Monday, January 7, 2013

"Les Miserables" Loves Company

If ever there was a novel, musical and movie more perfectly named than "Les Miserables", I don't know of it.

Everybody, EVERYBODY in this flick is horribly, horribly miserable. Men, women, kids, pets, even the WEATHER is miserable. Whatever spark of hope that flickers is repeatedly snuffed out with all the senseless cruelty of a strapping six footer tripping a dwarf.

The hero, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), he's miserable. And no wonder. The guy has been in the joint for years for the unpardonable offense of feed a starving child. He's finally paroled and decides to make a run for it. He's relentlessly pursued by policeman Javert, played by a recently slimmed down Russel Crowe. Javert is not miserable in the pychological sense; he's just a miserable person.

Next up is Fantine (Anne Hathaway). Now, she's really miserable. She's been seduced and dumped by a man and left preggers too boot. She toils in a factory and secretly sends money to pay for child care. When this is discovered, Fantine is fired. With no other options, she becomes a hooker and sells her hair, morphing into Justin Bieber. Talk about misery! When a john roughs her up and Fantine fights back, SHE'S sent off to the joint. She warbles a song about how shitty her life has become and promptly dies.

Then there is Cosette. She's Fantine's daughter and is badly mistreated by her foster parents. She's totally miserable, as well as dirty, hungry, cold and worked like a punch press. Luckily, Jean Valjean rescues the tyke and vows to raise her as his own. He feels responsible for her mom's death and...oh, never mind.

Years pass and life in Paris just gets more and more miserable. After being kicked to the curb by her parents, a street waif named Eponine (Samantha Barks) is befriended by a handsome idealist named Marius (Eddie Redmayne) who is, thank God, not one of the Jonas Brothers or a member of One Direction. She falls for him, but Marius loves the now grown up Cosette (Amanda Seyfried). This makes Eponine miserable and causes her to warble a ditty about she's unloved and alone and basically miserable. Poor kid! As bad as things are for Eponine, it could have been worse--at least for the audience: Taylor Swift was apparently in the running for this part! The horror, the horror...

Meanwhile, things just keep getting even more miserable. Finally, the poor and repressed band together, erect barricades and vow to fight for their rights and dignity. A hopeful sign? Are you nuts? The police come and shoot everybody and miserable Eponine takes a bullet for Marius. Then Marius gets hurt and Jean Valjean saves him and drags him through the sewers and, oh, its just too miserable to describe.

Ready for a big finish? Jean Valjean sings one final song and appears ready to die, but he revives, then appears to be a death's door again and then rallies and then is finally welcomed into Heaven by Fantine. The poor starving masses are still miserable, but the flick is over and Russel Crowe didn't split his pants so "Les Miserables" ends on a upbeat note...I think.

Now, I know author Victor Hugo intended his massive tome to open peoples' eyes to the horrors around them and possibly motivate them to right these wrongs. But is a musical really the best type of format for this story?

I suggest a reworking of "Les Miserables" and it goes like this:

Jean Valjean is indeed arrested for stealing bread, but because it's glutten free bread, the charges are dropped. He also makes an impassioned speech before the judge, talking about how the poor and repressed are being needlessly punished, while real crimes are being ignored. The judge, who is up for re-election, listens to Valjean and decides to lead a clean-up of the penal system in France. He hires Valjean as his spin doctor and bread prices are lowered for the poor.

Fantine is dumped by her cuddlemate, but she tracks down his wealthy family. They are aghast that their son would treat anyone as pretty as Anne Hathaway so rotten, so they vow to support her and her child. Fantine learns to read, gets a law degree and writes tough new legislation that forces men to support their children and not prey on vulnerable young women.

Eponine, after being kicked to the curb by her parents, is discovered singing on a street corner and earns a scholarship to a fancy music school. She becomes an opera singer, marries a famous conductor and has a "Biography" special dedicated to her. Her life story later becomes a movie starring Taylor Swift.

Javert realizes the reason he is so nutty over Valjean is because he hates his job and has always wanted to be a singer. So he quits the police force, changes his name and spends the rest of his days singing for Thirty Odd Foot of Grunt. They later win "France's Got Talent".

So what do you think?

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