Our writer dreams a dream of making her boyfriend like musical theater.
I am an enormous musical-theater person. My boyfriend of four-and-a-half years, Alex, is not. He doesn't know the difference between Stephen Sondheim and Stephen Schwartz (though he does know that one of them reportedly has a sex dungeon in his basement). He thinks Rodgers and Hammerstein is one person. And while he can deliver a rousing, note-perfect rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone," he does not know it as the second-act showstopper from Carousel, but as the song that Liverpool FC supporters sing before home games at Anfield.
Although I love musicals, I don't really try to foist this interest on Alex: all I ask is that every once in a while, he accompanies me to a summer stock production of Guys and Dolls, or lets me put Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat on Spotify while we're having sex. Yet for Les Miserables, I made an exception, demanding that he see the movie with me on opening night. I pretty much expected him to loathe it with every fiber of his being. Yet after the credits rolled, I was surprised to hear him whistling "Master of the House" as we left the theater. Could it be that Les Mis converted my boyfriend into a jazz-hands-waving theater freak?, I wondered. I decided to interrogate him to find out.
E: So you liked it?
A: I liked it, yes.
E: I can't believe you liked it! I'm so surprised.
A: I know, I'm surprised too. I was bracing myself for the worst.
E: Why is that?
A: Because of what you told me about it. That it was sung all the way through. That neither Amanda Seyfried nor Anne Hathaway got naked in it. When you told me that I was like, "Why are we seeing this movie?" But I'm glad we did.
E: Because the kinds of movies you generally prefer are, like…
A: Taken, Taken 2, The Grey. Pretty much anything with Liam Neeson killing people…
E: In The Grey he doesn't kill people. He kills wolves.
A: …and musicals are generally not on my list — the melodrama, the taking of serious moments and turning them into song-and-dance. But I kind of overcame that seeing this movie.
E: I'm so happy you liked it. I looooved it. But they would've had to seriously fuck it up for me not to have loved it. I've loved it since I saw it on Broadway for the first time, when I was like, nine, and immediately after the first act I made my grandmother buy me a "24601" T-shirt at the souvenir kiosk and I wore it to bed every night at summer camp.
A: Really? You're cool.
E: I still have that shirt somewhere. I'm going to find it and bedazzle it and crop it and slut it up and wear it out with you at parties.
A: I would hate that. Please don't do that.
E: I might. I guess we should start talking about Anne Hathaway, because that was the biggest selling point to get you to see this with me.
A: Yes, she's tremendously hot. And she was hot in this.
E: Even though she was bald and destitute and tuberculosis-y?
A: Well, they obviously tried to make her look like shit, but there's only so much they could do because she's Anne Hathaway. Her boobs looked wonderful in that corset thing. I was waiting for them to spill out the whole time, but that didn't happen, sadly.
E: I've seen them before, though.
A: What? You've seen them? How?
E: Alex, we've had this conversation, like, four times. Every time, I've Google-image-searched her tits for you, and every time, you talk about how great they are.
A: I remember now. But I may need to refresh my memory again at some point.
E: Did you like her voice in "I Dreamed a Dream?" Should I even ask?
A: No, I wasn't really listening. But seriously, I thought she did an adequate job, but that song seems very vocally demanding and she wasn't quite strong enough a singer to really pull it off.
E: Yeah, that's basically what I thought. That song is such a musical-theater standard that you really have to raise the bar and bring something new to it, and she didn't quite do that. I feel like I saw fourteen-year old Fantines at theater camp that blew her out of the water.
A: I'm sure. But like I said, she could've burped the whole song and I wouldn't have cared.
E: What about Amanda Seyfried? I know you're a big Amanda Seyfried fan, but she reminds me of those American Girl dolls I had when I was little and I just want to brush her hair and dress her in a frilly Victorian nightgown.
A: She's really hot, but the love scenes with her and Marius made me want to vomit a little. The love-at-first-sight thing — it's such an enormous cliché.
NEXT: "You don't believe in that? You don't think we fell in love at first sight?"
E: You don't believe in that? You don't think we fell in love at first sight?
A: No, I don't think anybody does. When we first met I stared at your boobs the whole time. I fell in love with your boobs at first sight. But I didn't even know you.
E: I fell in love with your glasses at first sight.
A: You did?
E: Yeah, I was really into dudes with glasses and at that time you had that big floppy John Lennon hair and little nanny glasses. And now you have a completely different pair of glasses, but I still like you. I think that's how love works — as your partner grows and evolves and changes glasses, you keep falling in love with each different pair. You find new things to love about them and their new glasses.
A: Very nicely put. Pithy.
E: But yeah, I hated the love scenes with Marius and Cosette too. Especially because Marius — he had a good voice, but he looked like a carrot. Like a cross between a carrot and a glass of milk. Like a carrot bobbing in a glass of milk.
