The latest incarnation of Les Mis had a lot of hurdles to jump to earn my approval (not that my approval really matters all that much, but still).
- I am the daughter of a voice teacher, thus I can’t listen to anyone sing. I will find something wrong, it’s not on purpose. God I try to enjoy myself, I really do.
- I’m a really dedicated Victor Hugo fan, I think Volume 3 “Marius” in Les Misérables is one of the most beautifully written love stories I’ve ever read. I’ve always disliked the distinctly Romeo and Juliet feel that the musical throws on it. There’s quite a bit that’s different, I take some issue with some things.
- I’m really not a huge fan of the majority of the music, and a lot of the lyrics aren’t as good as I think they could be. There are some really shining and beautiful moments in Les Mis, but there are some glaring problems.
I saw it on Christmas Day and I have good and bad feelings about much of the movie. Some moments read really well on film and some really needed the space that the stage can offer, some of the actors were really fantastic singers and some not so much. It’s hard for me to go in chronological order because my problems are not with the story and the enormous scope of it (because the wonderful thing about film is that you can span a huge amount of time and it’s not a problem when it’s done well) but with the cast, so I’m just going to go through the cast as listed on IMBD and discuss.
Hugh Jackman: When he was cast I was a little skeptical because he isn’t usually cast in roles requiring a really sweet high tenor, it’s just not his usual musical M.O. and he tended to dwell in his nose a good deal of the time. Overall, though, his vocals were much better than the majority of the vocals happening around him. Valjean is a hard part, and on top of carrying the show and singing really challenging music he has to age realistically through little more than his body language and some hair gray. Hugh Jackman failed to age realistically to me until the very end, and was generally too clean cut and super handsome for me to be like, “No, yeah, that guy definitely served 19 years in basically a labor camp singlehandedly hauling war ships in for repair.”. Also, a lot of the costuming almost hid how jacked he is when they really needed to play that up because such a big deal is made out of how physically strong Valjean is.
On a really picky note, I took some issue with his interpretation of “Bring Him Home” and the blocking of “Bring Him Home”. There was a moment in the movie where Valjean sang “and I am old, and will be gone.” and had that realization of his own mortality at that exact moment. The problem is Valjean actually realizes that after Eponine delivers the letter and as a result he goes to the barricade in order to save Marius and “Bring Him Home” is a plea with God. I mean, otherwise he’d be leaving his safe apartment the night before he flees the country in order to, what, check out this guy that’s hitting up his daughter? That’s perfectly logical. I’m going to steal a uniform off a dead body and casually waltz into a small revolution to make sure this guy is worthy even though I’m leaving the country and taking my daughter with me so they won’t be together anyway. No, he goes to save him because he realizes that someone else could take good care of Cosette and could maybe give her the normal life he couldn’t before he dies. He also sang the entire song while staying as far away from Marius as possible, and looked an awful lot like he was just yelling and wandering in this tiny area while everyone tried to sleep. Anyway.
Russell Crowe: Oh Sir, you tried, you really did. This is not his part, and I’m holding him to an awfully high standard but I can’t help it because seriously some excellent men have played this role. Something is really strange about his voice, it’s very covered and it’s kind of in the back of his throat. Every time he came on screen I was hoping for dialogue because he’d do a really good job if he were just allowed to speak. Also that moment where you hear his body break in half when he kills himself was entirely unnecessary, and the hesitation before he killed himself was entirely un-Javert.
Anne Hathaway: I’m going to start on a positive note, I have never heard someone interpret “He took my childhood in his stride” in what I felt was the correct way until she sang it. I’m separating her vocal performance from her acting, and that acting was honest and beautiful and certainly deserves the recognition she’s currently getting. The problem with her performance was her voice, it was really tight, like she was squeezing her throat closed she was straining so hard. I want to see her act, I’m really okay with not hearing her sing anymore as long as she continues to act as beautifully as she did during “I Dreamed a Dream”. She truly committed and it paid off.
Amanda Seyfried: No, no. It was just bland and she’s not a singer and no. No.
Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter: Magic, this paring was straight up magic. I was so concerned, because I really found Helena to be dreadful in Sweeney Todd, but dear lord this was perfect. Such chemistry, such blocking, and a really excellent and original interpretation of Mme. Thenardier’s “I used to dream that I would meet a prince…” verse. Every time they were on screen it became a highlight of the movie, I don’t have any real criticism of any kind. Magic.
Eddie Redmayne: This was some really excellent casting, not traditionally handsome and very young looking, sort of cooked smile and all the freckles. He was really incredible in Red (the bootleg clips I’ve seen because I’m broke and I didn’t live in New York while it was running and it was running for a very short amount of time) and he was really incredible here. He fell in love with Cosette so awkwardly and sweetly, and he finds a strength when he thinks about her that you see during “Red and Black”. His interpretation of “Empty Chairs” combined with films wonderful ability to be up close and quiet made what might be a definitive version. His voice is really excellent, I’d love to see him do more musical theatre.
Aaron Tveit: I already liked him from Next To Normal, and though I worried because physically I wasn’t sure about him playing Enjolras, he opened his mouth and it was perfect. He had the really wonderful defiant energy and singular focus that Enjolras needs. He held that flag up and I got chills.
Samantha Barks: She’s so pretty, she’s way too obviously pretty without that tough edge that Eponine needs. How could Marius not notice the sheer amount of cleavage staring him in the face? I didn’t buy her performance. Eponine’s not only sad because Marius isn’t in love with her, she’s sad because she’s constantly surrounded by people and none of them love her. Eponine is important because she’s not important and so becomes a symbol of the people these students are fighting for while showing that these students are seeing the problem as a whole rather than helping the individuals and are, in their own heroic way, flawed. The problem with Eponine on film is that you don’t see her in this massive empty black space that you get onstage, you need that space to show you how small she is. She wasn’t made small and that, strangely, made her part forgettable though Barks’ voice was good and her acting was pretty solid.
David Huttlestone: Gavroche is a very Puck-like figure and is one of the only characters to come in contact with nearly everyone. This kid carries it, he’s sincere, he’s rough around the edges without putting on an act, and he’s genuinely funny.
Isabelle Allen: This child is brilliant, the way she sang “Crying at all is not allowed, not in my castle on a cloud” as if she were about to cry but this is the thing she tells herself to keep herself from crying. Perfect. I hate “Castle On a Cloud”, but she sang that line and I cried. (I only cried then and when Enjolras was shot.) Then the look on her face when she realized she was actually leaving with Valjean! Smug, the kid looked hysterically satisfied with how poorly Valjean was treating the Thenardiers. Watch this kid, she’s going places.
Overall it wasn’t the big stars I was impressed with, it’s the smaller names that people should be going to see and moments like “Do You Hear The People Sing?” and “Valjean’s Death” (thank you, by the way, for not including Eponine in that moment, it’s never made sense to have her there) and the finale which were all handled perfectly. It has highs and lows, I don’t think I’ll be watching this in its entirety again, but I don’t regret my ticket purchase. Go out and see the newer faces, and consider seeing the musical if you really fall in love with the movie.