Did “Les Misérables” Make Me Miserable?
Aside from reading an abridged version of Victor Hugo’s novel in the 9th grade and hearing George Costanza’s version of “Master of the House,” I don’t know from Les Misérables. So I went into the big-screen version of the Broadway musical with my mind open to the fact I was going to hate it. And you know what? I didn’t.
Aside from Russell Croak… er, Russell Crowe, that is. His performance as Inspector Javert—the dogged policeman who pursues poor bread-thief Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman, who can carry a tune with the best of ‘em) for decades—is literally one-note. And it’s not the right one. To quote a great philosopher, “A little pitchy, dawg.” Crowe struggles not only with staying on-key but also with keeping his jackets buttoned and controlling his spittle. IT’S LIKE I HAVE A TWIN!
The rest of the movie, however, is enjoyably bombastic, although I wish someone would’ve told me going in that “One Day More” is not just one of the song titles but also the running time. Director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) could’ve cut a few of the songs that keep hammering home the same points—the peasants are revolting, we get it!—but he grounds the story in a gritty reality that plays nicely against the tuner’s fussier moments. Only when Jean Valjean escapes through the Parisian sewer system and emerges encased in excrement does Hooper lay it on too thick.
The excellent Jackman is matched by his female costars—Anne Hathaway, who’s got the Oscar all wrapped up as the doomed, cruelly coiffed Fantine; Amanda Seyfried, who’s all wide-eyed innocence as the rescued waif Cosette; and impressive newcomer Samantha Barks as the lovelorn Eponine. Eddie Redmayne (My Week with Marilyn) also does a fine job as the object of her affection, and I’d really like to know what 19th century French product he used on his hair, because he’s got quite a handsome red(dish) mane. Oh, and every time the hilariously grotesque Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter came on screen as the pocket-picking, scene-stealing Master of the House and his Madame, the movie—and I—perked up.
Hooper’s most effective choice was to have the actors sing live and perform most of their big numbers in single, uninterrupted takes, adding simultaneously to the senses of reality and theatricality. Minimal lip-syncing leads to maximum effect. The teenage girls sitting behind me at the New Jersey multiplex where I saw Les Miz couldn’t seem to control their emotions; whether it was giggling or weeping, I couldn’t tell. Maybe a bit of both. Which, all in all, seems like a perfectly fitting reaction.
Were you singing along with “I Dreamed a Dream”—or was Les Miz more of a nightmare? Post a comment!