Les too much Miserables
I’ll be straightforward. Before seeing the movie, I was under the impression that Les Misérables would be a conventional musical, as in, characters sing their feelings, pause, communicate with spoken words, then sing again. Perhaps throw in a few catchy dances here and there. But apparently the French do musicals differently. Their songs never end.
So I was taken highly off guard when, twenty minutes in, what I assumed had been the first song of the film hadn’t quite finished yet. Hugh Jackman (taking the lead as Jean Valjean) had single-handedly lifted a fallen ship mast, grown a beard Gandalf would be proud of, and traversed all across France looking for work, and he hadn’t taken a single breather the entire time. I suppose it was around then I accepted the film’s harsh, spine-chilling reality: In France, you must be wealthy, well-liked, and lucky in order to survive. Also you can never stop singing.
It isn’t news that all singing had been performed by the actors while filming rather than in a recording studio with the help of editing, and it would be criminal to not appreciate the difficulty of their performances. Anne Hathaway’s I Dreamed a Dream, a vulnerable, gut-wrenching lament performed as her impoverished character Fantine, was one of the best musical performances I’ve ever seen in a film. I’d be shocked and disappointed if the Best Supporting Actress goes to anyone who isn’t Hathaway. Her Fantine, who had the shortest amount of screen time out of all the major characters (except for Amanda Seyfried’s two or three scenes), by far left the most impression.
Hathaway’s ballad appeared early in the film, unfair to the literal forty or so subsequent performances that couldn’t hope to top it. Perhaps Eddie Redmayne (Marius)’s Empty Chairs at Empty Tables came in a distant second, and Samantha Barks as Éponine delivering a stunning rendition of On My Own. But there were fifty other songs in the movie as well. None were catchy. Rarely did songs accelerate beyond a smooth and stately adagio pace. And worst of all, very few contained any emotion other than misery. Each performance tried its hardest to evoke emotion out of the audience, competing with one another to see which could create the most waterworks. In the end, they only succeeded in canceling each other out.
I suppose the dewy music can be accredited to the even more depressing story. During the French revolution, Jean Valjean is released from his nineteen year imprisonment he was sentenced after stealing a loaf of bread, but his jailer, Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) changes his mind and makes it his life mission to recapture him. After Javert sings four or five songs about performing his duty, Valjean returns eight years later and becomes mayor of the very town he was once a prisoner in (I’m not exactly sure why, but he probably sang about it somewhere along the way). He helps struggling Fantine, who has resorted to prostitution to support her illegitimate daughter.
Many critics (and outspoken celebrities) panned Crowe’s singing performance, but I’ll be honest – besides Hathaway, I thought he was the best. His tone is buttery and brassy, and dude didn’t break tune even during a freaking sword fight (his opponent was a warbling Jackman, to give credit, but I much preferred Crowe’s crowing).
Fast forward nine years. Fantine’s daughter Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) grew up with Valjean as her step father, and fell in love with young rebel Marius. The French revolution is by now sweeping the nation, and guess what, everyone’s miserable about it. Meanwhile, after singing a ballad about performing his duty, Javert continues his hunt for Valjean. In retrospect, maybe the reason critics ragged on Crowe was not because of his actual singing, but because of his character’s song subjects.
You see where I’m going with this. Les Mis is not my cup of tea. I prefer a single squirt of lemon juice, NOT AN ENTIRE CUP DROWNING IN THE BITTER FLAVOR. However, I can’t bring myself to disagree with the positive reviews the movie has been getting, either. I understand why this movie is most likely going to score big at the Oscars. Objectively, the singing is a monumental achievement. It’s well-acted. The costuming, make up, sets, everything is extremely well done. The old guys who vote for the Oscars love misery. However, I felt it appropriate to focus on my personal opinion of the film, because this movie isn’t for everyone, and I wanted to send out a warning. I think many will agree.