Sometimes it's a good idea to look again and admit mistakes
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
When I first saw the film version of Les Misérables I was expecting a dog's breakfast. The movie had been the subject of vigorous debate on Facebook among people who loved the show, hated it, loved the movie and hated it. Among the debaters were about a half-dozen I respected. My usual expectation when opinions are so widely varied is that when I will see the product being discussed, it will be a mess - an interesting mess, perhaps, but still a mess. In this case, my instincts do not allow me to invest, emotionally, in the work. I stand away from it and even though I am not reviewing it, the reviewer in me takes over; unlike a work I go into blind, I am not expecting that shiver of seduction.
And, yes, Les Mis was an interesting mess. However, I felt it was craft at its best, though some choices made by all involved (especially director Tom Hooper, actors Russell Crowe and Sasha Baron Cohen) were questionable. But, again, because I was not reviewing I did not think of it much more deeply.
But here's the thing...
I suspect Les Mis, Le Movie, is going to be the subject of debate for a long time
TMN started Les Mis this month and I watched it again. I was more engaged this time but, more importantly, I saw that - for the second time - my significant other (who does not like musicals and who, being francophone, could barely decipher some of the text/lyrics) was an emotional mess. By the time Anne Hathaway's I Dreamed a Dream came around and, later, when Eddie Redmayne rips your guts out with Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, we both didn't need the final death scene to be basketcases. For all its errors, there was something in this overstuffed mega-show that hits at a visceral level; for us and for many others.
I suspect Les Mis, Le Movie, is going to be the subject of debate for a long time, with people firming up or abandoning their original viewpoints.
That should be the nature of artistic discussion.
I have encouraged writers for this site to come back to a review and reconsider what they have written and even submit a second review if they felt the need. No one has taken me up on the offer yet and this got me to thinking about my own reviews over the years. It's been a long career and it's hard to think of specifics. I suspect if I read each one I'd find ways to tone them down or spice them up. I also suspect, with hindsight, I wouldn't have praised Phantom of the Opera quite so much had I known the pernicious effect - tuneless, saccharine gigantism - it would have had on the next decades of musicals.
But wrong? Yes, one recent one.
I have since watched Louis CK's concert movie Oh My God several times and like virtually all of his recordings (each of which I've listened to over 20 times) realize now this is truly good material. My original review was way off the mark. I focussed on dumb things like the audience (I still think in-the-round was a bad idea) instead of listening to how piercing the material was. His riff on women having to live with the dangerousness of men, or on the evilness in the hearts of even the most right-thinking of people are not just funny, but symbolic of what sets CK (and Patton Oswalt) apart from the mob: the stand-alone importance of the writing.
However, looking over all the reviews I have written over the two years of this site (and not the thousand or so I wrote since 1972) one wrong one is not a bad batting average. Sorry, trolls, no feeding today - however if there is something you think I, or any reviewer, needs to reconsider...see "Post a Comment" below!