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‘Les Misérables’, Or The Chairs That Ate Paris


Worth dying for?

WARNING: This post contains movies spoilers and is as long as the film.

Thanks, everyone, for the lovely feedback on my last post. You made me feel I’d done the right thing by telling you what was going on. But Life With Gusto needn’t be all doom and gloom and babies and spew, you know. Today I tell you about a movie I saw.

Last week when it was 45 degrees C in the shade, H and I went to see Les Misérables. The heat may have cooked my head a bit, but I feel like a slowly simmering brain was required to tolerate Russell Crowe as Javert, a role he played entirely without moving his arms. It was like he was doing it for a bet.

If you’re not familiar with the stage musical, Les Misérables is the tale of a man with three girl’s names – Jean Valjean – who was once in the slammer for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s son. While incarcerated, he drew the very persistent attentions of his gaoler, Javert. Once Jean is paroled, Javert devotes his life to bringing him down again. No second chances with this dude.

Jean, as predicted, returns to a life of crime and steals some stuff from a church – which, let’s face it, can afford to be stolen from – and when he is caught the priest launches a kindness assault on him and lets him off, thus forcing Jean to in turn devote his life to being good and kind to others. What a bastard.

Jean becomes the mayor of somewhere, which is handy because he seems to have adopted the alias Mr Mayor. He starts a sweatshop with seriously sketchy OH & S practices, and  some of his employees bully him into sacking Anne Hathaway for being a single mother and having really long dangerous hair in the workplace. Anne goes into the oldest profession in the world, at which she is probably not helped by her decision to sell her hair and teeth first. Then she gets sick and dies, but not before her old boss promises to find and raise her daughter. Good old Jean finds the little girl, who is being raised by a wicked innkeeper called Ali G and his wife Lucy Honeychurch, and buys her. There’s quite a bit of singing.

Then we skip to some years down the track. Jean is no longer going by Mr Mayor. His new name and profession aren’t revealed but his hair and outfit suggest he has gone incognito as a Tom Jones impersonator. He is living in a flat with Cosette, the little girl who is now the daughter from Mamma Mia. You still with me?

The world has now changed and France is on the verge of some sort of revolution that is all about chairs. A gang of young firebrands, including one rather fey chap with startlingly modern hair called Marius, decide to take all the chairs in Paris and make them into a huge heap, which they plan to defend with about six guns. They want the people of Paris to rise up and join them, but the people of Paris are all understandably confused and a bit pissed off about how they have to stand all the time now and while in the heat of the moment with everyone singing four songs at once they seem keen, come the morning they are nowhere to be found. They’re probably at Ikea replacing their chairs.

Jean joins in though, because he loves a bit of drama and also he wants to keep an eye on Marius Modernhair, who has fallen in love with Cosette. Javert spots Jean and decides to join too, but undercover because he is a policeman and should be on the other team. Unfortunately, he is immediately recognised on account of how he is their local policeman. Couldn’t have seen that coming, Javert? The rebels let Jean deal with Javert, and Jean lets him go. These two spend their lives catching each other and letting each other go. It’s very romantic.

There’s a tangential storyline going on about a girl called Eponine, who is in love with Marius but he only has eyes for Cosette. She sings out her grief in the rain, but you won’t pay any attention to the song because you’ll be too busy exclaiming ‘Jesus, look at her waist! That can’t be real. That’s done with CGI.’ Because seriously, this chick must have no internal organs. Eponine cops it on the barricade too, and we learn the lesson that it never pays to fall in love with a man with silly hair.

Marius also gets shot and Jean carries him into a sewer, which is not something I learned when I did a First Aid course, but maybe times have changed. They slosh about and run into Javert again. He lets them go, again, after a bit more singing through his nose. Then he decides he can’t take any more of this wretched kindness and leaps off a bridge, for which I cannot applaud him enough.

Marius has a bit of a weep about how all his friends got blown away by the cannons. He finds a bar where they used to drink, which still has a couple of chairs. Could these chairs have made the difference? Would his comrades be alive if only they had had these four chairs on the chair heap? He will never know. He sings a song full of irony called ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’. It’s very moving.

Marius and Cosette get married in a huge and lavish do, while poor old Jean slopes off to the church to die, presumably of some sewer-related ailment. They dash off to find him at the last minute, and are joined by the ghosts of the rest of the cast while he croaks his last song.

So that’s the story of the film. By and large, the singing is as good as Russell Crowe is wooden. It seems he can do only one at a time of facial expressions, nasal singing or arm movement. I think the role would have benefited from some of these happening simultaneously. Hugh Jackman as Jean is of course splendid; Anne Hathaway does some of the best on-screen expiring since Clare Danes blew spit bubbles out of her mouth while breathing her last in Little Women.

The music, I must warn you, will haunt your waking and sleeping moments, possibly forever. I still have the ‘Angry Men song’, as May Blossom calls it, running on a constant loop through my head five days later. As long as you like it, that’s okay, but if it’s not your cup of tea, God help you.

I gave this film three broken chairs.

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