Les Miserables Taught Me How to Hate Again

***Repost from December 28, 2012. I’ll be back to posting new blogs on Tuesday, August 6.

Last night I went to a showing of Les Miserables. And when I say “went to” I mean “hogtied and dragged at gun point by my wife, her sister and her mom”. By the looks of many of the other men in that crowded overheated theater, I was not the only hostage victim in attendance. In fact I saw one dude commit Hara-kiri while shouting “death before dishonor” in the parking lot prior to the screening. At first I thought he was slightly overreacting. And then the movie started.

I have to say, after watching the entire film, it was actually a thousand times worse than I could have imagined. Les Miserables will stand forever as the most miserable cinematic experience I’ve ever suffered through. And this is coming from a guy who saw “Christmas with the Kranks” in theaters, so that should tell you something.

Let me run through a few points about this excruciating horror show for anyone, especially any man, who has not yet been forced to endure it.

Les Miserables apparently holds the Guinness world record for longest musical about a minor parole violation. It tells the utterly pointless tale of an ex-con as he tries to elude a bumbling parole officer for 20 years. This is also, it should be mentioned, the first film to show two decades pass by in real time. So if you’re heading to the theater tonight make sure to pack a change of clothes. My wife told me afterward that the movie, despite its torturous running time, actually CUT OUT several scenes from the original play. Too bad they didn’t cut out more scenes. Like every scene. Of course it didn’t have to be that long. Hugh Jackman, the criminal guy, could have just, you know, MOVED OUT OF THE FREAKING CITY IF HE DIDN’T WANT TO BE CAUGHT. Instead this whole game of cat-and-mouse between Jackman and Russell Crowe takes place in one neighborhood. The dumbest criminal of the millennium vs. a law enforcement officer that makes every Leslie Nielsen character look like Sherlock Holmes in comparison.

Oh. But it gets worse. Much worse. They sing. Dear God do they sing. They sing EVERYTHING. Look, I know it’s a musical. I get it. I’ve seen Fiddler on the Roof and The Sound of Music and West Side Story. They sing in those films/plays also. But then they break up the musical numbers with normal dialogue. But that’s just too simple and not nearly irritating enough, according to the maniac who wrote this tornado of crap. Every single line in the movie is sung. It doesn’t matter how pedestrian the dialogue, they have to put it to music: “Pass the salt”, “Hang on I gotta take a leak”, etc. All put to song. My sister-in-law cried throughout the whole movie. I cried tears of blissful joy when Russell Crowe threw himself off a bridge at the end because it meant he’d finally stop singing. BUT EVEN THAT DIDN’T STOP HIM. All the dead people had to come back before the credits for one last encore. By the way, Crowe, you’re the guy who played the gladiator but now you will live in infamy as the most awkward casting decision in Hollywood history. You reminded me of someone’s dad who was tossed into the school play at the last minute after his son came down with laryngitis on opening night.

But let’s talk about the “big” musical numbers. You don’t need to buy the soundtrack. I’ll sum up every song in the movie. Here you go: “I’m so lonely, I’m so alone, look at me my life is hard, I’m alone, I’m on my own, there’s this empty chair here, it’s empty because I’m alone, I’m lonely, all this bad stuff has happened to me because of my inexcusably stupid life choices, I’m alone, I feel so alone, on my own, on my own, on my own, did I mention I’m on my oooooowwwwwn?”

Not a dry eye in the house after we heard that one. For the 40th time.

Vapid, shallow, predictable, self indulgent and emotionally manipulative. “BUT IT’S A CLASSIC!” No. No it’s not. Who cares if the play has been around for a while? Malaria has been around for a while. Just because something is old doesn’t make it a “classic”.

And I haven’t even mentioned the fact that half the characters in this flick– which is set in France — have an inexplicable limey British chimney sweep accent. That would make sense for Mary Poppins but not this. Incidentally THAT’S a musical I’d sooner watch 5 times in a row before being subjected to another 3 minutes of Les Miserables.

Then, two thirds of the way through the movie, we get the obligatory tragic love story. Here’s how it goes: a young French revolutionary spots a blonde chick across the street. The two lock eyes and literally THAT NIGHT the dumb desperate loser is singing about how he’d “die for her”. Really? And I’m supposed to become psychologically invested in a plot device that has just reduced the beauty, joy, pain and sacrifice of romantic love to something you can catch like a cold or fall into like a puddle? I know Hollywood has been peddling that nonsense for ages but this was simply too much to cope with.

