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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Yes, Anne Hathaway's Fantine Is Really as Good as Everybody Says It Is

Posted by on Wed, Dec 26, 2012 at 10:26 AM

Back in another life, I dreamed a dream of writing Broadway musicals. And I actually got a bit closer than most: The Don Juan and the Non Don Juan, an ungainly-titled off-Broadway musical flop that opened and quickly closed in December 1991. You can read the bad review in the New York Times if you really want to rub salt in my wounds.

It wasn't a pleasant experience. Too many collaborators and too many internal disputes that ultimately led to my name being wrongly dropped from the book credit at the last minute. When I complained to my agent about the slight, he calmly asked me, "Is the book any good?" "No," I replied. "Then why would you want your name on it?" he wisely asked. Yeah, but still....

If you think politics is bad in politics, you've never seen the political machinations behind New York theater.

Of course, the memories aren't all bad, and one of my fondest is of the auditions—sitting in the back of a small room at the Vineyard Theatre, as a nearly endless stream of the most amazingly talented actresses competed for the four female roles in our crappy little show. Theater is a fickle business. One day you're workshopping Stephen Sondheim's Assassins, and the next day you're auditioning before a twenty-something unknown snot like me.

The hit musical Les Miserables had been running for about six years by that time, and between Broadway and London and the various touring companies, it seemed like nearly half the actors in New York had Les Miz on their resume. At one point, as a nod to this embarrassment of riches belting show tunes before us, I ironically scribbled on one of the audition sheets: "Ho-hum, another Fantine." Not all these Fantines were right for the role (we didn't end up casting any of them) but they were all incredible.

Well, I'm retelling this anecdote as a roundabout way of pointing to my review of the film version of Les Miz, a movie in which Anne Hathaway's Fantine is anything but ho-hum. There's been an awful lot of buzz about Hathaway's performance, particularly her heart-wrenching rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream," and I have to say that despite these high expectations, I was blown away. I've no idea who the competition will be, but I'd be surprised if Hathaway isn't the Oscar favorite for best supporting actress.

The rest of the movie, well, that's a matter of personal taste. I never really loved Les Miz, despite having seen it twice on Broadway and once in London. But if you love the musical, you'll probably love the movie. The performances are for most part strong, and the film is at least as emotionally relentless as the stage show. Bring your tissues.

But even if you don't generally like musicals, you might want to buy a ticket anyway, if only for the opportunity to see Hathaway give one of the greatest movie musical performances of all time. Really. She's that good. As a former aspiring lyricist myself, I can only dream of an actress giving life to one of my songs the way Hathaway transforms this sad, pretty ballad into one of the most moving moments I've ever experienced in a darkened theater.

(You can read my full review here.)


Comments (29) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
You're the film critic now? Lol. i'll look forward to your upcoming ballet and opera reviews as well.
Posted by ian on December 26, 2012 at 10:35 AM · Report this
Goldy 2
@1 We all get to review a film from time to time. I'm particularly proud of my review of The Lorax.
Posted by Goldy on December 26, 2012 at 10:50 AM · Report this
seatackled 3
I used to think Hathaway was overrated, but I've changed my mind in the last 12 months. Anyway, here's her in a bit with Samuel L. Jackson.…
Posted by seatackled on December 26, 2012 at 10:57 AM · Report this
Nope, you're wrong. I saw it too....and the way Fantine was introduced and suddenly ON was WAY too abrupt...It made no sense...she sure was overwrought (and over acting) but it made no sense -- it was just this odd bit thrust at you...I don't think I've ever been so bored at the opening of movie... SOMETIMES characters have to be introduced so the audience has a clue as to what they are up to.... I hadn't seen Les Miz before and was just lost...and Russel Crowe's wierd singing voice didn't help!
Posted by ruthw on December 26, 2012 at 11:00 AM · Report this
Rotten666 5
One of my darkest secrets is that I know every word to every song in Les Miz. I can't see it in the theatre due to the chance I will start blubbering like a moron and reveal my secret shame to the world.
Posted by Rotten666 on December 26, 2012 at 11:04 AM · Report this
Holy shit, thanks for linking to that review of your show! Having merited a review by the late Mel Gussow is an awesome accomplishment, no matter what.
Posted by gloomy gus on December 26, 2012 at 11:10 AM · Report this
@5 Now, that is a fan!
Posted by Brooklyn Reader on December 26, 2012 at 11:12 AM · Report this
Dr_Awesome 8
I give this review Three Mudedes, on a scale of zero-to-five Mudedes.
Posted by Dr_Awesome on December 26, 2012 at 11:17 AM · Report this
Goldy 9
@5 Well, if you have an HD TV and a decent sound system, then wait for the DVD and rent that. Three quarters of the movie is closeups of giant heads singing, so it should play well on a home theater setup.
Posted by Goldy on December 26, 2012 at 11:21 AM · Report this
Goldy 10
@6, Well, no disrespect to Gussow, but Frank Rich was the NY Times' main theater reviewer at the time, and I've always regretted that if I was going to get a bad review, that it wasn't from the master.

That said, we did get a nasty review from Clive Barnes, who by that time was writing for the Post (or the Daily News... I can't remember.)
Posted by Goldy on December 26, 2012 at 11:24 AM · Report this

Was the Vicki Lewis in your show the same Vicki Lewis who was later on NewsRadio and in that discombobulating Kurt Vonnegut adaptation?
Posted by d.p. on December 26, 2012 at 11:44 AM · Report this
Goldy 12
@11 Yeah, same Vicki Lewis. Very funny actress and a very funny person. Also, has a great singing voice.
Posted by Goldy on December 26, 2012 at 11:51 AM · Report this
@10, I don't think by '91 Rich was bothering with off- or off-off-Broadway much. And Gussow had the sharpest eye around for new talent, so if it's any comfort you did get the benefit of the best major reviewer available.
Posted by gloomy gus on December 26, 2012 at 12:03 PM · Report this
Goldy 14
@13 Yeah, Gussow was who we thought we'd draw. Rich was mostly just Broadway by then. But if you're going to be savaged, it would have been nice to have been savaged by one of the best.

