AAR at the Movies: Les Miserables

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I have been waiting, and waiting to see this, ever since I heard they were doing a movie of the musical. Les Mis is one of my favourite musicals of all time – I practically know it by heart. Then, of course, after I saw the killer trailer (above), I nearly wept with relief that they (probably) hadn’t screwed it up. What’s my verdict? Read on.

The Fan-bloody-tabulous

Anne Hathaway completely killed it. She was the one pure, shining moment of ecstasy during 157 minutes of mixed reactions, and I thank God she was cast as Fantine. On the slightly down side, she only appeared for, like, 15 minutes. On the up side, less is more, and I will remember her interpretation of Fantine for the rest of my life, which I put right up there with my personal favourite, Ruthie Henshall.

The Good

I’m a fan of the live singing. I think it works. I’m also used to it, being used to live singing all the time in musicals, so the so-called imperfections are actually natural to me. I also liked Eddie Redmayne, whom I found the strongest male character, in terms of acting and singing ability. I wasn’t sure about him at first – his voice seemed really slight – but his “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” nearly equalled Anne Hathaway’s “Dreamed a Dream” for sheer emotive range and power. Also fine performances are young Gavroche, young Cosette, and Eponine – but to be brutally honest, they’re a little hard to screw up compared to the other roles.

The Okay

When I heard Hugh Jackman was cast, I had mixed reactions. I’d heard him sing, so I knew he had the chops, but I wasn’t a particular fan of his voice (found it rather nasally and straining in the higher registers, and that was only on a high E flat in “Oh What a Beautiful Morning”). So I was grateful they’d cast someone who could sing, even a bit, but I had some doubts vocally. And let’s face it, when has Hugh Jackman ever been particularly praised for his thespian activity? Well, I think the best I can say about his Jean Valjean is he tries damn hard. And he puts in a decent performance. But Jean Valjean is the linchpin of the show. He treads a very fine line between the flawed and the saintly, which he sometimes did tread successfully. But generally I’d characterise his performance as earnest but overeager, and vocally he is not suited to role. (“Bring Him Home” was a travesty. Sorry, mate.)

The Bad

I don’t know whose idea it was to cast Russell Crowe, and I don’t know why he accepted the role, but damn he looked uncomfortable. I felt uncomfortable for the bloke. He can’t sing, and worse, he can’t act while he’s singing. His two major numbers were a wreck. I saw Les Mis with my mum, who loves loves loves “Stars”, and I could feel her cringe during Crowe’s rendition. And what was with Sacha Baron Cohen putting on a French accent when no one else had one?

The Ugly

That craptastic new song in the middle that Hugh Jackman sings as he’s ferrying Cosette away from the Thenardiers, “Suddenly”. Yes, fantastic idea, let’s write a cutesy, lovey song that could have come from Wicked, and chuck it into the semi-operatic Les Mis. Yeah, that should work.

I figure that my attachment and knowledge of the show can go two ways. On the one hand, I can be and am so bloody relieved that it got done at all, and so well, overall, considering the difficulties inherent in the project. But on the other hand, I have standards. And with the central roles so weakly cast, the best I can say is that it’s a mixed bag.

- Jean AAR

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2 Responses to “AAR at the Movies: Les Miserables”

  1. Lynda X says:

    Like millions of others, I am a total fan of LES MIZ, and have been counting the days until the movie. It was everything I could do to stay at Christmas with my family and wait until the 26th to see it. Unlike you, I liked Russel Crowe. I thought he played a man who was uncomfortable and rigid well, and his voice, IMO, was fine. I have loved Jackman and wish he’d be in a decent romance for years, but thought he did a fine job here. Not a great job. He doesn’t have the heft, nor does his adequate voice. However, I noticed some things that I hadn’t noticed in the play: for example, his immediate response when in an ethical problem immediately to justify himself into doing what he wants to do, not what is ethical–a response that makes Valjean human. Of course, I do not credit Jackman with this: he didn’t write the lyrics, but I noticed it in his characterization. I agree: Anne Hathaway is stupendous and deserving of the Oscar, although I suspect that Sally Field will get it. I loved the little things in the movie, like Javert at crucial moments “walking the line” and the change of uniforms, indicating his working his way up in the job. I loved the eagle backdrop and the subtle “taking up of the cross” by Valjean. I also loved that Valjean is almost always climbing.

    My verdict: best musical ever.

  2. AAR Lynn says:

    I agree that poor Russell Crowe just could not sing, but I still loved the movie. I saw it last weekend, and I’m still hearing the music in my head. I thought Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman were wonderful, though it was a little weird at first to look up at the screen and see Wolverine singing.