To make matters worse we’re all supposed to be super impressed because the songs (and by “songs” I mean “every single word uttered during the course of the entire picture”) are performed live instead of being recorded in a studio and dubbed into the film. “GEE WOW I’M SO ENAMORED WITH YOUR ARTISTIC INTEGRITY”. Is that the reaction I’m supposed to have? I don’t know because my initial reaction was something like “Man, this sounds awful”. Instead of lip syncing pre-recorded songs, the actors sputtered out of key while choking back tears and gasping for breath. It was like listening to someone sing karaoke while being chased by a swarm of African killer bees. Coincidentally, that is the actual premise of a reality show on TruTV. Except that show likely has more depth and intelligence. I don’t care if the “let’s do it live” move was “revolutionary”. Not all revolutions are good. Just ask France.

I could go on. But I won’t. I hated Les Miserables with a violent passion. Let’s leave it at that.

And at this: my wife now has to watch four mob movies, three war movies and two History Channel documentaries with me.

That’s the exchange rate.

Sorry, honey, I don’t make the rules. But I will enforce them.

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35 Responses to Les Miserables Taught Me How to Hate Again

  1. I am laughing so much that my husband had to actually read the blog to see what was so funny and he will now definitely sign up because you have saved him from a fate worse than death and he likes you already. :). He will reference you before he goes to see any movie with me in the future. This movie is now off my list of wanting to see this. I admit, I had my doubts and thought about seeing it but no more. I am a believer.

  2. Colleen says:

    I want to thank you for your blog. I recently started following you and I am enjoying your writing very much. It’s like that voice in my head that says what I’m actually thinking has been liberated! I was feeling totally frustrated with my kids and no one was enjoying my company today. Apparently all I needed to lift my spirits was to read your thoughts on Les Mis. Despite being a chick I hate that flick! Before I caved in and saw it my teenage daughter asked me if I wanted to see it. I said, “hmm, I’m not sure . . . That play is so depressing.” She responded, “ya mom, everyone is miserable. It’s in the title!” So you see, we were forewarned! We just didn’t know they meant the audience!

  3. Tina says:

    Hollywood completely ruined this play/musical for me. It was horrible.

  4. Right Wing Nutter says:

    It was disappointing compared to the stage opera (that’s what they call singing all the dialog Matt, so quitchurbeliakin). The Brit stage production, though magnificent, was disappointing compared to the book. Or books. Les Miserables is five books. The fact that Brits first produced the play and thereby set the “feel” of the piece accounts for the various English accents. Or would you rather have everyone try to fake French accents? accents. Or French with subtitles? Hinting at class differences of other societies by using accents associated with equivalent British classes is a decades old movie trick. Again, kwitchurbeliakin.

    You’ll get no argument from me that Crowe was a breathtakingly bad choice for Javert. They had to cut Valjean’s confrontational line “I’m the stronger man by far” simply because Wolverine and Maximus are so closely matched. Any actor who is cast for that role needs to convey monomania and overweening self righteousness. The power of Javert is not in his own physicality, but in the cruelty of the State and society he represents.

    By contrast, the Thenardiers were well cast in the context of the play. The play doesn’t do their degeneracy justice in the context of the book.

    And it all does come back to the book. The base line story. This is a story of Christ’s love and grace and redemption made real in an ordinary man, the Bishop who gets such short shrift in the movies and plays. This love, grace, and redemption is propagated through Jean Valjean, a petty thief and parole violator whose misfortune is to live in a place and time where such violations really could eat up half a man’s life. That love, grace, and redemption are in turn passed on to a dopy kid who gets seduced by some half baked revolutionaries and a girl who would otherwise have followed her mother into death from pneumonia or other disease for which no treatment existed.

    It’s a morality play on the power of Christ’s love to redeem lives in the midst of one of the worst societies produced by a collaboration of venal men and Satan up to that time.

    So when I sat through the movie, I filled in the back story in my head. I sighed at the parts casted and performed poorly, and wiped my eyes at the bits of performance worthy of the original. The original is free through the Gutenberg Project and worth the read. Although, if you manage to read it straight through and not leave it for awhile and come back I’ll stand a salute you. It’s a formidable work, especially when you consider it was written longhand with a quill pen.

