and a gritty historical drama, but it doesn't work. It never mixes together. Some of the songs are so silly and precious that they would only work in the stylized reality of a musical, but director Tom Hooper wants to show all of the dirt and suffering and blood and shit that surrounds these characters and this time in history. Any potential lightness or comic relief is jarringly out of place and drowned out by the dirge-like songs and grotesque weirdness. It's like an empty Tim Burton movie; he doesn't know how people work, either. And any potential drama or seriousness is killed by another scene of Sacha Baron Cohen wandering around in a bizarre parody of a Dickens character.

The actors all seem like they're in different movies, and they're often directed as if they were, too. Hugh Jackman is in a musical. Russell Crowe is in a music video. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are doing the most grating panto. Eddie Redmayne is... I don't know what the hell he's doing.

Let's talk about the cast.

Hugh Jackman is mostly excellent. It's great to see him in a musical, and he sings well. Russell Crowe is... well, he's kind of jarringly hysterical at first, but as the film goes on, I think he gets better. Or maybe I got used to him. I think he's got some really great moments. The two of them deserved a better movie. And Anne Hathaway has one incredible scene.

Sacha Baron Cohen is a nightmare. His accent is purposeless and all over the map. He's not funny, he's not creepy, he's just annoying. Is he just going to get it through his head one day that he's not Peter Sellers? And Helena Bonham Carter continues to just play Jack Sparrow in everything. I fucking hate her, especially in movies like this. They're both terrible.

Amanda Seyfried is pretty. She was better in Mamma Mia!, a movie I fucking hated, but at least she could sing. Here, she's doing this Disney princess trill that's cloying. Eddie Redmayne can't sing at all. Talk about trying too hard. He makes Russell Crowe sound like Pavarotti. I take back the Eddy/MacDonald comment from earlier. These two are like the Eddy/MacDonald parodies Wayne and Wanda on The Muppet Show, with all of the pomposity that was supposed to be punctured as a joke in those sketches. I kept hoping Crazy Harry would wander in and blow something up. They're so painfully earnest. Too bad Samantha Barks gets wasted as Eponine; I'm unfamiliar with her, but she could actually sing. And Aaron Tveit can actually sing, too; he should have Redmayne's role, because Redmayne singing is a trial harder to get through than Redmayne acting.

The film is much more interested in thundering, raw emotion than in clarity. Unfortunately, the emotion just doesn't connect. Everything is too much, too loud, too in your face, too aware of itself. If this thing had just slowed down and told a story, it probably could have been something. Instead, it's just a lot of yelling and crying and shooting and other noise, and everything is drowned by the mad assault on your senses and cloying Cockney children and unearned emotional smugness.

I hated this movie. I hated it so much. I've never been so happy to see an incoherent film lumber eventually towards an unsatisfying ending. I highly do not recommend it.


Roger Owen Green said...

I liked it better than you, but you're not wrong. It IS ugly. And disjointed. And LONG.

Amanda is a cypher. Samatha Barks, who played the same role on the London stage, was wonderful (and I developed a bit of a crush on her to boot.)

I suppose I like SBC and HBC more than you because I needed something, ANYTHING, to interrupt Jackman singing stuff that all seemed high in his range.

I did get misty at the end, but I won't recommend the film. My review.

SamuraiFrog said...

I was relieved when Valjean had Cosette and left, because I thought that would the end of Cohen and Carter, but they just kept coming back over and over and over...

EVERYONE seemed to be singing too high. It drove me a little nuts. Eddie Redmayne was like watching Bert from Sesame Street auditioning for the Vienna Boy's Choir.

Rockett Davey said...

Thank You For An Honest Review
Didn't Think I Wanted To See This Film
Now I Know I Don't
Love Your Blog