Les Misérables

lesmizI now know why the 99% movement never really went anywhere: aside from not defining exactly what they were protesting, they also didn’t have a kick-ass theme song. The tiny French revolution (not the Big one) that takes place in the movie Les Misérables is no better organized than the tent cities that sprang up around the country during the heyday of the protests, but when the boy-band-cute revolutionaries start harmonizing on “Do You Hear the People Sing?”, the unwashed crowds can’t help but join in. That song makes you want to overthrow the government and thrust your fist in the air. Future revolutionaries, take note!

Les Miz has finally made it to the big screen and it brings with it the dilemma shared with any popular source material that is filmed – does the filmmaker try to satisfy the millions of fans of the stage production or try something completely different and trust that people who have never cried for three hours through the original will come to see the movie because it has Wolverine in it? Director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) tried to hedge his bets and do a little of both, the result being a mishmash of both styles, some successful and some not.

The technique garnering a lot of attention is the fact that the actors are singing live, wearing an earpiece that feeds only a piano into their ears. The seventy piece orchestra is added later, giving the singers more freedom in their interpretation of these classic songs. The result is that many of them begin with a talky recitation that eventually morphs into a full-blown song, as if this will somehow convince the non-musical lovers that this is not a three-hour musical they are about to sit through. I realize that this added to the realism of the story, but I got that aspect of the director’s intent when he kept showing close-ups of the filthy, downtrodden poor with a variety of skin diseases and oozing sores as they sang “At the End of the Day”. Never has there been a dirtier cast on film, a theme that runs throughout the movie until Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) endlessly drags Marius (Eddie Redmayne) through the sewers of Paris to save him, both of them covered in shit. I’m not sure I need quite that much reality in my musicals.

I will go against most of the major critics who are predicting a Best Actress nomination and say that I really disliked Anne Hathaway as Fantine. I am a fan of Hathaway, but I prefer that character to be nobly tragic instead of crazy-eyed and desperate while she shaves her head and has her teeth pulled out. (Did they do that in the stage version? Why would someone buy her teeth? Those crazy French!) Many of the songs are shot in very tight close-ups and this technique started to unnerve me; I really wanted the camera to pull back and at least settle on a medium shot. Les Miz has been known to wring tears from grizzled old veterans who have not cried since Vietnam, but Hathaway’s rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” did nothing for me. The realism that the director was looking for completely took me out of the story. And casting Russell Crowe as Javert must have seemed like a great idea on paper, but they should have reconsidered as soon as they realized he sang like Elvis Costello and looked like he would have rather been back in the lion’s den in his gladiator skirt.

I actually liked the film once Fantine had gasped her last chorus (#spoileralertshedies!). Hugh Jackman was an admirable Jean Valjean, and the cute if somewhat misguided revolutionaries were stirring and powerful as they filled the gutter with the spilled blood of their failed uprising. The “One Day More” montage worked remarkably well on film and the Marius/Cosette/Eponine entanglement showed those Twilight bitches how to work a love triangle. I was quietly sniffling by the end, as was most of the theatre, but I never felt emotionally invested enough to sob openly for hours as the stage production has always made me do. Note to X-Men fans: Hugh Jackman has regular hands in this movie.

BARF BAG RATING: ZERO BAGS Although the crawling through the shit-filled sewers with open wounds might be enough to activate your gag reflex.

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2 Comments

  1. great review…. should we wait for Netflix?

    • Depends on how invested you are in the musical. I love the show and couldn’t wait to see it, and I think the panoramic battle scenes will lose a lot on the small screen. But if you’re not that enthusiastic about it to begin with, i would wait. The close-ups probably won’t seem so intrusive on a TV.


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