That said, I don't think Gussow's review was unfair. Ours was a show that was much better in workshops than it was when it opened. It simply got overworked.
Posted by Goldy on December 26, 2012 at 2:23 PM · Report this
Wow, @12. New York Theatre is a strange parallel universe.

I've long wondered: how did you ever wind up in Seattle, anyway?
Posted by d.p. on December 26, 2012 at 2:38 PM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 16
I'm intrigued.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on December 26, 2012 at 2:42 PM · Report this
Goldy 17
@15 Love. That's how I ended up in Seattle. I met my future ex-wife in NYC, and she was a Seattle native. When we were ready to get married and leave NYC, she dragged me out to Seattle.
Posted by Goldy on December 26, 2012 at 2:58 PM · Report this
I really don't know Les Mis so I thought "Anne Hathaway's Fantine" referred to a zine about Hathaway put out by fans. Hence I was completely confused through this whole review. So does Fantine have a Fanzine? Also, should I have another glass of wine?
Posted by Alice Dreger on December 26, 2012 at 3:52 PM · Report this
Daddy Love 19
So is someone paying for your tickets? You saw a show twice on Broadway and once IN LONDON that you "don't love?"

or was it something, "Well, Skippy and Muzzie wanted to go and everyone else was bored with the Hamptons, so we thought we'd take a flyer..."
Posted by Daddy Love on December 26, 2012 at 3:53 PM · Report this
Daddy Love 20
I thought "Fantine" was some sort of dirty slang. I mean, I like her Fantine too, if you know what I mean. (I know you know what I mean)
Posted by Daddy Love on December 26, 2012 at 3:57 PM · Report this
Goldy 21
@19 I don't remember the particulars, but I doubt I personally paid full price for any of the tickets. When in London I always picked up discounted tickets at the half-price booth, or at the box office just before show time. In NY, it was either half-price or a family visiting from out of town or both.

I probably saw the London show of my own accord, and then saw it in NYC with family.
Posted by Goldy on December 26, 2012 at 4:17 PM · Report this
Hey Goldy - just want to say I really appreciate the unbridled, unironic appreciation of a popular artist in a big populist undertaking. It is way easier to tear such a performance down than promote it, and I admire the willingness to admire the art, even if it is popular. So non-hipster of you. Very old school Seattle, even for a transplant. Made me interested in the movie - cheers.
Posted by DawginExile on December 26, 2012 at 4:25 PM · Report this
Sandiai 23
I thought that too, @18.
Posted by Sandiai on December 26, 2012 at 4:32 PM · Report this
Yes, she was extraordinary. The way she was filmed was relentless - a tight closeup of her filthy, bloody face - and still she held the audience captive for the full length of the song. The grief in her voice and her eyes was heartbreaking as she sang a difficult song utterly believably. There was no divide at all between the technique and the emotion. That performance was high art - and something that could only be done on film.
Posted by Bloix on December 26, 2012 at 7:07 PM · Report this
Free Lunch 25
Singing in a musical is different from acting. It's as different as silent-movie acting is from talkie acting, in that an exaggeration of emotion and gesture is not only accepted, it's required.

Anne Hathaway's overacting is legendary. Her White Queen in Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" is a slow-motion car wreck of exaggerated gestures, facial expressions, and inflection. I'd hate for her to be rewarded with an Oscar for the very flaw that should keep her 10,000 light years away from one.

It's like when Jerry Lewis was nominated for King of Comedy for portraying a narcissistic asshole. Yeah, that was a stretch. Whoever cast him is the one who should have been nominated.
Posted by Free Lunch on December 26, 2012 at 7:24 PM · Report this
Ah, yes, Goldy @17.

That sounds familiar to this Jew from Massachusetts. How many times over the years have you told everyone you know here that you're giving up and going back?

Unfortunate tangent: Wikipedia-ing Vicki Lewis in search of her theatrical resume taught me that she was married to Nick Nolte for a decade. Not sure I needed to know that.

And Alice Dreger @18:

This thread is thriving on corollaries and digressions. So please, drink to your heart's content!
Posted by d.p. on December 26, 2012 at 7:36 PM · Report this
WFM 27
Fuck all the cynics and poseurs. I'm a middle aged bald techno nerd who isn't in to musicals, and Les Miz blew me away. Never read the book or saw the play, never heard any of this cast sing before. And I thought the performances were fucking fearless and comitted and amazing.
Posted by WFM on December 26, 2012 at 11:51 PM · Report this
delirian 28
@25: The problem with Hathaway is that she has a limited range. But when she is in her range, she can be amazing. Her best performance was in Rachel Getting Married for which she played a drug addict and completely nailed it. I can't think of anyone who could have done it better. I'll have to see Les Miz. to see if she is as good as everyone is saying, but honestly, I wouldn't be surprised.
Posted by delirian on December 27, 2012 at 3:15 AM · Report this
attitude devant 29
27, to paraphrase Pauline Kael's review of West Side Story, my heart always sinks when someone says, "I don't usually like musicals but...." It's not the ringing endorsement you folks seem to think it is.
Posted by attitude devant on December 27, 2012 at 8:57 AM · Report this

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