Bob Lundegaard's Reviews: Les Miserables (2012)
First I reviewed Tom Hooper's “Les Miserables,” then my 11-year-old nephew Jordy did; now my 80-year-old father, Bob Lundegaard, formerly of The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and one-time inspiration for the Coen brothers, has a go ...
Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said that three generations of imbeciles is enough. Although there’s no truth to the widely held belief that he was referring to movie reviewers, one can’t be too careful in a family in which grandfather, father and son have all aspired to the craft.
I haven’t reviewed a movie in 30 years — I was once the film critic at the Minneapolis Tribune – but recently an opportunity arose that was too good to pass up. Our family went to the Christmas Day opening of “Les Miserables,” which meant that I sat right in back of my grandson, Jordy, who’s a frequent movie reviewer on Facebook.
We decided to have a friendly competition, dueling reviewers, with a third entrant, Jordy’s Uncle Erik, who lives in Seattle. I’ve seen several stage productions of the musical, but Jordy had a distinct advantage over me: He’s been in it, so he knows all the songs, even though he’s only 11 years old. A local high school, renowned for its stagecraft, mounted a production two years ago, when he was in 3rd grade, and needed a chorus of street urchins for the revolutionary Paris scenes. And to our delight, one of the chosen gamins was Jordy!
I’ve always had mixed feelings about “Les Miz.” The rhymes usually are telegraphed way before you hear them. “Give” invariably rhymes with “live,” for instance. “Bring him joy” leads to “he is only a boy” Not exactly Ira Gershwin. And the sentimentality can get overwhelming.
Not to mention Victor Hugo’s coincidences, which can put Dickens to shame. Why does Inspector Javert always happen to show up wherever Jean Valjean is living? And when Valjean and his adopted daughter catapult into a religious sanctuary while on the lam from the evil Inspector Javert, who should be tending the garden but a man Valjean had rescued from death years ago in a village far from Paris?
Still, it’s a powerful story, and much of the music can make you feel like standing in your seat and joining the revolution, so I brought an extra Kleenex or two. Turns out I needed them. The story is even more overwhelming on film, spearheaded by an Oscar-worthy performance by Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, the ex-convict with a heart of gold and the strength of a Samson.
Director Tom Hooper has personalized the epic proportions of the story by unremitting use of close-ups, so close you can see the nose hairs on Javert. I also liked Hooper’s opening innovation: Thousands of convicts trying to tug a foundering ship onto land. The ubiquitous Javert is their overseer. When they can’t manage it, he orders Valjean to bring him a flag attached to an enormous, stubborn log. Valjean does more: he lifts the log as well and becomes emblazoned in Javert’s memory forever.
The stolid Russell Crowe as Javert was, I thought, the least effective of the leads, though admittedly it’s a difficult role to shine in. Anne Hathaway does shine in the tiny part of Fantine, though she does return (with almost everyone else) for Valjean’s insufferable deathbed scene.
All in all, a good day at the movies, if only because Hollywood is making MUSICALS again. As someone who grew up with “Oklahoma!” and “My Fair Lady” on Broadway, I really miss them.