“I dreamed a dream in time gone by, when hope was high and life worth living.” These are the words that a despondent and depressed Anne Hathaway sings into the camera as Fantine, the despondent and depressed semi-heroine of the Broadway hit turned Major Motion Picture, Les Miserables. I can relate. I moved to LA with a dream in my heart and a song in my soul, and after 5 or so years living in Los Angeles, working on movie deals that have yet to come to fruition (YET!), working several unsatisfying jobs and being a part of one long term, super great relationship, that ultimately and recently ended, I find myself often looking into the abyss and thinking…”I dreamed a dream in days in gone by…when hope was high and life worth living.”
But I don’t want to talk about me (well, not just yet) I want to talk about the Academy Award nominated and multi-Golden Globe-winning cinematic experience, Les Miserables, or as we shall further call is Les Miz TM. I had high hopes for this film. The cast was a veritable parade of stars who, if you check their bios, claim to have sung before. Russell Crowe is in a band, Hugh Jackman has appeared on Broadway, and Amanda Seyfried sang in Mama Mia, right? The trailer made it look exciting, energetic and emotional. Anne Hathaway, all big-eyed and sad, looks into the camera and with haunting sincerity sings the famous I Dreamed a Dream whileshots of the rest of the movie play out for us. We see soldiers and poor French children. We see fighting and redemption. We see Hugh Jackman with tears in his eyes, Amanda Seyfried with tears in her eyes, Annie H with tears in her eyes, etc, etc. And when it came to those things, the trailer didn’t lie.
Those aspects were all there. Visually, it was all very stunning, but aren’t most movies these days? I live in LA. You can’t sit in a coffee shop with a girlfriend to complain about the man who wronged you (see Fantine, I can relate) without overhearing at least one production meeting. I have them myself. I have one later today. It is LA’s business to make ALL movies look stunning! Nobody sets out to make a movie that looks OK, but sounds great, or looks OK but has a great story. Film is first and foremost a visual medium, and most films, Les Miz included, live up to that part of the promise. It’s the “great story” and “sounds great” part of the promise where I think Les Miz really fails. Now, we can’t fault the filmmakers for the story. Les Miz is a novel turned musical turned movie. I’ve never read the novel (but my mother says it’s a real page turner). I’ve seen the musical several times, and the film stays very true to that subject matter, changing virtually nothing about the music, or story. The problem I have with this movie is the singing. I love musicals. I’m a musical theatre geek. I moved to LA from New York where I spent years attending and auditioning for (but never appearing in) Broadway musicals and I love them ALL. So my main complaint about Les Miz TM is that most of its stars did not sing the songs (and there are a lot of songs) as well as they should have. I’ve complained about this a lot, to almost anyone who will listen, and I’ve gotten some push back. “They’re movie stars, not professional singers.” And “They did all their singing live with out any auto-tune, dubbing, or lip syncing.” You know who else sings live? Broadway performers, every night. And they sound amazing! Academy Award winner Russell Crowe looks as though he is trying to remember the lyrics as he strains out Stars. Amanda Seyfried looks very pretty in her bonnet and even manages to hit the very high notes of Cosette’s many love songs, but I wouldn’t say that I particularly enjoyed the high or low notes of any of her vocal stylings. Even Hugh Jackman, who I saw and enjoyed on Broadway in The Boy From Oz a few years back, doesn’t quite have the right voice for the role, always sounding a bit shrill and timid for my taste. I’m sure it is different to deliver a vocal performance with a camera in your face and only the melody line playing in your ear (they added the orchestra in later) but in the end it made the song performances, and ultimately the total performance of the actors feel very controlled, limited and boring to me. But don’t feel bad for them. Wolverine won the Golden Globe and has an Academy Award nom under his belt for the film. Annie H won a Golden Globe and will probably win the Academy Award for a total of 20 minutes or so of screen time in this really long movie, and for what? Getting a haircut and tearfully whispering an iconic song? But let’s leave Anne alone. She did the best she could and will be rewarded plentifully for her emotional efforts (and for sacrificing her beautiful hair). Fantine is an elegant mess and Annie H plays her as such, never shaking the misery that is life. As I mentioned before, I can relate. I’ve had bad haircuts much worse than Anne’s (picture too short and with a too tight perm) and I’ve degraded myself for money. I have not worked as a prostitute or sold my hair, but I have worn a chip monk costume at Disneyland, worn a bowtie as a waiter, and once sang Billy Joel songs at a kid’s birthday party while literally NO ONE listened or applauded. I think I got paid about $50 and got a free lunch, so ultimately, it was totally worth it.
In fact, as I drive around Los Angeles, I am struck by how comparable the lives of the characters in Les Miz are to the lives of my fellow Los Angelinos. How often have I driven up to a Starbucks and seen that the drive-thru line is 6 cars deep and felt truly miserable? How many times have I sat in bumper to bumper traffic on the 405 at rush hour and thought “God on high, Hear my prayer…Bring me home Heaven blessed.” I’ve often walked my dog in the misting rain and thought about my celebrity crush on say, Jake Gyllenhaal, and sung the words to On My Own out loud for the neighborhood to hear. Not to mention the “lovely ladies” walking down Sunset at night looking for a date. We all understand and experience Les Miz in our own way.
So, At the End of the Day (did you see what I did there? That’s a song from Les Miz) I wouldn’t recommend going to the theatre to see the movie Les Miserables. I would recommend getting the Broadway soundtrack for your car and driving around Los Angeles, traffic and all, beholding the misery while listening to the beautiful, trained voices of the Broadway performers, instead. It may not be quite as visually stunning a show, but it will be a better musical experience.