Thank you Tom Hooper! It’s been awhile since we’ve had a musical that’s made us want to slit our wrists.
The film is set against the backdrop of sociopolitical upheaval in 19th century France and revolves mostly around Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a escaped convict who spent time in prison after stealing some bread to feed his sister. He is on-the-run from a vengeful officer named Javert (Russell Crowe), but in the meantime, changes his ways, finds a woman named Fantine (Anne Hathaway), and eventually, goes out to look for her daughter named Cosette.
I’m not going to lie to you, I am not the biggest musical-lover out there but if I have to sit-down, watch one, and at least enjoy myself, chances are, I’m going to enjoy myself. That’s why I was a bit skeptical of this flick, not just because I haven’t ever seen the musical this is based-off of, but because it seemed like the type of musicals I’ve grown to despise. Everybody’s crying, everybody’s moping, and everybody’s so self-indulgent, almost to the point of where it’s just one, long cry-fest that is more likely to have you want to jump-off a bridge, rather than get in the Holiday Cheer. For some people, jumping off of a bridge is getting in the Holiday Cheer, but for me, it isn’t and that’s why I was a bit worried of what I got myself into on Christmas night. Thankfully, I stayed very, very far away from the Ben Franklin bridge and instead, stayed home and cried myself to sleep. Oh, the holidays.
Right off the bat, you should know that if you don’t like musicals where every single-line of dialogue is spoken through song, then this will definitely not be your bag, baby. Because if you hate that about certain musicals and get bum-rushed into seeing this, you are going to be one, pissed-off monkey for the next two-and-a-half hours, and most likely, going to just switch your plans and see Django Unchained. No problem with that whatsoever, but if you’re bag is in-fact a musical where everybody speaks in octaves, then you are going to go fuckin’ bananas over this, especially if you are already a fan of the source-material in the first-place. Tom Hooper was, obviously, and that’s why this is not your typical, run-of-the-mill musical. It’s got style to it, and that’s what so different.
What I mean by the “style” that Hooper apparently uses here, is that instead of going for the grand-scale, epic-feel of this material and showing us how huge this world is, with all of these large, sweeping song-notes that take you from one end of the Earth, to the other, he keeps it small, secluded, and very emotional. We get a lot of close-up shots on these people as they sing and we feel as if we are right there, not only to feel what it is that they are singing and emoting about, but to also have us placed-in this world that is dark, cruel, and very, very *cough* miserable. Hooper does get the look-and-feel of this movie and never for a single-second has us believe that we are watching a play on the big-screen, or even a musical for that matter, it actually feels natural to the story and how it’s trying to make you feel.
Not for a single-second did I think that I was going to cry during this movie, and don’t worry all of my fellow dude readers out there, trust me, I can assure you that I did not cry, but I sure as hell teared-up a whole lot more than I ever expected. Seriously, we all know about the “I Dreamed a Dream” number that Hathaway sings, executes-perfectly, and makes us all pull out the boxes of Kleenex, but there were so many more moments that just hit me where it hurt the most and not only did it surprise that the one time actually happened, but surprised me even more that it continued to occur. Everybody’s singing loud, proud, and right there for us to see clearly, and because of that, you really feel hit with the raw emotions that this story brings-out in it’s meaning, and how you can actually receive it. So many equal moments of pure beauty and sadness just really get to you and once you see the actual people sing them, on-camera, live, and for all of us to hear and see, you’ll know that it’s not because you have a soft-heart for a bunch of rambunctious college kids facing-off against the system, but because the musical-numbers have a feeling of power that you so rarely see in musicals nowadays. You feel as if every musical-number is meant to be apart of this story, is general to those characters and what they’re feeling, and exactly what it means for the rest of the movie.
Actually, that’s probably where my only problem for this flick actually came-from: when they weren’t singing. About 95% of this flick is full-on, singing, but the rest of 5%, obviously isn’t and really seems out-of-place, especially when people seem to hit breaks that don’t feel necessary to it’s story, or it’s believeability. Honestly, had the movie been 100% pure song, dance, and emotional breakdowns, I would have no problem, but whenever these people got the right ideas to just talk out of nowhere, and then continue to sing as if the actual, spoken-words never happened, then it seemed a bit too strange. However, then numbers like “One Day More”, “On My Own”, and “Stars” came-up, and all of my problems went away with the soothing and wondrous voices of this cast, and all that the brought to the table.
I think it should be noted right-away, that this isn’t your typical musical, mainly because what you see and hear on-film, is pretty much what stars gave-out. They don’t lip-sync, they don’t read from some script and have it gelled in with their mouth-movements, and they sure as hell did not take the easy way out and just record it in a studio, but instead, just did it, all in front of the camera, with an ear-piece in that played the background music. In ways, this works for the songs and the performers because you get a natural feel you wouldn’t normally get with any, other musical, but in other ways, it doesn’t because not everybody is exactly on-cue with the music that surrounds them. You understand the lyrics more, now that you actually get to see the live-wire lyrics come-out through the mouths and emotions of these characters and believe in everything they feel, no matter how bitter or joyous it may be. However, it’s more good ways then bad, so if anything, I have to give Hooper more credit for being even-more ballsy with his artistic and subdued direction of a musical that could have gone totally out the window into Annoyance-ville. There isn’t a real place called Annoyance-ville, but if there was, that’s where most musicals would be found.
