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Les Miserables

I want to start off my review to address a problem with going to the movies nowadays, people who see films without knowing anything about them and then are audibly confused/disappointed throughout the entire movie. I had it happen to me a number of times and it always annoys me. This includes people who take children to really graphic movies only to have to hurry the crying child out of the theater when things get too intense. How hard is it to read about the movie you’re going to spend close to $15 dollars on? I had been looking forward to seeing Les Miserables for a while and was anticipating bawling during the many emotional songs but kept getting distracted by a group of teenagers who were obviously not expecting so much singing and so much sadness, and were giggling during all the most touching parts. Really distracting! Sigh, rant over, for now.
While there is a large cast with many plotlines, Les Miserables mainly tells the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackson), a man who served 19 years of hard labor after stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving nephew. This troubled past hangs over his head and prevents him from finding work, so he creates a new identity and becomes a successful businessman. However Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) is determined to find him and bring the parole jumper to justice. Their paths cross throughout the years, but Valjean has more than himself to worry about as he adopts the daughter of a woman who was reduced to prostitution after being fired from his factory (Anne Hathaway). As the girl grows up she wants more than the life of hiding she has known for so long and falls in love with a young revolutionary.
Movie musicals tend to be a hard sell in the 21st century and director Tom Hooper made some bold choices that makes the film harder for one not familiar with the musical to get into. One being that the actors all sang live while filming instead of recording their performances and lip-syncing them later. With the amount of singing that goes on in this film (almost every line of dialogue is sung, with many 2 or 3 exceptions, it’s more like an opera than a musical) it would have been annoying to have to lip-sync that much, but it leads to rawer performances and while many will appreciate the emotion that goes into every number, there are many (like the teenagers sitting next to me) that will find the actors’ singing faces awkward and funny. We’re not sure to people putting their all into a song and the results are not always pretty. I was just about to let the tears flow during “I Dreamed a Dream” when the teenagers started guffawing at Anne Hathaway’s snot bubble. Also, this was not a time where people were polished and pretty, many of the extras are pox marked or have sores on their face. While realistic, we are not used to such ugliness on the big screen.
Had the interesting experience of feeling underwhelmed by many of the play’s showstoppers and becoming more invested in characters I didn’t like in the Broadway show. I particularly found “Master of the House” to be underwhelming, but I think that’s a good example of stage acting versus film acting. I felt Helena Bonham Carter (while basically auditioning for the role of Madame Thenardier for the past ten years) muttered her best lines too much, while in the play the actress always projects, ensuring the audience hears the jokes. Also Sasha Baron Cohen was the only one doing a French accent, while was a little odd, but I heard he ended up being sick during the time he was filming which effected his voice. On the other hand, when I was the play, I found Cosette and Marius to be a total snooze (Team Eponine!), I found myself being able to stomach their romance this time around.
One thing that is true of both the play and the film is that the 2 halves are so different. While many love the story of Fontaine, I am far more invested in the political stuff in the second part and first saw this in high school so Eponine is incredibly relatable. I will note the teenagers next to me were quieter during the second half (also, people are prettier in the second half, ha). Everyone in the political group is fantastic, particularly Enjolras the leader of the group. I really would be happy with a whole film just about those guys. However, seeing that the movie is so long and such a heavy subject matter, an intermission between the two very different halves would have been appreciated, though knowing today’s movie audiences half the crowd would probably get confused and leave. Sigh.
If you are familiar with the stage version, you’ll probably enjoy the film (unless you’re expecting it to be exactly like your favorite cast recording). If all you know about it is that Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman are in it, please be prepared for very sad things to happen to them as they sing and for them to not look their best and you should be fine.

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About amandalovesmovies

Lifelong movie lover who's ready to share her two cents with the world! Follow me on twitter @tuxedopengin

21 responses to “Les Miserables

  1. tcrfelton

    I had an old man singing along to all of Valjean’s songs throughout the whole movie. He wasn’t that bad thankfully.

    Here’s my take on the whole shebang (Les Mis virgin till this point):

    http://timsspoileralert.wordpress.com/2013/01/02/les-miserables-not-me/

  2. CMrok93

    Great review Amanda. Let this be an educational resource for future generations. Take note, producers, and learn from the mistakes of Rock of Ages and the accomplishments of Les Miserables.

  3. rumielf ⋅

    Excellent review! We didn’t have anyone singing along (that I could hear) but there was a rather loud group of older women in the row behind us that would make loud comments during extremely quiet moments. Oy.

