Sunday, December 23, 2012

Les Misérables (Movie Review)

Was invited to a preview screening of Les Misérables.  Was told we'd be on the VIP list. Don't wait in line see the studio rep.  Arrived at the appointed time and the studio rep was not to be found, there were reserved seats so I didn't worry as the theater filled quickly.  When the rep showed up showed up at the last minute she didn't have our name on the list and the theater was full.  Ended up in the front row.   From VIP list to worst seats in the house.

Such a reversal of fortune is at the heart of Les Misérables, but I didn't know that.  I  missed the Les Mis phenon in the 80s when it was everywhere, even in Oboe Jones.  Can't even claim that I saved the money and gave it to the poor.  I did know about the candle sticks, that part has been retold in faith communities a number of times.  Now that I can put that story into the larger context I say Amen.

At it's heart Les Misérables questions what really changes the world.  Revolution?  The Law?  Grace?  It's doesn't offer a quick fix.  Grace can be repaid with theft and a refusal that burns like coals.  Grace can take years to learn, with painful and costly failures in the process.  To freely give is to be truly vulnerable with no guarantee of return.

The story of Les Mis is worth spending time with, and the movie adaptation is deeply engaging.   Powerful performances.  Music that gives voices to suffering and longing.   I can see why Les Mis the musical had a 27 year run.

Three weaknesses I'll note.  It may have been seeing it from the front row, but the visual style wasn't what I was expecting or hoping for from a period piece.  Had been hoping for glimpses of the historic grandeur of Paris that we had seen this summer.   Mostly the movie focuses in on the characters, given the personal nature of the story that makes sense.  The sets never feel real, they feel like elaborate theater sets.  Given the source material that may have been a deliberate choice.

I don't know if it's the movie adaption or inherent in Les Mis, but the romantic love story of the second half fell flat.  There's not much to it.  Boy sees beautiful girl.  Girl see's handsome boy.  Love at first sight.   Given the depth of the rest of the story, this felt really strange.  It's just a set up for more deep questions and moral choices for those around the pair and the movie recovers; but it's the one part of the movie that really dragged for me.

The closing number doesn't fit with the rest of the story.  It's seems to be an ode to the Revolution, but the rest of the story is quite ambivalent about the revolution.  Got rid of the King, now we have a new King as bad as the old King.  It's part of what makes Les Mis work. So having a closing number that seems to embrace the Spirit of the Revolution is odd.   I'm guessing the movie is being faithful to the musical and I'll have to read the book to see if the musical was being faithful to book.  My gut says the musical needed a simple way to wrap things up, and this was the simplest feel good way to do that.  Struggling with grace and it's vulnerabilities doesn't lend it's self to a good closing musical number.

Struggling with grace and freedom is why we need stories like Les Misérables and the movie is powerful and accessible introduction to it.

- Peace

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