  5. Andrea says:

    My husband and I went to see this movie because everyone I know was raving about it. Keep in mind, I really hate movies that end sadly. Somersby, Titanic (didn’t see that one coming), anything with Mel Gibson…but everybody was raving…ugh! Peer pressure! Still! At 41! And you’re right, there was too much singing. I loved Phantom of the Opera and it was all singing, but this was just too much. I may be one of the few women of the world who isn’t raving about Les Mis. Mental note: sometimes people are raving because they are lunatics. Wolverine 2, now that was a good movie!

  6. My husband and I went to see this movie because everybody I know was raving about it. Keep in mind I hate tragic endings like Somersby, Titanic (didn’t see that one coming), anything with Mel Gibson, the news. And you’re right, there was too much singing. I loved Phantom of the Opera, but this was just.too.much! I wanted to like it because everybody else was raving and…ugh! The Peer Pressure. Still. At 41!!! Mental note: next time everyone is raving keep in mind they might be lunatics! Wolverine…now that was a good Hugh Jackman movie!!! (What can I say, married for 22 years and two teen boys.)

  7. Michael Cabell says:

    My brother-in-law said “There is no way anyone with a heart you can make it through this movie without crying.” Boy, was he right. I was crying tears of excruciating pain just minutes into the film. I thought the opening song was just that– for the opening–but it didn’t stop….it never stopped. I actually left the theater, made some phone calls, and came back only to find it was not even 1/2 way over. The pain. The horror. No wonder they named the movie, “The Miserables” because friends, IT WAS MISERABLE.

  8. Ellen Keyes says:

    Can’t stop laughing and couldn’t agree more. I only wish I had your mind and way with words so I could express my disdain as well as you have!

  9. I can sympathize with you Matt. But bless you for going (even at gunpoint) with your wife to see it. I went with my teenage daughter. We did enjoy it but it IS long. But I would never dream of subjecting my husband to it. He would have been bored beyond napping. I learned that if I expect him to sit through a musical or play. 1. he must know the story. 2, It must be upbeat music and 3 it can’t be more than 2 hours long. If it does not fit those parameters then I go with the girls and have a blast because if he is miserable…so am I. You’re a true blessing to your bride to sit through it.

  10. Thank you for inspiring even more to not see a movie that I was already not going to see without a threat of dismemberment.

  11. KimberlyKay says:

    I loved the movie, but I laughed until I cried reading this. I even read it to my daughter and we both just lost it!

  12. Helene says:

    Thank you for reposting this. I really think it’s the funniest item you’ve ever written (or at least since I’ve been following you). I needed a really good belly laugh today!

  13. Mich-in-French says:

    A hilarious response – now my husband says he has more than enough backing not to sit through this one and after reading this – I agree – he is off the hook! Thanks I needed a laugh today!

  14. Lara says:

    I agree with you, I had high expectations for this one but was very disappointed. However, I do think the story is a very good one. If you watch one of the older movies, I think you might like it more. I know the premise seemed ridiculous, but that’s how life can be…self-righteous people terrorizing others for making poor choices in life (of course, there’s a difference between stealing something and killing someone) and ironically, ruining their lives. Anyway, this article was hilarious. I really hated this musical too.

  15. Calvin says:

    I am going to a Les Mis broadway production tonight. Funny that I found your post. I enjoy your work.

    I think Les Mis is an amazing story of redemption and reality and I love the music from the play. With that said, the movie was horrible. It was over-sung and dark. I hated the singing. Hated it. Not just the singing that should have been talking, but the botched broadway songs as well.

    I have waited almost a year to get that taste out of my mouth. Can’t wait for tonight!

  16. cindy arms says:

    Oh. My. Gosh! I had a big ole’ belly laugh over this blog! …and thanks to Right Wing Nutter for the Cliff Notes version…I’ve neither read the book or seen the movie….but I will now, despite Matt’s review…and I’ll be remembering it throughout!

  17. Chipper says:

    Oh. My. Word. I haven’t laughed so hard in well…I don’t know. I canceled my gym membership because I now have abs of steel from laughing so hard. True story.

    The version with Liam Neeson is a 1000 times better- no singing whatsoever. So you can actually pay attention to the story and not the blasted singing. Thank goodness I didn’t waste my time seeing this version of Les Mis.

  18. Jerri Jordan says:

    I guess you realize why I actually slept thru most of a Broadway production of Les Miz!

  19. Kelsey says:

    I’ve been working my way through the book for the last couple months, and I think it’s worth pointing out that it actually avoids several of your complaints. I’m a fan of the musical (though, ironically, I’ve never seen the whole thing, just the big anniversary concerts), and I did not enjoy the new movie at all.

