Les Misérables

Directed by Tom Hooper

Starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne
In UK Cinemas January 11, 2013

by Joanna Orland

Two years ago, Tom Hooper swept the Oscars with his immaculate film The King’s Speech.  For his follow up, Hooper has decided to take on an epic adaptation of Les Misérables, taking the stage musical to the big screen.  Why he chose to do this, I have no idea.  It must have been a mighty feat, but left in Hooper’s capable hands, he makes some sense of an otherwise ranting musical, with excellent cinematography and direction.  While it looks grand and bold, this film falls flat in many ways.  If you are a fan of the original theatrical musical production, you will probably like this film.  If you are not already a fan, do not expect to be converted.

I, unfortunately, fall into the non-fan category.  I first saw Les Misérables on Broadway when I was 18 years old.  A fan of many musicals including Phantom of the Opera, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and the like, I found Les Misérables to be more drivel than joy.  A musical with a serious subject matter at its heart is not the problem, it’s the way they just never stop singing, or whingeing, or rambling, and it lasts for about 3 hours.  The film certainly stays true to the play in this regard.  At roughly 2 hours and 45 minutes, there were points during the film where I thought I was going to have a panic attack if it didn’t end.  I also planned my Christmas shopping list in my head.

They literally never stop singing.  Luckily, main character Jean Valjean is played wonderfully by Hugh Jackman.  Whatever you think of musical theatre, you must admit that he pulls off this role and makes it his own.  He is captivating, has a wonderful singing voice, and gives a brooding and heartfelt performance.  In stark contrast, Russell Crowe grunts and blusters his way through the role of Jean Valjean’s nemesis Javert.  This is merely the first of a handful of miscasts found across the film.  Another that stands out amongst the blusters, is Eddie Redmayne as Marius.  While Russell Crowe merely makes me question “Why!?” while forcing me to sigh at every note he belches out, Redmayne raises my blood pressure to the point of me curling up into a ball and rocking gently back and forth in the fetal position, waiting for the end to come.  What casting director made this choice?  With the face of Howdy Doody and the voice of Kermit the Frog, his vocal performance physiologically gave me the need to remove myself from the moment and think of a happier place.

The casting is all over the place in this film.  Amanda Seyfried’s vocals sound inhumanly birdlike with a trill and frequency range that only canines can hear.  Anne Hathaway is surprisingly excellent as Fantine, but there’s no way I am buying that Anne Hathaway birthed Amanda Seyfried.  Samantha Barks is wonderful as Éponine and clearly comes from a stage musical background.  Another casting triumph is the appearance of musical theatre veteran Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop – For those true Les Misérables fans, Wilkinson originated the role of Jean Valjean on Broadway.

While Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway are the main serious talents of the film, I couldn’t help but declare “Thank God!!!” when Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter appeared on screen to sing Master of the House.  Bonham Carter and Baron Cohen are well needed comic relief and with ear-resting singing performances to boot.  They actually brought a smile to my face and saved this film from being utterly 100% dull.  My only complaint of Baron Cohen’s performance is his bizarre wavering French accent.  While this is a film about the French Revolution, all of the actors have strong Anglicized accents, including Baron Cohen for most of his scenes.  But then he randomly puts on a comically thick French accent for most of Master of the House and during some sporadic moments throughout.  But I digress.  It was a welcome relief to hear less shrieking trill and more gusto.

Another standout is the child who plays Gavroche.  Daniel Huttlestone is one to watch and steals every moment of his screen time.  I would almost consider seeing this film again just for his scenes.  And for Aaron Tveit who provides the only eye candy of this film as revolutionary Enjolras.  You may recognize him from Gossip Girl, but man, he can sing.  Why he wasn’t playing Marius, I will never understand.

Hooper believes his cast is comprised of serious singers and instills a great faith in them, having recorded all of the songs live on set during shooting rather than in post.  Hooper’s reasoning behind this choice is that it adds a realism to the performance that you don’t get by re-recording the songs in post production.  Here is where he achieves his biggest win.  While some actors couldn’t be salvaged, this live singing is what aids Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway to persevere through the drivel and give their shining, award-worthy performances.  They are both not only pitch perfect, but they portray an emotion that you could not get miming to a backing track.  And then there’s Russell Crowe…

Les Misérables is more of a desiccated opera rather than a musical.  Kudos to Tom Hooper for taking on the challenge, and to Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and little Gavroche for excellent performances.  Shame on casting directors for the failure that is Eddie Redmayne and the comedy bomb that is Russell Crowe.  This one is for the fans, and only the fans.  If you do not fall into this category, do yourself a favour and spend those 3 hours re-watching The Hobbit.

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