Sacha Baron Cohen's Thenardier: An Observation

darquegk
Broadway Legend
joined:2/5/09
Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but the film's interpretation of the Thenardier character has me intrigued, especially with the heavier influence of book elements into the narrative's backstory.

First, we see a Thenardier who is a dedicated con artist and impostor, rather than the pseudo-Fagin character established in the stage show as a lower-class local sleazeball well known to be up to no good. This Thenardier (like the one in the book) assumes different characters for himself three times: "Monsieur Thenardier" the upper-class French innkeeper, the unnamed-in-the-film beggar "Jondrette," a poor beggar, and "Thenard" the nobleman at the end. Onstage, Thenardier is much less likely to bother with disguising himself at all- he is simply a shady character throughout, and even his "Thenard" is not exactly different from his Thenardier.

With this in mind, let's look at Cohen and Hooper's conception of the character. First, the French accent that "Monsieur Thenardier" assumes in public. Since he is the only character with a French accent, this rubbed some people the wrong way, yet I see clear intent in this choice. If Thenardier assumed a different British accent, it's entirely possible that non-British speakers, confronted with a film full of so many variants on the Queen's English, could have missed the dialectic cue to class distinctions. By putting on a somewhat pretentious French accent, we get the sense that Thenardier is pretending at being rather higher than he is. This is conflated with his assumption of a much lower-class "cockney" character voice as "Jondrette" during the Robbery. Onstage, Thenardier tends to speak like this the whole way through, as his game-playing is heavily diminished and he tends to be played as dim-witted. Note that when the "mask" is off, Thenardier's voice is a rather icy middle-class British dialect, neither an aristocrat nor a street rat.

Finally, the curious detail of his curly red hair, to which much attention is drawn (by the end of the film he has even attempted to dye it, somewhat poorly). Given the things we know about Thenardier- his penchant for role playing, his pathological lies, and his background as a deserter and grave robber at the battle of Waterloo, I saw his red hair and slightly Irish features as a subtle insinuation that the man we call Thenardier was at Waterloo after all... but fighting for the opposite side.

Am I reading too much into this, or does this make sense?
beensince1987
Stand-by
joined:2/3/11
Is it true that he pees into the wine bottle before he serves it to customers? I haven't seen the film and don't really have desire to... but sounds disgusting


sabrelady
Broadway Legend
joined:5/16/03
Yes but that's an old bit. Rowan Atkinson did it much better in "Black Adder". ( well Baldrick did anyways)
Words that confuse censors:Fecund,penal,taint, titmouse, cockatoo,coccyx, ballcock, cockeye, prickly,kumquat, titter,cunning linguist, insertion, gobble, guzzle, swallow, manhole, rimshot,ramrod,come, fallacious, lugubrious,rectify,Uranus, angina, paradiddle,spotted dick,dictum, frock,cunctation, engorge,turgid,stiff, bush, uvula, crapulence, masticate, Dick Butkus, gherkin and of course the always bewildering lickety split. As you can see, context is every thing. Chuck Lorre Addendum: 555 382 5968 "Sexarama, Hexarama, Queeriosis, Feariosis!" Alec Baldwin
trikaraokeidol2
Swing
joined:5/17/06
Yup, he pees in the bottle and when I saw it the second time, I realized he accidentally drinks from it at the end of his song. Made me laugh.
The Dark I Know Well
Swing
joined:3/14/07
Thought his performance was so pushed and you could see him scrambling around in scenes trying to be funny. Throwing himself into the mud in the sewers when it wasn't really called for and filling any silences with little responses that just undermined any comedy that had been created. Especially after the button at the end of some of the songs, he just couldn't help himself. Anyone I know that was in master of the house scenes, hated every minute.
Phyllis Rogers Stone
Broadway Legend
joined:9/16/07
It's cool that he got to direct his own scenes, as you seem to be implying.
finebydesign
Broadway Legend
joined:7/17/07
I liked him a lot in it, but it really feels like a bit part here. I'm surprised you were able derive all that from his performance the film. If the actors studied for these parts or did some method acting, the movie didn't show it to me.


I liked the movie, but from a story-telling perspective it felt like a lot of characters were left in just to sing their songs. I understand they are plot devices but in the Thenardier's case I didn't get the sense they treated Cossette any different than anyone else. Sure they were shaking down her mother but after JV picks up Cossette they don't matter anymore. Well, other than when they tip off Russell Crow. My point is, they should have been meatier roles or axed.

Concerning the French accent, I thought it was just for funny it doesn't seem to stick either. I may be mistaken, but that is the only "French" style song in the piece.
Gothampc
Broadway Legend
joined:5/20/03
My advice is don't say anything bad about anyone's performance, because you will immediately have twenty people ridiculing your opinion and accusing you of eating Christian babies for lunch.
If anyone ever tells you that you put too much Parmesan cheese on your pasta, stop talking to them. You don't need that kind of negativity in your life.
CarlosAlberto
Broadway Legend
joined:6/29/10
ONLY Christian babies? That's discrimination!
newintown
Broadway Legend
joined:3/3/10
Some get accused of baptizing heathen babies and then eating them, too.
CHOOKA2
Understudy
joined:12/2/12
I missed the show stopping aspect of Master of the House that it did every night on stage.99% of people seeing this movie and knowing the score look forward to this one piece of brightness amongst all that gloom.If that fvvving camera had just stayed still and filmed a good old knees-up bar-room hoedown,then it just MIGHT have worked-even with those 2.
finebydesign
Broadway Legend
joined:7/17/07
Right it is a showstopper, but make it more integral to story. Here it felt like a commercial break.
TBFL
Featured Actor
joined:2/1/11
The schtick with the bottle has been in the London production for years.

