Movie Review: Les Miserable

I was quite relieved when it finally ended. It’s not that it’s a bad film, quite the contrary, it’s just that there was too much singing within a 2.5 hours time-frame. I’ve never seen a film-adaption of a musical (or theatre production?) where the characters sang in place of what I think were supposedly spoken, mundane dialogues. It was hard to catch words here and there, which contributed mainly to my displeasure of watching it (while freezing in the cold). There were moments where I heard myself begging, “Please don’t sing… Don’t sing! Not another song!” The sequence of different song numbers can get exhausting and tedious to listen and watch to. But I guess that’s what you should expect from a film-adaption of a musical. I also felt that the characters lacked development and depth. I’m not sure if that’s how it’s supposed to be or whether they took that off from the original play’s narrative.

In saying that, there are many plus sides of the film. Above all, the actors are surprisingly good singers (I didn’t know Wolverine can sing!). The emotions expressed by the characters are only heightened by their singing, stunning backdrops and the skillful face-front (though lengthy) framing of their facial expressions. This particular technique of framing the faces while the characters sing and belt their lungs out is drama you won’t see in theatre. One particular unforgettable scene that does this remarkably well is where Fantine (played by Anne Hathaway) sings about her tragic circumstances and the dreams and hopes that she have. It’s just one of those tear-jerker moments. And it’s not just all heart-wrenching melodrama! Two characters provide the needed comic relief with playful, joyful music and the revolutionaries with brave and empowering battle chants and songs, which is a nice break from all those sad songs. Fantastic cinematography and costumes as well!

I’m not familiar with the plot before seeing this, and so I can’t talk about how well the film captures the narrative of the original play. However, it is a moving story of hope, redemption and love that no one can go wrong with. If the last musical film that you’ve seen was Mary Poppins, it’s time to visit the movies. Les Miserables‘s musical element and its excellent execution really set this film apart from the rest. And if you left the cinema singing one of the film’s song number in your head, then it has very well worked its charm.

I give Les Miserables 7.5/10.

The Good, The Wicked and the Misunderstood Witches

It was the first theatrical performance that I went to. The show is called Wicked and it focuses on the lives of two witches before Dorothy and her dog dropped in in the land of Oz. And what really happened in Oz. The production has won many awards and I was one of the many people privileged enough to watch their show.

I’m not here to write the entire plot of the show. That’s not nice, that’s not fun. I think there are people out there who have done that. Instead, I would like to share one aspect of the production’s success which is the exploration and journey on the theme of friendship. One of the many things the show has shown me is that true friendship, the kind that’s loyal, bold and understanding, does amazing and magical things.

Popularity has a lot to do with how comfortable your experience is in society. We are judged by how we look, our mannerisms and how we act in front of others, our values, interests and what we are into. And with popularity comes the support of the community. Every action taken ripples and inspire many. However, we are all victims of circumstances. It does not discriminate. When we are caught in it, it’s all too easy to place the blame on someone else. We can stay in our cozy little bubble, running away from it, or stand our ground and let it change us for the better. It’s all good until one little undesirable accident tarnishes your reputation and everything is at risk of falling down. Suddenly, you are scared of being pushed to the back of the crowd.

Society runs heavily on first impressions – the first-encounter judgement. It manifests in the shop fronts and their clothed mannequins, resumes, the first day of school or work, our profile pictures. We encounter so many people in our lifetime that we can only afford to spent more time on those who made a good impression on you. Unless we are put in a position where we have to spend some time with them, they make you uncomfortable or do not provoke your interest. If the book cover has a boring title, has no interesting illustrations in it or is really thick, it goes back on the shelf. The book stays on the shelf, collecting dust, until the day someone makes an effort to read it, unraveling great and marvelous stories no one has heard before.

Glinda is blessed with beautiful, curly blonde hair; glowing, beautiful skin and a charming demeanor while the other witch, Elphaba, despite apparently scoring fewer points in the ‘looks department’ (which in my opinion, is questionable) and being socially awkward, is blessed with intelligence, strong wit and moral will. They will later be known as the Good Witch of the North and the Wicked Witch of the West respectively. If you remember what happened near the end of the children’s story Wizard of Oz, this may sound like bad news to you. The unpopular kid had it worst while the popular, social butterfly goes unscathed. This may also sound like good news to you because we all know and want the ‘evil guy’ to lose. We all know that the emerald-skinned witch is evil. Because the book says so. But what we are never told are why and how did she come about being evil. What if she really wasn’t ‘wicked’? What if both the wicked and good witches were bestfriends up to the point when Dorothy clicked her heels and returned magically to Kansas?

Glinda and Elphaba are two personalities thrown together into one cauldron, both having something good and bad to offer to the result. These two polar personalities bubble and sizzle as their lives are stirred together in the heat of circumstance. The air of ‘first impressions” and ‘popularity’ rises, the smell of ‘ego’ and ‘discrimination’ hangs in the air. Elphaba finds her voice and sacrifices the popularity she has learned from Glinda and the acceptance she has gained from her latent talent over to her moral beliefs and values. Glinda still has her feet planted in her comfort bubble, fearing the backlash of her popularity, as she struggles to support her friend who has decided to step out of it. More stirring and the violent bubbling of the concoction eases down as each personality lets the other’s strengths overpower and make up for their weaknesses. Glinda has learned how to use her popularity for good and mustered the courage to speak up for justice and against discrimination. Elphaba has learned how to forgive and accept herself and consequently see both the beauty and imperfections behind the fancy, embellished facades of others. Both witches has become stronger than they were – stronger than the demons that weakened and harassed them. Together, they achieved more than each can achieve alone. It’s the marrying of strengths to weaknesses that gives the concoction its potent effect on others and the society. True friendship is bold, loyal and understanding.

I heard a song and it brought back memories of a show – a show about the triumph of friendship over discrimination and injustice. And this is what the song provoked me to write and share about.