Movie Review: Les Miserables

Les Mis came out whilst I was out gallivanting around Europe over the Christmas holidays. I had really been hyped to see it, but I missed it in theaters. Here I am, five months later, finally catching it. And I discovered it was a really hard movie for me to review.

I loved it, but there are a slew of disclaimers I feel I need to tack on. (First–a disclaimer: I’m a huge fan of the original musical. Not that I have Les Mis tattooed anywhere on my body or anything, but I really love the stage version. If you don’t care for it, this likely isn’t going to win you over.)

On the one hand, it’s a pretty “faithful” screen version of the stage musical. A few songs got cut down in the prime of their life (Turning, Dog Eats Dog, Little People, Attack on Rue Plumet, etc.), but most of them are all there, more or less. It’s a 2.5 hour movie, after all–not a 3.5 plus hour musical. I expected this. (Although I was irrationally irritated that they turned my favorite trio (Fantine, Eponine, and Valjean at the very end) into a Fantine/Valjean duet. Poor Eponine.)

At the same time, the movie wasn’t really faithful at all. They made the decision to “act” the songs. Record them live on set. This was simultaneously one of the best things about the movie, and one of my biggest complaints about it. On the one hand, it made for some very moving numbers. I Dreamed a Dream is harrowing, for example. You can really feel the emotion of it by the way it was acted. But at the same time, it meant that all these musical numbers ended up not really being given justice, musically speaking. In other words, I felt like the acting came before the music. Great singing and all, but they weren’t able to belt it out there like they do in typical musicals, and I really noticed the difference.

Does that make sense? I both liked the approach, and disliked it. Even days later, I’m still torn between the two.

Other complaints: the typical movie musical approach of putting Hollywood actors/actresses where they don’t belong. Russell Crowe? I dig him as an actor, but Javert is a favorite character of mine, and I love his songs. Crowe just couldn’t cut it. And don’t get me started on “Snow White” Amanda Seyfried. Seriously. Anytime she opened her mouth to sing, I kept expecting little blue birds to fly through the air, and a wicked witch to show up with an apple. Blech. Even Hugh Jackman managed to disappoint me. He has a fine voice, but I thought it was too nasally for Valjean, especially when he went up against real singers. (Eponine and Marius really stood out to me. Hathaway also did a very good job.)

I really enjoyed the Master of the House number with Borat and Bonham-Carter. Very well done. I was also pleased to see how much the movie managed to put the events into better perspective. The time jumps. The character connections. That was all finely executed. However, because it was so finely executed, it highlighted the fact that the musical really jumps all over the place, time-wise. There are just nonsensical leaps that work fine on stage, because you know you’re filling in the gaps. But when the gaps are more filled in, the remaining ones become more troublesome. And don’t get me started on character development. Again–it works on stage. Once the material becomes more realistic, my expectations rise accordingly.

So like I said–a very hard movie to review. Even while I was watching it, I both enjoyed it and critiqued it at the same time. A fine example of both why movie musicals do and do not work. I could see it being used by either camp to defend their position.

3.5 stars out of 4. What did you think of it?

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