    Agree with you on Madame Thenardier. I guess I’m just much more used to the staged versions where she doesn’t mutter. Especially during “Master of the House”.

  4. Excellent review, Amanda. When I saw Les Miz, the mainly adult audience was very quiet throughout the entire 250+ minutes. At the end, we all clapped. It felt very much like a live theatre performance.

  5. snoopmk ⋅

    Great review! I agree with your comments about people going into movies not knowing what to expect. It’s not difficult, for instance, to find out that a movie is a musical before you go.

    I also preferred the stage version but thought the movie was excellent in its own right. I’ve seen it three times already! 🙂

  6. It’s nice to see another positive review. (See mine) This was an emotional powerhouse of a film. I loved it.

  7. Leonie

    Interesting review. I think I have to join you on Team Eponine.

  8. Jasmine

    Generally I agree, though I have to say I disagree on the Thernardiers. HBC was playing Madame Thernardier really differently than the stage version, which I respect. I really dislike when actors try to repeat other people’s comedic performances. And SBC using a french accent only when trying to impress people was actually fantastic to me. I hate the trope of foreign= English accent, but him putting on the french airs and then going into cockney when doing asides worked for.

    I loved Eddie Redmayne. I never paid much attention to Marius before and now I don’t know why.

    Amanda Seyfried…I love her, but eh. I think she’s a little old to playing Cosette.

    They actually cut Eponine’s part a little, which was weird since she’s such a popular character. I guess because she wasn’t a named actress. The downside of that is that they had her die and then had Marius like, immediately write to Cosette. I actually think I liked Marius and Cosette in the play if I remember, but that made it come off a little weird.

    Russel Crowe was miscast, I’m sorry. They didn’t need to have that many “names”.

    Anyway, ❤ you. Never knew you were a Les Miz fan. Next time we do karaoke, let's belt out some I Dreamed a Dream!

    • I can see your points, I think I was just underwhelmed by the Thernardiers. Was fine with most of the casting, I guess people were beating up Crowe so much I didn’t mind him as much as I was expecting to. Eponine Forever!

  9. An excellent review, and my condolences on your experience with the teenagers. I have to disagree on you with one thing: while I have never seen the show live, I have listened to the recording for decades, and if anything I found Marius even less tolerable than before. Eponine got short shrift, but she really should have found herself a better guy. Cosette I never much cared for anyway, so she and Marius deserve each other. 😉 For more thoughts and Oscar picks, feel free to check out my own take on the film.

  10. zoe ⋅

    As a teenager, I’m rather appalled that they (you know who I’m talking about) would laugh. I was in actual, real tears and if somebody had been laughing, I probably would have yelled at them for ruining the moment.

    Now, onto the actual comment… This was an accurate review in all measures. As a relative newbie to Les Mis, I did enjoy it and agree with you on the performances.

    I’m team Eponine. That was the scene where the tears started. She’s just one of the most relatable characters, personally. ‘A Little Fall of Rain’ was heartbreakingly lovely.

    So, thanks for this intelligent, insightful review!

  11. As a performer, I really loved the fact of the raw performances and not pre-recorded auto-tuned performances. Being a performer on stage I am expected to put on a solid show and perform my musical numbers to the highest quality I can (vocally) so it was quite interesting to see these famous roles be played with acting as the priority performance since a majority of the cast were not professional singers. The only people whom I really felt did an outstanding job vocally and acting wise were Samantha Barks as Eponine and Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean. This comment is in a portion of my upcoming full Les Miserables review so everyone please take a look, it should be up sometime tomorrow if not tonight!

  12. I was quite pleased with this adaptation. I’ve seen the play performed twice before and I must say I’m really more a fan of the perfect vocal than of the realistically sung version of the film. I Dreamed a Dream is preferable as a beautifully sung ballad over a sobbing, emotional lament. Still there’s A LOT to praise about the film not the least of which is the emotionally engaging performances form virtually everyone. Loved the singing of Éponine, Marius and Enjolras especially. Check out my review for more of what I thought. Great review!

  13. Jackie Petersen ⋅

    I agree that Carter was basically auditioning for this role for the past ten years. Dark seems to be her thing, but then she’s married to Tim Burton. I did enjoy the political struggles and if there was a movie purely about the students and their revolution, I’d be in line to see it. Still, I just wasn’t blow away by the first half except for Hathaway. And any parts of the second half (minus One Day More) that were performed by Jackman and Crowe were dull. I honestly think the biggest problem this movie faced was in its casting.

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