Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “Les Miserables” (The Movie)

Dear Frank,

Les-Miserables-2012-Movie-Poster1There are a lot of people in the world who really really fucking love Les Miserables. They do not include me. I don’t hate it — I just don’t have the innate deeply-born affection for it that its superfans do, probably because I’ve never really seen it until Tom Hooper’s brand-new film adaptation.

I mean, because I am a human being who was born during the 1980s, I am familiar with a number of its songs; in fact, when I was 12 years old, I auditioned for a musical by singing “Castle on a Cloud.” (And fuck yeah I still remember all the lyrics.)

But beyond that, and maybe reading the original Victor Hugo novel in high school (which it turns out I remember not in the slightest), sitting in the theater to watch the film was my first real exposure to “The Musical Phenomenon” (TM the movie posters).

What happens in Les Miserables? Frank, you didn’t technically ask (this entry was a special request from my friends Jay and Bronwen) but I’m happy to tell you anyway. Basically, in the early 1800s in France, this guy Jean Valjean stole some bread and got sent to jail for five years; he then breaks his parole because it turns out being a parolee in early 1800s France fucking sucks.

Fortunately, a very nice priest dude lets him steal some silver if he promises to be a better person, and Jean Valjean takes on a false identity so that eight years later, he can be a prosperous businessman and mayor of some small French town that doesn’t find it at all strange that their mayor didn’t exist until a few years ago.

So, aside from the lying-about-his-identity thing, he’s living his life honest — but then he’s not paying attention when one of his factory workers, a nice lady named Fantine, gets fired for having a secret child. And then Fantine, broke and desperate as hell, ends up selling her hair, teeth and eventually vagina for money to send to her daughter.

IT FUCKING SUCKS TO BE FANTINE. Jean Valjean figures this out pretty late in the game — like, “now the prostitute is dying of the tuburc and all I can really do for her is promise to take care of her kid” late in the game.

But he does commit to rescuing little Cosette from the thieving innkeepers who have been housing her — even though Inspector Javier, who’s obsessed with sending Jean Valjean back to jail because of law and order or whatever, is hot on his heels.

Jean and Cosette end up in Paris in hiding, and then eight years pass and Cosette grows up hot and the French Revolution 2.0 happens. Cosette does the fall-in-love-with-a-stranger-from-across-a-crowded-Parisian street thing, and the French revolutionary she eyefucks, a guy named Marius who seems fine, blows off Eponine, the daughter of those thieving innkeepers from before who’s in total unrequitedness with Marius. (The thieving innkeepers constantly show up for comic relief purposes, which becomes increasingly unnecessary.)

Heartbroken, Eponine binds her breasts and joins the French Revolution, which is rad, but then there’s a lot of shooting guns, and Eponine gets killed, which sucks — especially because I’d just kind of gotten on board with her level of bad-ass-ery.

ALSO SUCKS TO BE EPONINE.

ALSO SUCKS TO BE EPONINE.

She dies cradled in Marius’s arms, Frank, and he sings to her “If I could heal your wounds with words of love” and I was like HOW ABOUT YOU TRY BANDAGING HER WOUNDS WITH BANDAGES. He doesn’t. She dies. Just so we’re clear.

Meanwhile, Inspector Javier gets captured by the revolutionaries but Jean is a nice guy so he lets Javier go. Then Javier jumps off a bridge because of shame or pride or something. I honestly can’t care that much.

Jean drags Marius through the sewers to escape the French non-revolutionaries, because Cosette loves him, and then Jean goes back into hiding while Marius and Cosette get married, but Marius and Cosette track him down just in time to watch him die — of old age, I guess? The ripe old age of 43. But it’s nice. Ghost Fatine sings to him. And then we do a big reprise of the big talkin’-bout-a-revolution number and all the people who were shot to death are just fine and THE END.

If any of this sounds dismissive, let me just say this: I did enjoy the film. There’s some fantastic ugly-cry-singing on display, and I’m on record already as being in favor of watching Hugh Jackman singing, and most of the rest of the cast was also great — let me join the chorus of folks, by the way, who want to see Anne Hathaway win an Oscar for playing Fantine.

I mean, every time Anne Hathaway appeared on screen, I was either crying or close to crying. I mean, for fuck’s sake, the way she sings “Don’t they know they’re making love to one already dead?” SADDEST WHORE SONG EVER.

The very definition of sadface.

The very definition of sadface.

But ugh, Frank, it’s soooooooooooooo longggggggggggg. I mean, the part of this movie I found the most boring was the part where there was a fucking French Revolution — which might actually be a good sign? But still, SO MUCH FRENCH REVOLUTION, and that’s AFTER two hours of whores being sad and Hugh Jackman confessing.

I mean, Hugh Jackman is just CONSTANTLY confessing to shit. Hugh, you sang a whole song about how much prison sucks! If you don’t want to go back to prison, for god’s sake don’t confess to stuff!