    The complaints you make about time–Marius falling for Cosette instantly, Fantine going from “employed” to “dead” in probably a week–and space–the whole story taking place in one neighborhood–were actually introduced in the musical and exacerbated in the movie. In the book, everything takes a very long time to develop, and Valjean moves to different cities and neighborhoods when it’s needed. This makes it slow reading, but much more true to life.

    An example: Marius doesn’t go to the barricade due to a sudden change of heart or a deep patriotic passion. Instead, he learns that after months of secret courtship, Cosette is about to have to leave for England. Her dad is dragging her away and won’t even say why, or how long they’ll be gone. So Marius goes to his grandfather (his father died years ago) and asks for permission to marry. When that is refused him, he figures he’ll never get to be with Cosette, so he goes to the barricade specifically to get himself killed. Oh, and this encounter was the first time he’d seen his grandfather in months, and Marius leaving angry again gave the old man a heart attack and killed him. There’s just so much more to the story than anyone could hope to cram into a play or a movie.

    All in all a fantastic book. I highly recommend it if you’re in the mood for a long project.

  20. After the movie I just decided to converse with my husband for the rest of the night with the same non-melodic singing for my every comment and reply to his normal dialogue. He said “are you done?” I sang…”No, I am nooooooot!” (and I can sing opera). It was fun. I think I will start up again when I get home just from reading this post. ;D

  21. Christina says:

    I love “Les Mis”, but I thought this was hilarious, & most likely accurately described the reaction of most men. I love your sarcastic writing style. So funny!

  22. You’re more than welcome not to like it, but you should get your facts straight. It’s not a standard musical. A musical is a stage play or film with musical numbers interspersed with “normal” narrative story telling and spoken dialog. Les Mis is a “sung-through” musical, and in form it is much closer to opera. Spoken dialog is converted in a musical technique called “recitative.”

  23. dachs_dude says:

    Oh how I looked forward to “Les Mis” on Broadway. I had heard, “I Dreamed” from Neil Diamond and couldn’t wait. Finally, I get a play about a guy to lazy to find a job so he “steals a loaf of bread”. Excuse me, but this college educate viewer, who at the time was under-employed and driving a livery car while looking because, any job is better than no job, just could not understand why this guy just didn’t get a gig sweeping sidewalks, or painting houses or recycling manure. The singing was great, but God, the story stunk.

  24. Jenny says:

    I love your blog…except for this one lol. The musical is awful. I bought the movie/musical and was GREATLY disappointed. The book is the most amazing book I have ever read. The musical is nothing like the book. The musical shows nothing about these wonderful people who suffer their entire lives and yet continue to go on. Marius does fall in love with Cosette but over a very long period of time. Its not in a day. The bishop, oh how I love the Bishop(The pope reminds me of the Bishop), is probably my favorite character after Jean. There is no greater model of what Christianity is suppose to be besides Jesus lol. And yet he got two lines. The characters in the book stay with you and their stories become a part of yours. The musical does the book such an injustice. I don’t even understand how anyone can be touched by the musical when it has been ripped of all the details that make it this incredible story.

    If you ever have the time I would encourage you to read the actual book. It is absolutely nothing like the musical.

  25. AP says:

    Never saw the musical or the movie version of the musical. The book wasn’t so bad though. I liked the book. But I almost always like the book better than the movie.

  26. I liked it more than I expected when I went to see it, but Matt’s right. It was a bit too long, especially considering I ran out of popcorn during the commercials and soda in the first half hour.

  27. Lisa Reynoso says:

    I saw an older version of the movie. One that wasn’t a musical. I thought it was nice. I’ll bet the book is too (though I read another of Victor Hugo’s books, and it was rather tedious, and I’m a notorious bookworm). But I bet I’ll never get around to seeing the musical. Thanks for the warning!

  28. Such a prolific writer!! Wow. I thoroughly enjoyed this post, Mr. Walsh, not to mention your other writing. You have such a gift for ranting… (still chuckling)

  29. I loved this movie so much. But I love your blog post so much, too. hahaha.

  30. Emily says:

    I find it so odd how you get hundreds of responses to your posts about parenting, politics, and culture, but when you talk about art, only 34 people respond. So I have to say as loudly as I can that you are completely wrong, and Les Miserables is a wonderful movie! But I can forgive you, because most of your other stuff is pure gold. Now I am going to go YouTube Les Mis songs just so that I can sing along and cry at how beautiful and sad it all is.

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