Les Miz: comme ci, comme ca

19 Jan

It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.  Wait, that’s another time, another story.  But Les Miserables is very similar.  It is French, after all.  Maybe all French history is the best and worst of times.  Comme ci, comme ca.   Maybe that explains my mixed feelings about the movie, too.  I remember liking the play when I saw it on the London stage.  I didn’t adore it, as so many did, but I did like it.  I remember being impressed by the Revolutionaries’ barricade and by the voice of the man playing Javert, though I don’t remember who that was now.  I can’t say I was impressed by the voice of the man playing Javert in the 2012 film—that would be Russell Crowe, and there’s already been enough written about his poor singing I don’t need to add to the clamor.  Having said that, I didn’t think his voice was all that bad.  In fact, I think it suited the part rather well:  a character like Javert shouldn’t exactly sound like an angel.  To be fair, none of the film actors sang all that well, with the exception of Marius, played by Eddie Redmayne, my personal favorite.  But, on the other hand, none sang that badly, either, and all seemed well cast for their parts:  Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried—and the ubiquitous, inimitable Helena Bonham Carter, of course.  I guess that brings up the on-going debate about whether a musical needs the best singers or the best actors, implying they can’t be one and the same.  (Well, there was Julie Andrews once, but she’s too old to play Cosette, and having had botched throat surgery, she probably couldn’t sing any better now than Amanda Seyfried does anyway.  Sorry, Julie; you know I love you, wanted to be you.  But that’s neither here nor there.  Q’est sera, sera.)  I finally came to the conclusion by the end of the film that maybe a stage musical needs the big, perfect voices, but a film adaptation of the same musical needs spot-on actors.  Must be the intimacy of the small screen.   I forgave their less-than-perfect singing for their commendable acting. 

I also found another debate raging inside me—well, maybe not raging, but certainly arguing back and forth:  do I even like musicals, and why or why not?  I can say rather certainly I do like musicals on the stage (the big voices, etc), operas, even.  (I have sung in enough of them myself I’d be a hypocrite to admit otherwise.)  But what about as films?  Mmmm….maybe not so much.  I like my cinema subtle, less is more, drama but not melodrama.  And Les Miz is certainly melodrama.  Romantic melodrama, melodramatic Romance, whatever.   All those big blockbusters are:  Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, West Side Story.  Larger than life.   Idealistic and fatalistic at the same time.  Apollonian and Dionysian.  Yin-Yang.  Comme ci, comme ca.  Must be the ever-running debate inside us all:  idealism vs. realism; angel on one shoulder, devil on the other; good cop, bad cop; to be or not to be.  As one of my students would say, “That’s deep.”  And here’s something deeper:  when I was younger, happier, I always enjoyed a good musical (on stage or film); older and wiser—and sadder, yes—I find I have less patience for them, less sympathy in my cynicism, more criticism of their optimism.

Critical cynic that I can be, I had prepared myself not to like this movie.  I had heard too many comments on either extreme.  People seemed to love it or hate it, with little in between.  That’s a bad sign, usually.  I distrust excess.   But, being ambidextrous, I guess I can easily see both sides.  All things in moderation, as Ben would say.  I liked it—I didn’t adore it, but I didn’t despise it, either.  So there you are.  Comme si, comme ca.  


2 Responses to “Les Miz: comme ci, comme ca”

  1. brileyrebecca January 19, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    Please excuse my initial misspellings! Edited now! Thanks!

  2. ariaeve3 January 20, 2013 at 9:06 pm #

    While I too believe that live musicals are better, I think making movie versions does have its up sides. Seeing a movie in the cinema is a lot cheeper than attending a live Broadway performance. And as far as Les Miz goes for me… I really don’t need to see it more than once. It was good, but when a movie leaves me with tears still dripping down my face and a major headache from suppressed crying, I think once is enough!

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