Last night, I got to see the pre-release of the most anticipated movie of the season: Les Miserables.
Thank you, Tickets for Kids, for gracing Urban Impact with a block of ten tickets! Our seven kids and three chaperones were thrilled to attend!
For those of you who don’t know, I am a professional actor. I have loved Les Mis ever since my sisters sang a medley of it in their high school select choir (Go Westwinds!). I own multiple cast recordings, I can sing the entire show word-for-word, and Eponine is a bucket-list role for me.
All that to say, I was stoked for this movie. Super-stoked. Here’s what I was looking for: an excellent cast, fantastic directing, and a grand scale that only a movie can provide.
In short, I was disappointed.
In long, here’s why:
The cast was a mixed bag:
Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe were passable at best, hard to listen to at worst. There were a few impactful moments (Hugh Jackman’s “Who Am I?” Russell Crowe’s slightly pop-y “Stars”) but none of the soaring, beautiful, “Wow!” moments that propelled this musical to legend. In general, I felt that Crowe was miscast as Javert. It seemed hard for him to act and sing at the same time, and I just didn’t hate him the way that I should hate Javert. I know that Hugh Jackman got his start in musical theatre, so I was expecting a lot from him, but he was reaching too much for some of the high tenor notes that should come easily to Jean Val Jean. I love these songs so much and unfortunately there were times that I just wanted them to end!
There were a few bright spots, however, Anne Hathaway being the most surprising and most excellent. Her portrayal of Fantine was tragic and inspiring. She brought new life to “I Dreamed a Dream,” most of which was shot in one continuous close-up. Gorgeous. I hope she’s nominated for it. Daniel Huddlestone as Gavroche (the little boy) absolutely stole the show! He was endearing and spunky and utterly natural. The last three worth mentioning are Sacha Baron Cohen as Thernardier, Eddie Redmayne as Marius, and Samantha Barks as Eponine. They were all flawless, believable performances.
The directing was also a mixed bag:
There were some wonderful sequences (the transition to Paris follows Gavroche as he hops in and out of carriages), a few beautiful pictures (Val Jean as he rips up his parole papers), and some great additions (the Thernardiers are done especially well!), but they were bogged down by very long close-ups of nearly every solo song. People see movies because they want to see people moving! They don’t want to see one long close-up after another! With the exception of “I Dreamed a Dream” and “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” I was bored during some of my favorite songs. There were times that I was specifically looking for things in the background because I was tired of the actor’s face looming in front of me, emoting.
The show also needed an intermission. Old movie musicals (think Oklahoma!) had intermission breaks in them, and this should have had one too. We needed a chance to stretch our legs and talk about it. I just kept thinking, “this movie is still going on…” and it was only 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Finally, Les Mis also known for it’s beautiful staging, choreography, and spectacle: on stage we get gorgeous slow-motion choreography, dramatic reveals, and that famous marching formation. In the movie, I expected the level of artistry that the stage version has. I expected a lot of long shots to show the scope of this revolution, a lot of fancy camera work (think the latest Sherlock Holmes movies), and some fantastic CG. Instead, most of this is shot in a very straightforward manner in mostly mid-shots (and the ever-present close-up, of course). There is no slow-mo camera work and very few artistic “pictures.” The CG seems odd and unrealistic (two butterflies invade “In My Life” in the middle of the night).
So if you’re thinking that you’ll “just see the movie,” instead of buying tickets to a touring performance, please reconsider! The stage play is so much more moving and powerful. It’s better paced and more artistic. The movie is worth seeing simply for Anne Hathaway’s performance, as well as some of the other notable performances I mentioned. And I am so sorry to report my mixed feelings about this show, but I was expecting a masterpiece. This, sadly, wasn’t that.
2 1/2 stars out of 5.