When I was in high school, a friend from church gave my sister and I tickets to go see the Broadway musical “Les Miserables” at the big fancy theater downtown. We lived in a small town almost entirely devoid of art or culture, and it was the first time we had ever done anything like that. I still wonder why he chose us, of all the kids in the youth group. We had no idea the treat that was in store for us.
We came home absolutely in love with the big, sweeping, melodrama, bought the soundtrack, and learned every word. I mean it – every word. Our whole family fell in love with it, and bought the “Dreamcast” video, which we watched until we wore it out. As a family we became a bit notorious – if you hadn’t seen “Les Mis,” and you were coming over to our house, you were going to see “Les Mis.”
So I guess all that probably sets me up to be a poor reviewer of the new musical film, “Les Miserables,” except I also think, having seen it, that it’s made for people like me. I have no idea what it’s like watching this movie having no history with the Broadway musical; I can imagine hating it. But for those of us who adored it, and who want a film that gives us the songs, well-sung, and doesn’t try to shorten or shortchange the story (not that Liam Neeson nonsense that came out a while ago) this is an almost perfect movie. It’s big. It’s mostly well-sung (as well as you can expect from movie stars, who, after all, aren’t Broadway stars.) And it doesn’t cut anything out – not one word, not one note.
I waited to see it until I could take my wife with me, because she, also, loved “Les Mis” while she was in high school. (Oddly, she learned and loved the music without ever seeing the musical; she was a bit fuzzy on the story in places.) I took my wife because I wanted to experience with her, and because I knew that if it was any good, I would be crying, and I didn’t want to be crying in a theater all alone. It was good. I cried. A ton.
It’s the story of the ex-convict Jean Valjean, who broke his parole to start a new life, and Javert, the police captain that has vowed to put him behind bars because of it. It is an examination of the nature of law and grace. It is the story of Fantine, who has fallen from grace, and her daughter Cosette, who is saved by Valjean. Of Eponine, who loves from afar, and Marius who must choose between love of a woman and love of his friends, and his duty. It is unabashedly romantic, tragic, melodramatic. It never lets up, not for a moment. After two and a half hours, you will be exhausted, exhilarated inspired and crushed. It is the story of a life well-lived in a time when people still thought, and thought hard, about duty, and sacrifice, and what is really worth living for. It is a masterpiece from a different era. Don’t miss it.