As for the performers themselves, just about each and every-one here is as perfect as they come with the music they’re supposed to sing, the looks they’re supposed to be giving, and the feelings that go through characters like these. Hugh Jackman finally gets to show the world what he can do as an actor and performer, into one, amazing performance as Jean Valjean. Jackman, as we all know, can sing his heart out to the highest mountains and can definitely act, but the combination of both, in such a raw-feeling and way, is what really makes him stand-out among the rest, even when he takes the back burner a bit later-on in the flick. Jackman nails all of the song-notes he has to hit perfectly, but when it comes to being a guy that we feel a real, utter sympathy and love for, then Jackman succeeds even more and it’s one of his finest performances, mostly because it shows us that when you give him good material that he can work with, he will, and work with it to the best of his ability. The best of his ability is this performance here as Jean Valjean, and thank the singing gods for that!
A lot of people have been trashing the hell out of Russell Crowe as Javert, and how his singing-voice just really does not fit with the character, nor the rest of the flick, but I have to be honest: I sort of feel bad for the guy. Believe it or not, Crowe is not as much of a random-choice for this role as some may have you think otherwise, because he’s actually apart of a rock band called Thirty Odd Foot of Grunt and apparently, does a nice job with the material for them. However, that’s a rock band-like voice that’s used, not an Opera-like, musical voice that’s meant to capture the hearts and souls of millions across the globe. Okay, maybe that was a little too drastic of a point to make, but what I’m mainly getting at is that if you don’t have a powerful enough voice to handle this material and make it work when you play the menacing and evil character, Javert, then you may have a bit of problems coming down the pipelines. Okay, maybe more than “a bit”, but you catch my drift.
Does Crowe deserve the panning that he’s getting for his role in this movie? Yes and no. Yes, because he is the weakest-link out of the whole cast and shows just what happens when you cast a in a role, mostly because he’s a big-name, and no, because he isn’t terrible to watch. Maybe since I have never once heard the actual-play done itself and don’t know how Javert is supposed to sound, but I thought that Crowe did the best that he could with a role that definitely needed some great and powerful moments of song to be handled with grace and care, and that is exactly what Crowe did, except it wasn’t what everybody out there in the world wanted. You’re never going to please everybody with every little thing you do, so don’t worry Russell, you won me over and I’m glad to say that you weren’t all that bad of a choice to begin with. However, they could have seriously gotten somebody else, I hate to say it.
Of course the buzz that has been surrounding the hell out of this film is Anne Hathaway’s performance as Fantine, and the heartbreaking, show-stopping rendition she gives of “I Dreamed a Dream”, and all of that buzz is deserved because holy hell, did she make me tear-up. Hathaway’s character of Fantine isn’t around for a terribly-long time, but for how long she is alive and well on-screen, you see a real, true, and harrowed woman that does all that she can to make ends meet, but yet, still finds herself taking off her nickers just for a quick buck here and there. It’s heartbreaking and sad to watch and Hathaway makes you believe in this pain and strife that her character goes through, and when she breaks into that song, try your hardest to control-yourself because trust me: you won’t succeed. Hathaway is the one you really remember when you leave the theater and I don’t even know why we have to wait 2 more months for the announcement, just give her the damn Oscar! The gal deserves it, if not just for this perfect-performance, but for all of the other perfect-performances she’s given over the years. Not looking at you, Bride Wars.
Another gal in this cast who gives a whopper of a performance, in terms of acting and singing, is Samantha Barks as Éponine. If you don’t know recognize the name or don’t even know who the hell she is and why she’s even here in a star-studded get-together like this: don’t worry, you don’t need to because she will have you remembering her name, long after the credits roll. Granted, she obviously was going to knock the singing out of the park because she was cast in the musical a couple of years ago, but still, the woman is terrific in all that she does here and the two songs that she’s given to perform, are equally as heartbreaking and powerful as Hathaway brings to the table. She’s got a great look, a great style, and most importantly, a great voice and I wish to see a whole lot more of in the future.
The cast gets even better, though, with Eddie Redmayne as Marius, who surprised the hell out of me because after seeing him in My Week with Marilyn and countless other flicks, I thought he was nothing more than just another pretty face, but here, he shows me he’s more. He can hit the notes he’s supposed to hit, and he hits them with a great deal of charm and wit that makes you like the guy right from the start, even if you think his face is a bit goofy at times. However, that’s just a tiny nit-pick of mine, so don’t mind me and my asshole-like self. Some will probably be bummed to see that there isn’t a real, huge-part for Amanda Seyfried here as the older Cosette, but don’t worry, she still gets to show-off those pipes of hers (not those pipes you pervs) and doesn’t, not for one-second, get out-matched by anybody else in this cast.
Consensus: If you don’t like musicals before, then chances are, you are going to hate the ever-loving piss out of Les Misérables but if you do like musicals, then you are going to love just about every-second of this as each and every song is filled with bright emotion, power, drama, and simplicity, that’s very hard to capture in any type of musical, especially one this much of a grander, epic-scale.