A: That one scene where they meet at the gate to their house —
E: "A Heart Full of Love."
A: I swear I saw a butterfly on the wrought-iron gate that they were reaching their hands through, like a Disney movie or something. That was gross.
E: She looked kind of like a glass of milk too. When they saw each other on the street for the first time I thought, "Oh, great, the milk people are breeding."
A: It's true. I had no investment in their happiness whatsoever.
E: So what parts did you actually like?
A: I liked Hugh Jackman. I could listen to him sing for a while.
E: He was great, wasn't he? Russell Crowe kind of sucked.
A: He couldn't sing at all. His voice sounded like a whispery fart.
E: My problem was less his voice, which I thought was kind of cool in a rock-y way, and more the fact that he just looked like he didn't want to be there at all. And I've got to tell you, I was surprised by how un-hot he and Jackman were.
A: Well, Valjean wasn't supposed to be a stud or anything. When he escaped from the chain gang he had that shit beard for a while, with all that food stuck to it. All that shit food and dampness and all this moisture in his beard.
E: Ew! I didn't notice that. I just thought he looked like an artisanal beer brewer in Bushwick or something.
A: I also didn't like Marius's facial hair. I thought it was annoying that he had that cultivated unshaven look. Like that day-and-a-half of almost translucent stubble during the barricade scenes.
E: Dudes derive a lot of enjoyment from critiquing other men's facial hair.
A: I liked his pretty-boy revolutionary buddies. Actually, those scenes were my favorite parts, the revolutionary numbers, like "Do You Hear the People Sing?" and "Red and Black." I was stirred by them.
E: Because you like politics and history —
A: — because I like politics and history and it was interesting to see the revolutionary mood captured in this production, the whole "liberte, egalite, fraternite" thing.
E: And violence, don't forget that. There were some good battle scenes. Nothing as elaborate as in Taken when Liam Neeson shoots the guy on the boat through the porthole, but still.
A: No, I would've been astounded had they met such lofty standards. But the violence was pretty good. The standoff at the barricade. The scene where they shoot Marius's friends. There wasn't much blood, so it stayed very PG and kind of theatrical. But I don't need to see blood and guts to enjoy violence. I don't need the visceral images — I just like the sentiment.
E: You like implied violence. You just want to know that someone, somewhere, is getting hurt very badly, and you're satisfied.
A: This is making me sound like a sociopath.
E: Yes, kind of. But those themes of revolution — do you feel like they had "real world social resonance"?
A: Not when you say it like that. And put it in air quotes. You're horrible.
E: Sorry. Did anything else strongly resonate with you, personally? Like, I know you didn't like the romantic scenes with Cosette and Marius, but what about Eponine and Marius?
A: No, not really. That's one of my problems with musical theater — I don't think it's an appropriate venue for dealing with strong emotions like love without coming across as sappy and melodramatic. It's too reductive a medium for that.
E: I don't think it's reductive at all — or I guess I think it's reductive in the best sense. A ballad like "On My Own" just simply and beautifully encapsulates what unrequited love is like. It's not verbose or clever — she just belts out a couple of notes and the audience knows exactly where she's been and what she feels like. Actually, when I was watching that scene, I remembered something from the initial stages of our courtship. It was the summer before we got together and we were friends and do you remember I went to that party at your friend Cameron's house and you were —
A: — I was too stoned to talk to you?
E: Yes, and I interpreted that as a lack of interest on your part. I was walking home and it was drizzling and I stopped like a block away from my house so I could stand on the street and listen to Steely Dan on my headphones. And I just stood there for like twenty minutes, because I was so sad. I couldn't bring myself to go home. I just wanted to stand there in the rain and think about how sad I was.
A: See, that's a little lame to me.
E: Why is that lame?! You don't think it's sweet?!
A: I mean, it's really sweet, but I don't want to, like, see that in a musical. I mean, I'm sad that you thought I wasn't interested, and that that caused you pain —
E: — well, it doesn't cause me pain anymore, 'cause now I know you'd already fallen in love with my boobs and you were just waiting for a moment to properly express that.
A: And at that point, I'd already fallen in love with you.
E: [makes cooing noise]
A: But I don't get that through snippets of songs sung together. It doesn't move me.
E: So in conclusion, did your enjoyment of this movie increase your opinion of musical theater in general?
A: I mean, yeah, I guess. I'd definitely be more likely to consider seeing a musical now, after seeing this movie, than I would have before. The songs were good and the story was complex and — I think it just comes down to the fact that Les Mis a good story. There's a lot of meat and substance to it. Otherwise I don't think it would be so popular.
E: Do you realize that I consider this an enormous triumph on my part, and will hold it over your head until the day you die?
E: Should I buy you the t-shirt with 24601 on it?
E: Would you wear it in public?
E: Would you wear it in private?
E: I'll take that.