The film version of Les Miserables will hit theaters on Christmas Day 2012. I’m pretty psyched, especially after seeing the first trailer. I felt apprehensive about the casting of Anne Hathaway as Fantine, but she managed to break my heart with the first few bars of “I Dreamed a Dream.” I think this film will be a huge success, both critically and commercially.
Given the international excitement surrounding the film, this seems as good a time as any to admit that I’m not very fond of Eponine.
I feel like I’m committing heresy among Les Mis fans by saying that, but it’s the truth. Eponine, the international spokeswoman for girls crushing on their male best friends who swoon over the richer, more popular girl, has never moved me the way she’s moved many girls and women my age. I feel for her and I’m sad when she dies, but she’s never been my favorite character in the musical, and sometimes I feel bewildered by the amount of love Les Mis fans have for her.
I shouldn’t be bewildered. Eponine, after all, has the torch song for all teenage girls suffering from unrequited love, the show-stopping “On My Own,” sung here by the incomparable Lea Salonga.
It’s show-stopping, all right, because the plot of the play stops entirely in its tracks once Eponine opens her mouth.
Don’t get me wrong – I will never in my life pass up an opportunity to hear Lea Salonga sing. She is magnificent. But by the time “On My Own” comes around, the revolutionaries are about to fight in the battle of their lives, the battle that might determine the whole future of France, when the poor folk rally against the 1 percent and the Mitt Romneys – and the play has to stop so a street urchin can sing about the boy she likes who doesn’t like her back.
Of course, Eponine isn’t the only character who has the “pity me, my life is so sad” song. The whole play is a “pity me, my life is so sad” song. But at least Fantine in “I Dreamed a Dream” has problems other than “the boy I love doesn’t love me back.” Fantine sings, “The boy I loved didn’t love me back and he knocked me up and left me to support a kid all on my own, to the point where I’ll have to sell my hair and two front teeth and become a prostitute just to keep my daughter from starving.” (Based on the trailer for the Les Mis movie, “I Dreamed a Dream” will happen after Fantine becomes a prostitute – which, in my opinion, is a good storytelling choice. The song will be much more devastating if it happens after Fantine has hit rock bottom.)
And yes, I know that Eponine has more problems than “the boy I love doesn’t love me back, because he loves this other girl, even though she wears short skirts and I wear T-shirts, and she’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers.” She’s poor and her father is abusive and cruel. But she doesn’t sing about any of that. Her songs all revolve around Marius.
(To be fair, my indifference to Eponine might have less to do with the character itself and more to do with the fact that “On My Own” is one of the most overplayed songs in musical theater history. It’s a lovely song, but it’s the go-to-song for every girl who wants to impress the audience with her big pretty voice and gravitas. Case in point: Rachel Berry.)
Meanwhile, many Les Mis fans who love Eponine hate Cosette. Cosette isn’t as sympathetic because she’s spoiled and rich and doesn’t have many problems, at least not compared to the other characters in the play. Do the Cosette-haters remember that this spoiled, rich, privileged adult started off as a starving little girl who was abused and neglected by her foster parents? Who was also teased by her foster parents’ daughter – Eponine?
Maybe they don’t. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that the little bug-eyed Cosette who sang “Castle on a Cloud” turned into the wealthy, pretty Cosette at the end of the musical. The Forbidden Broadway parody of “Castle on a Cloud” includes this lyric:
“Lost in the labyrinth of this plot/you’ll be relieved when I get shot…”
Except…Cosette doesn’t get shot. She’s one of the only major characters who’s still alive by the end of the play. Eponine is the one who is shot. Could it be that the writers of Forbidden Broadway confused young Cosette for Eponine?
They wouldn’t be the first to make that mistake. When Samantha Barks was cast as Eponine for the upcoming film version of Les Miserables, my first thought (after “THANK GOD it’s not Taylor fucking Swift”) was, “I can buy her as Anne Hathaway’s grown-up daughter.” Then, a second later, I remembered that Amanda Seyfried as Cosette was playing Anne Hathaway’s grown-up daughter, and that Eponine and Fantine are not related by blood, not even a little bit.
Maybe the Cosette-haters are making the same mistake that I and the writers of Forbidden Broadway did. Maybe they conflate adult Eponine with young Cosette. It’s an honest mistake. They even wear similar outfits.
For whatever reason, I’m not a big fan of Eponine. She’s fine. She’s just not close to my favorite character in the show. She wasn’t even my favorite character in the book.
You know who is my favorite? Javert. Even as an eighth-grade nerd who occasionally pined for my own Marius, my favorite character was always the antagonist, the vengeful police officer who obsessively tracked down a fugitive for decades.
Maybe there was something wrong with me as a child. When I got the Les Miserables 10th Anniversary Concert VHS for one birthday, it wasn’t “On My Own” or “A Little Fall of Rain” that I watched over and over again. I fast-forwarded to “Confrontation” and “Stars” and “Javert’s Suicide.” I am very nervous about Russell Crowe’s ability to sing those songs, especially when I’m used to the amazing Philip Quast.