Today is a truly gorgeous day in Los Angeles. It’s sunny and warm. The sky is blue, the traffic is light and the brunch crowds are friendly, enjoying another beautiful weekend on the left coast. In fact, most days in LA are relatively gorgeous. We really do have excellent weather and blue skies with an unreasonable consistency. It’s early March and Los Angelinos are in t-shirts and sandals, enjoying our comfortable 80 degree weather while much of the rest of the Country suffers through a frigid Winter. So what do we do with our delightfully sunny and pleasant weekends? We lounge. We go sunbathe at the beach or stroll around the Farmer’s Markets. We hike Runyon Canyon and walk in Griffith Park. We go to the dog park (because everyone in LA has a dog) or take our adorably well dressed kids to the zoo. Or, if you are a super sleuthing wanna-be detective, art lover (like I am) you go to a Murder Mystery Scavenger Hunt at the J. Paul Getty Museum that sits high in the rolling hills overlooking the city.
Now, I’ve been to the Getty before. Lots of times in fact. It is an impressive museum that apparently houses some beautiful and valuable works of art, but that is not why people flock to this particular museum. The Getty itself is a work of art. The architecture, the landscaping and the views it offers are all breathtaking. The buildings are slick white stone with fountains and water fixtures in every courtyard. The trees are planted and pruned in perfect symmetry, a veritable geometry lesson in right angles and perfect squares. The garden is a spiral of creeks, flower lined paths and footbridges, and the lawn is a stretch of perfect, almost neon green grass, sprinkled with picnic blankets of romantic couples and adorable families. There are also hidden secrets that a guided tour of the museum will enlighten its viewers about. A leaf stamped into a stair is there on purpose because, I don’t know, Getty loved leaves or something…I don’t remember, I took the tour years ago. And admission is free! It’s a magical place and I love to share it with out-of-town visitors. And so, last weekend, when a friend from New York came out to visit we went there, but not just to gaze at the spectacle of the Getty, but to take part in a Murder Mystery Scavenger Hunt that a friend of mine signed a group of us up for. I thought this would be a perfect activity, and extra bit of fun as we walked around the Getty and took in a little art and culture.
What is a Murder Mystery Scavenger Hunt, you wonder? Well, let me tell you. A company called Watson Hunts sets these games up in cities all over the Country. Basically, you and your team wander around the museum solving clues about the works of art in the different wings of the museum and fill in the answers on your work sheet. Then you analyze not only your answers but also the clues themselves (left by the murdered museum curator…duh!) to piece together who murdered the curator and why he (or she) had done it! You have two hours to complete this task, and come up with a clever team name.
My team, the Van Gogh-Get ‘Ems were determined to win, and so we set off, racing through rooms, solving codes, whispering answers together and manipulating other teams to throw them off our trail. My friend from New York was an inspired asset to our team. She was practically a ringer, solving the clues and decoding the anagrams in a matter of seconds. And before we knew it, our two hours were up, the sun had set, the game was over and we had won!
Later that night I thought about our afternoon at the Getty and was struck by something. I had brought my out-of-town friend there so she could see one of the best sites that LA had to offer, and we had neglected to appreciate any of it. We were so busy rushing around, determined to win, that we hadn’t really looked at any of the art, except to locate the next clue. We hadn’t appreciated the 360 degree views from the balconies. As we raced from one building to another, I would occasionally yell out to my friend, “hey friend…look at that view! Isn’t it great? Now hurry up!” and we would rush through a courtyard, ignoring an enchanting fountain, back inside to solve the next clue. In fact, as the sun set over the ocean, we were gathered inside at the café (which is pretty gourmet for a museum café) to analyze our answers and solve the murder. We missed the sunset. I’m told it was glorious.
This is the problem with life in LA, sometimes. We take the beautiful things about living here for granted. We spend all day in our cars, or in our offices, in writers’ rooms or on a dark sound stage (but mostly in our cars) and we don’t stop to watch the sunset, or dare I say it, smell the flowers. We take an hour or two on the weekends to hike, or walk our dogs, or go to a museum and then spend it rushing around trying to beat the other team. Maybe I’m wrong. I do know some people who are super outdoorsy and settled and teach yoga and eat Organic and all that good California stuff, and they are living the hell out of their Southern Californian dream (like Katy Perry in her California Girls music video) but what I seem to hear people grumbling about most often while I wait in line to buy coffee or at the bank is how cut throat, competitive and insular their LA life has become. I know what they mean. I wanted to show my New Yorker lawyer friend how beautiful life outside the mad rush of the Big Apple could be, but we spent most of our time running around a museum and sitting in a dark corner at a wine bar where the exposed brick and dim lighting seemed much more suited for her city than mine.
Maybe this is not just a LA phenomena. Maybe this is true of every great city. Maybe this is why people move to the country…to make sure they are living the most lively of lives. Maybe I just feel more regret about not being outside more in LA because the weather is so nice. So you see, it is not my fault that I am busy inside trying very hard to be successful instead outside enjoying my life. It is LA’s fault for being so sunny all the time and making me feel bad about it. (As I write this I can feel my yoga teacher friend shaking her head at me…”you just don’t get it…and maybe you never will”)
So the lesson that I chose to take away from this experience at the J Paul Getty Museum is that in order to be a truly happy Los Angelino you should arrive for your treasure hunt early enough to show your friend the art, the views and garden AND THEN kick the other teams’ asses and walk away victorious! A Perfect Afternoon! Now, if you will excuse me, I have to slip on my sandals and drive to brunch, where, if I’m lucky, I can get an outside table.
“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.