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.