By now if you have any interest in the new movie version of the musical Les Miserables, you’ve read a bunch of reviews already on much more legitimate websites than this one. And you’ve probably seen it for yourself already. So I really have no idea why you’d want to read another review, and yet, I feel compelled to write one. It’s not so much a review as it is my spontaneous thoughts on the movie.
First of all, you have to understand my relationship with Les Miserables. My parents took us to see a touring production of the stage musical when I was nine. That production was what made me fall in love with musicals. I was crushing on them pretty hard after seeing Cats the year before. But Cats just had a lot of awesome dancing and some catchy music. What little storyline there is, eight-year-old me didn’t understand at all. Les Mis is a whole other thing. It’s about love and (in)justice and social issues… I think my weakness for revolutionaries probably started with Enjolras. Twenty-three years later, minute details of the staging are still etched in my brain—it made that much of an impression.
Second of all, you have to understand how long I’ve been waiting for this. When I saw the musical in February of 1990 there was a blurb in the program announcing that in 1992 “She’s coming to the cinema”. It stated that a film version of the musical was in the works. Before anyone asks, no, I’m not talking about the 1998 non-musical film. In fact, when that one came out, I read an article about it stating that the movie version of the musical was still “waiting in the wings.” So for me this movie is over twenty years late.
Les Mis is simultaneously my first love and an old friend. I’m sure there was a lot of it nine year-old me didn’t get at all. Over the years, listening to the sound track over and over, I still notice new little things. Not things I was unaware of before, but I will suddenly notice how awesome something is. I know the show isn’t perfect, but I don’t want to think about its flaws. I’m blinded by love and nostalgia.
I’m aware enough of the power of that nostalgia that I was a little wary going into the film. As excited as I was, I knew I was going to have to let go of a lot. There would have been no point in making this big budget movie if it was just a video of the stage production. And while I would love to be able to watch the stage production any time I want, I didn’t honestly want the movie to be that. A quick glance at the running time reveals that a lot has been cut. And while I totally understand why that was necessary, the part of me that has listened to the three-CD soundtrack over and over didn’t want anything to be cut. Because every second is so amazing, how could you cut any of it? On the other hand, I was super excited about the cast, and forced myself to be open-minded about everything else.
The verdict: I love it.
To be more specific:
Hugh Jack-man, how I do I love thee? Let me count the ways… Is there anything this man can’t do and look sexy while doing it? There’s really nothing I can say about his performance that hasn’t been said. It’s rare in any medium to get a true combination of nuanced acting and great vocals, but Jackman does it.
By now, everyone and their mother’s brother has voiced an opinion on Anne Hathaway’s rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream”, but I suppose the universe won’t collapse under the weight of one more. I’m personally grateful they didn’t try to give us a more traditional performance of the song. That song’s been belted so many times it’s become cliché. The only Broadway song more overdone is “Memory” from Cats. Hathaway’s a good singer, but I’m not sure she’s a great singer. And this song has been done by a lot of great singers. If they had her trying to belt it like we’re used to, she would have been automatically been judged inferior. Instead they gave us something emotionally raw and ragged around the edges, just like Fantine was by that point in the story, and, in my opinion, it was far more powerful that way.
Russell Crowe’s taken a lot of flack for his lack of vocal ability, and while I don’t think those criticisms are off base, I feel like they might be overly harsh. First of all, I really didn’t see the flaws in his acting a lot of people saw. Yes, he looked stiff and awkward at moments, but… that’s Javert. And I think his vocals might not have sounded so bad if he wasn’t singing with Jackman in most of his scenes. If he’s been paired with more mediocre singers, his mediocrity would have been less distracting.
I’ll admit I was nervous about Sacha Baron Cohen as Thénardier because, to be honest, I don’t care for most of his work. But I actually thought he was great. Helena Bonham Carter was delicious as his wife, but I knew she would be. Over all the alterations they made to their parts worked for me—I liked them giving some of Thénardier’s part to Madame T, because it worked well. I’m a little sad they trimmed as much of the grave robbing as they did since I think it really drives home that as funny as he is, Thénardier is a deplorable human being.
Predictably, Éponine was always my favorite part of the musical. I thought Samantha Barks did a great job with what she was given. One of my friends complained she was too skinny and pretty to be a badass. While I do want to give her a sandwich, I thought the skinniness was appropriate for a character who doesn’t always know where her next meal is coming from. And while she’s beautiful, she’s an approachable kind of beautiful rather than a Hollywood type of beautiful. So I had no complaints there. But they cut and reordered a lot of her part which I think really reduced the impact of her character. “Little Fall of Rain” normally has me bawling, and because they only sang part of the song and removed the fact that she only got shot because Marius sent her to take a letter to the girl he chose over her, I didn’t think it was quite as heartbreaking. It did have my mother bawling though.
Speaking of Marius, a lot of people are seeing something in Eddie Redmayne that I missed. Mostly, I don’t find him at all attractive. Clearly this is a matter of taste as my facebook feed was full of “Mama like!”s directed at him. I also didn’t care for his voice. It has a weird quality that I didn’t really like. On the other hand, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” was the moment I really did fall apart, so clearly he’s doing something right.
Amanda Seyfried was less annoying than most Cosette’s, so I have no complaints there. One of my friends says she was singing outside her range. I didn’t hear it, but I know nothing about music, so it’s possibly true.
I loved, loved, loved everything they did with Gavroche. From his additional verses to Javert pinning his medal on him. Amazing.
Aaron Tveit was a perfectly fine Enjolras. He acted and sang well, and he was good looking. I just wasn’t convinced to follow him into a revolution. Coufeyrac, I found very tasty though.
I think my ultimate comment is probably this: A few days after I went to see it, my brother took his kids, including his almost eight year-old youngest to see it. He told me they all loved it, but that his youngest “got a bit emotional.” (His thirteen year-old son informed me that my brother got teary himself.) I really hope that this movie might have given her a bit of what the stage musical gave me when I was about the same age. I know there were a lot of things in there she didn’t understand, but maybe she understood enough of the magic to let herself absorb the rest in the years to come.