Also, I had been warned in advance that this exchange of dialogue was going to happen:

FRENCH SOLDIERS SENT TO KILL FRENCH REVOLUTIONARIES: Who’s there?
FRENCH REVOLUTIONARIES: French Revolution!
FRENCH SOLDIERS SENT TO KILL FRENCH REVOLUTIONARIES: BANG BANG BANG!

But that didn’t make it any less ridiculous.

Oh, and that wasn’t even the film’s biggest moment of hilarity! Before I saw the film, I had thought about including a disclaimer in this entry along the lines of “I cannot tell the difference between good singing and amazing singing — so I won’t be making any judgments on how the cast performs.” But then Russell Crowe opened his mouth.

Honestly, I don’t understand why they felt this movie needed innkeeper comic relief — didn’t they see the part where Russell Crowe was singing? It’s not like he was bad, it’s just that everyone else around him was so much fucking better, and also he wasn’t very good.

Also it turns out I can’t take Russell Crowe seriously ever since finding out that the name of his band is 30 Odd Foot of Grunts. I’m just saying, if you’ve been out-performed by cast members from a CBS sitcom on a daytime talk show, maybe you should rethink some life choices.

Otherwise, I found Les Miserables for the most part compelling and interesting — interesting enough, at least, for me to want to see the stage show, should an opportunity present itself. If only to get why everyone is so into it. The movie gave me a taste, but now I want the full meal.

That might be an inappropriate thing to say about a movie where people are literally starving to death. But that’s metaphors for you.

Love,
Liz

About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller, based in Los Angeles, is a writer for the screen and the web, her work including G4's Attack of the Show and the tech blog GigaOM. She also co-hosts the podcast Timey Wimey TV, contributes to the video curation site Here's Some Awesome, and tells her friend Frank about stuff at Liz Tells Frank.

Posted on January 8, 2013, in All the Spoilers, Movies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Funniest part: Hulk-strength as an identifier.

    Also, Eponine was way too foxy to pass as a boy. It was like that CLONE HIGH episode where Joan of Arc wears a mustache to join the boys basketball team.

  2. When I saw the Rent movie (having no exposure to that musical beforehand), I left the theater feeling like, well… RENT: The story of a plucky landlord and some assholes who won’t just go apply for work at the Radio Shack for some reason because they’re artists, man. And clearly if I was not meant to sympathize with the landlord, the production would not have cast TAYE DIGGS, because hi, you’re just too good to be true, can’t take my eyes off of you.

    In that spirit (and my only previous exposures to Les Mis being Katie Holmes on the Creek and every other alto who ever auditioned against me in a high school musical singing On My Own) … LES MISERABLES: The story of plucky, politically interested, ahead of her time, feminist but feminine Eponine! She totes has the hots for this dude who barely knows she’s there, but she’s basically totally helps him anyway, defying her parents, saving the girl he actually loves! Goes to battle in the French Revolution the Cylons planned and gets dies! Sings better than anyone in the movie! Shows more emotional range than anyone in the movie! Acts with her damn eyes not just when she’s crying! OMG AND WTF IS UP WITH THAT CORSET?! Eponine forever.

  3. That clip of Neil Patrick Harris and Jason Segel singing The Confrontation is priceless. Just priceless.

  4. Check this out for a good laugh. Russell when he was Russ Le Roq, pimply faced teenager wannabe. This is when he was that not so famous NZ singer instead of world renowned Australian actor. Lol!

  5. Can’t believe no one has told you it’s Javert! This is not SPAIN! Haha.

    This is the best review I’ve read of Les Mis. By far.

  6. Thank you for an intelligent, yet refreshingly B.S.-free review! Just had to add my two cents…first point being, that despite the clever ‘do, Marius’s hairline is receding. I’ll give him about another year before he has a baseball hat collection as big as my husbands’! Despite the freakish corsette, Eponine was way hotter than prissy ‘ol “blondie” and should have gone for that GORGEOUS leader of the Rebellion, Enjolias (admittedly I had to google this character’s name!) played by Aaron Tveit. Maybe the French Revolution was a bore, but I survived it by imagining running my hands through that man’s gorgeous head of hair! But alas I digress…

    2nd point: Sorry Russell Crowe fans, but IMHO, he was out of his league in this one. He was Les Miz’s barely tolerated “Ginger” to Hugh Jackman’s beloved “Marianne”! In all honesty, he stunk. He was actually bad enough to single-handedly kill off at least one Oscar Award for “Les Miserables “! What the hell happened to that studley dude who had me so hot and bothered in “Proof of Life”?! I also couldn’t take my eyes off that weird lump/cyst/wart thing between his eyebrows that seems to get more pronounced with age. It’s so distracting…you think he would have gotten that thing dug out by now with all his money!

    .

    • I too yearn for the days of Young Hot Russell Crowe. It really is a mystery, what happened there.

      I also admire your keen observations on the importance of hair. It really can’t be oversold, what a difference some nice locks make. :)

      Thanks so much for commenting!

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