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Looking for misery? ‘Les Miz’ is just the ticket

Tue., Jan. 15, 2013

Not feeling lousy enough about how rancid and rotten the world can be, I decided to get really depressed by seeing a musical Sunday night.

It wasn’t the song-in-my-heart mood I was aiming for, of course.

See, I’m a longtime lover of musical theater and unashamed to admit it. Back in high school I played trumpet in the orchestra pit for shows like “Oliver” and “The Music Man.”

And no trip to New York City is complete without attending one or two musicals like “Wicked” or “The Book of Mormon” or “American Idiot” or …

But none of these experiences prepared me for the new movie version of “Les Miserables,” featuring Anne Hathaway and, you know, that Wolverine dude.

Many of you out there loved it, I’m sure.

Far be it from me to harsh your mellow, but I left the theater feeling like I’d spent the last two-plus hours being waterboarded in an Iraqi dungeon.

Now, I knew going in that “Les Miserables” lacks the happy toe-tapping quality of, say, “Mary Poppins” or “Bye Bye Birdie.”

First off, the title’s a giveaway.

For you less-literate folks, “Les Miserables” is French, meaning literally: “Life Blows Chunks, Oui, Oui.”

The story is about the human condition around and about the time of the French Revolution, which, by all accounts, was no birthday bash at Chuck E. Cheese.

I saw “Les Miserables” on Broadway several years ago and found the music brilliant and the story quite moving.

“Les Miserables” the movie, however, does to Broadway what high-def did to television.

The differences can be boiled down to …

On stage, the grime and grief are conveyed in less-graphic, more artful expressions that require your imagination.

The movie offers giant, sharply focused close-ups of Hathaway’s nasal drippage.

And that comes after Hathaway has had her long and lovely locks lopped off by a cruel crone.

She even sells a couple of her molars during her sad, song-filled slide into the depths of degradation.

Then comes “I Dreamed a Dream,” an achingly beautiful song about all Hathaway has lost.

It was one of my favorite moments in the play.

Except in the movie, Hathaway delivers the tune with such realistic, down-in-the-gutter despair that my attention kept shifting from thoughts of killing myself to praying …

“For the love of God, won’t someone toss this poor creature a Kleenex?”

I haven’t seen such blubbering since the last John Boehner speech.

This isn’t the only place where reality gets in the way.

Take the moment when Wolverine, who plays the redundantly named Jean Valjean, falls with a resounding plop into the Paris sewers.

I’m perfectly capable of imagining what’s floating around in a sewer, whether it be Parisian or Post Fallsian.

Detail-obsessed director Tom Hooper obviously didn’t want to leave doubt in anyone’s mind.

The viscous chunk-ridden Crap River he created is – at times – up to Wolverine’s snout.

And another horrible thought came to mind.

Given that Hathaway actually sacrificed her real hair for her role, I wondered if the entire cast all pitched in to load the sewer with authentic, Paris-worthy poo?

Thank goodness the movie industry has yet to achieve Smell-O-Vision technology.

My worry is that “Les Miserables” will change movie musicals the same way that “The Wild Bunch” changed movie westerns.

Before “The Wild Bunch,” westerns were mainly horse operas with villains falling bloodlessly over when they took a bullet.

Then director Sam Peckinpah showed up to add killings in graphic slow-motion detail, blood spouting like geysers, bodies tumbling akimbo.

Will musicals continue in this direction?

Well, don’t bet against “Les Miserables” on Academy Awards night.

If there’s anything Hollywood loves, it’s run-amuck sentimentalism and actors who will go to the most self-debasing extremes for their parts.

And whether you love it or not, “Les Miserables” is already paying off for Hathaway, who just the other day won a Golden Globe.

Not to mention a lucrative advertising deal with the makers of Benadryl.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or


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