I don’t go to movies very much. Over the last 10 years, the majority – no, make that all – of the movies I have seen at a theater have been ones my children have wanted to see, or ones my husband and I thought they would enjoy seeing.
Over the recent Christmas break, my 14-year-old daughter said she wanted to see “Les Misérables,” a musical based on the novel by Victor Hugo, published in 1862. The novel is considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century, even though it’s 1,400 pages – divided into 365 chapters. “Les Misérables” has been popularized through many stage adaptations and films, but especially through the long-running stage musical that premiered in London in 1985.
OK, parents … think along with me here. A musical? Just over 2 1/2 hours long? Based on a book published 150 years ago? Are you thinking blockbuster? Yeah, me too.
Some quick research gave me the story line. The tale begins in 1815 and culminates with the 1832 Paris Uprising, or June Rebellion. The novel follows the lives of several characters, focusing on the struggles of ex-convict Jean Valjean and his redemption.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve got to be thinking, “Really? What kid wants to see this movie and what parent is fool enough to take them?”
I invited my soon-to-be 16-year-old son to come along and the three of us set out for the theater. My son wasn’t especially excited about the movie choice, but I suppose he decided popcorn, a soft drink and an afternoon out of the house was a fair trade.
If you aren’t familiar with the story of “Les Misérables” and the cast of the current film, here’s a brief breakdown.
Hugh Jackman plays Jean Valjean, a Frenchman released from prison after 19 years for stealing bread for his starving nephew, and for his failed attempts at escaping. (He was sentenced to five years for stealing the bread; the additional 14 years were for the attempted escapes.)
Russell Crowe is Javert, the prison guard who releases Valjean on parole, promising him a hard life and likely return to prison.
Many people turn Valjean away, refusing to let the ex-convict sleep in a barn or field, refusing to give him anything to eat or drink. He finally is offered food and shelter by the Bishop of Digne, but during the night he steals the Bishop’s silver. He is caught by the authorities, but the Bishop says the silver was given as a gift and orders the police to release Valjean. Deeply moved by the Bishop’s grace and generosity, Valjean vows to start an honest life under a new identity and breaks his parole. Javert later becomes a police inspector who dedicates his life to finding Valjean and imprisoning him again.
Eight years later, Valjean has become a factory owner and town mayor – a respected, fair and honest man. Fantine, played by Anne Hathaway, is one of his employees. Her coworkers discover she is sending money to some innkeepers to care for her illegitimate daughter, Cosette, and they force the plant foreman to fire her and toss her out. Her life takes several tragic turns and she ends up asking Valjean to care for her daughter.
I can’t share more without giving away too much of what follows. And after having watched the film, then talking about it with my teens, I have to admit it’s too good of a movie for me to spoil it for you.
Just after we left the theater, my son said he didn’t expect to enjoy the movie, but surprisingly he had really gotten into it. He posted a message on his Facebook page encouraging all his friends to go see the film.
My daughter wanted to get the soundtrack that day – the music really is that enchanting. (Here’s a heads-up about the soundtrack: Skip the “Highlights from the Motion Picture Soundtrack” that is tied into the film. Several key songs are not included. I purchased the original London stage soundtrack, based on reviews from others who bought it. It’s awesome, just awesome.)
We’re talking about seeing it again. We’ll probably also watch the 1998 film version starring Liam Neeson as Valjean, Uma Thurman as Fantine and Claire Danes as Cosette.
If you have the opportunity to see the current film on the big screen, go. The cinematography is outstanding, the music is captivating, the whole thing is worth your time. Include your teens. You – like me – might be pleasantly surprised.