I liked his french accent and made sense that he wanted to appear far more refined than he actually was, it was the other regional british accents that annoyed me.
michellek45
Leading Actor
joined:5/20/11
I thought his French accent was his "con man" accent. If I recall correctly, he only used it when he was trying to scheme people. I think the Waterloo bit is reading too much into it. Overall, though, I didn't like SBC's portrayal because it was too comedic. My mother said she felt like she was watching a different movie when he and HBC were onscreen, and I think that's a perfect description. He and HBC (as well as 90% of stage versions) play the part like he's a good-natured con men who is a hoot to be around, when in the book he is a thoroughly unpleasant man and probably the closest thing the book has to a clear-cut villain.
broadway guy
Broadway Legend
joined:8/5/11
I liked Sacha and I think he made it his own,but i wish he went for a more sinister outlook. Whenver he was on screen I felt like he was a harmless villain out of scooby doo,not a dangerious conman. I didnt feel danger when I should have
GavestonPS
Broadway Legend
joined:6/10/12
darque, I haven't read the novel (yet), but you seem to know it well. Given that, your analysis of Thenardier makes perfect sense to me.

I also agree with those who found the Thenardiers overly mannered and not very amusing, but that has nothing to do with the choices darque has enumerated.

Good work, Mr. D, imo!
darquegk
Broadway Legend
joined:2/5/09
Not even Jeremy Irons or Tim Curry could have gone much darker with the character- simply because the musical doesn't give much chance to- as soon as the character is onstage, he becomes something of a clown with very little threat. His nastiest moments are still present in the film- they're just unable to stop being comic relief.
SporkGoddess
Broadway Legend
joined:7/27/05
I've always been bothered by the stage portrayal of the Thenardiers, like michelle45 said, as good-natured, humorous conmen. They're terrible people--at the end of the novel, Thenardier becomes a slave trader.
Jimmy, what are you doing here in the middle of the night? It's almost 9 PM!
Updated On: 1/16/13 at 10:30 PM
scripps
Stand-by
joined:10/30/06
"Given the things we know about Thenardier- his penchant for role playing, his pathological lies, and his background as a deserter and grave robber at the battle of Waterloo ..."

Sure, I know those things about Thenadier because I've read the novel and have seen Master of the House performed on stage, but the film cuts out any recitative concerning the fields of Waterloo, so as a first time viewer to the material via the film, how are you supposed to discern that Thenadier is a nihilistic bottom-feeder rather than feeble comic relief?
GavestonPS
Broadway Legend
joined:6/10/12
^^^Maybe his robbing of his guests was a clue?
Phyllis Rogers Stone
Broadway Legend
joined:9/16/07
I don't know if I agree 100% with what darquegk says about the performance - and I've never successfully read the book - but I liked what he had to say. Sacha Baron Cohen was a highlight of the movie for me, and I did find the turned on French accident jarring, I got that it was him turning on the act. But I love Sacha and accept I am biased in my belief that he can do no wrong and would never deny it.
GlindatheGood22
Broadway Legend
joined:7/17/07
I never thought there was anything good-natured about the Thenadiers. They're like the whores - seasoned survivors, just a little more comedic. Which brings me to my question - is Lovely Ladies supposed to be funny? Something about it makes me incredibly sad.
I leave the room smiling.
Phyllis Rogers Stone
Broadway Legend
joined:9/16/07
Glinda, I was thinking about that the other day. In the movie, Lovely Ladies is horrifying. She loses her job, shaves her head and rips out a bunch of teeth, then is basically forced into sex slavery. I felt bad for the bloody jaw alone. And then she has to do it in a coffin!

Updated On: 1/17/13 at 12:19 AM
PattyO'Furniture
Stand-by
joined:8/12/04
Thenardiers = "seasoned survivors"

I'm astounded by how well that describes them and explains their behavior (and so many other people in this world). What an excellent phrasing, GlindatheGood22!
D2
Broadway Legend
joined:12/3/06
That isn't "mud" in the sewers.
Cheyenne Jackson tickled me. AFTER ordering SoMMS a drink but NOT tickling him, and hanging out with Girly in his dressing room (where he DIDN'T tickle her) but BEFORE we got married. To others. And then he tweeted Boobs. He also tweeted he's good friends with some chick on "The Voice" who just happens to be good friends with Tink's ex. And I'm still married. Oh, and this just in: "Pettiness, spite, malice ....Such ugly emotions... So sad." - After Eight, talking about MEEEEEEEE!!! I'm so honored! :-)
once a month
Broadway Legend
joined:4/16/04
Loved the film, but unlike the stage musical, was disappointed in Master of the House. It just seemed too over the top for me, a caricature straight out of a cartoon.

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