‘Les Miserables’ film review: Hit or Mis?

Hugh Jackman, as Jean Valjean, and Anne Hathaway, as Fantine, led the incredible on-screen ensemble of Les Miserables.

Hugh Jackman, as Jean Valjean, and Anne Hathaway, as Fantine, led the incredible on-screen ensemble of Les Miserables.

 

I won’t try to deny that I spent weeks – months, actually – preparing myself for Les Miserables to reach the big screen.

I hyped up the movie in my mind and shamelessly cried when I watched the trailer so when I filed into the movie theater, ticket and popcorn in tow, I picked a seat in the center of the theater with hopes that the movie would not only live up to my already high expectations but exceed them.

And with only a few small disappointments, I left feeling deeply stirred.

I’ll disclose that I have never had the good luck of seeing a stage performance of Les Mis and I don’t give myself credit enough to read a book with more than 1,200 pages. But I knew the story and the characters. And most of all, I live for the music.

It’s no secret that a musical is only as good as the music. If you have a great show filled with crummy songs, it’s forgettable and weak. On the opposite, if you have an average show with fantastic scores, it can still manage to touch people.

I have been a longtime fan of the music in Les Mis and as I sat in the theater, I was instantly gripped. All I had to hear was the familiar line of “Look down, look down” and I spent the next almost three hours totally mesmerized by the story of Jean Valjean and the music that I often listen to.

“I Dreamed a Dream” doesn’t only fill me with emotion and bring me to tears every time I hear it (really, if you ever want to see me cry just turn that song on and make me listen to it) but Anne Hathaway’s delivery made my heart ache.

I’ve read the reviews and the majority of people say that Russell Crowe can’t sing (does anyone remember TOFOG and bonus points to anyone who actually knows what that abbreviation is) but as a longtime fan I’m naturally defensive of him. Russell acted Javert well enough to compensate for any vocal flaws.

The raw intensity of the way the actors totally captured their roles only enhances the music that I love so much. Samantha Barks singing “On My Own” (which comes as no surprise since she had plenty of practice with Eponine on the West End and commands the role beautifully) and Eddie Redmayne’s chilling “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” and then the two of them singing “A Little Fall of Rain” come to mind instantaneously as some of the most heart-gripping moments.

It’s the passion behind the words, both spoken and sung, that takes a two and a half hour movie and makes it feel like just a few minutes passed.

So then, with this glowing review dripping with my own emotional attachment to this story and its brilliant music, what was lacking in the movie?

Eddie Redmayne as Marius, Aaron Tveit as Enjolras and George Blagden as Grantaire brought new life to classic characters. I loved how many of the West End boys they used in this too.

Eddie Redmayne as Marius, Aaron Tveit as Enjolras and George Blagden as Grantaire brought new life to classic characters. I loved how many of the West End boys they used in this too.

 

I won’t lie and say that it’s not selfish of me but Aaron Tveit was missing. (I should disclose that Next to Normal is one of my all-time favorite musicals and Aaron is one of my favorite Broadway performers though, in all fairness.) There’s so much more that could have been done with the Friends of the ABC, especially in the final scene when Enjolras and Grantaire died together, that was omitted from the movie that I wish I could have seen.

Amanda Seyfried as Cosette was okay, at best. I wasn’t blown away by her and I didn’t feel the love between Marius and Cosette like I wished I had, but after seeing her in Mamma Mia I wasn’t expecting too much from her performance. As cute and great for the role of Cosette visually, her lack of vocal and acting chops didn’t do much for me.

On the other hand, Sasha Baron-Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are going to be overlooked for their fantastic performances of the easy-to-hate Thénardier and Madame Thénardier.

Most people in the theater waited to see various names appear in the credits (I stood only after I saw Aaron’s, I was proud – what can I say?) but I also needed a moment to collect myself.

Isabelle Allen as young Cosette and Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean.

Isabelle Allen as young Cosette and Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean.

 

I can’t speak to whether Les Mis was a complement to its previous forms, since I have never experienced it visually – only audibly, but it did stir me. Hugh Jackman will no doubt win awards for his performance (so will Anne Hathaway, and both deserve it) but more importantly he won over everyone in the theater as they applauded the credits and remained seated even when the overhead lights turned back on.

So while many buzz about what the story lacked, that they were “exhausted” by the end of the movie, I’m content to sing a different tune. Considering the heavy story and so many people entering the theater with their own preconceived notions about what the movie should do (though keeping Eponine out of the deathbed scene was a little disappointing) the film stood in its own.

It proved that it might have the music many of us know and love deeply but it is its own entity, separate from the novel, stage production or any ideas fans might have.

Tags: , , , , , ,

About Samantha S.

"I found the theatre and I found my home.” ― Audra McDonald
Subscribe to Comments RSS Feed in this post

3 Responses

  1. Amen

  2. Thanks Sam!

  3. Nice job! I enjoyed reading your review.