Les Misérables: A Miserable Failure

imagesTo say I’ve been excited to see the movie version of Les Misérables is an understatement. Ever since I saw the trailer about a year ago, I’ve been giddy with anticipation. As a choir nerd from elementary school to college I sang tons of Les Mis medleys, and I finally saw it live at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre over the summer. So I was ready to revel in its cinematic glory.

Well, with disappointment after disappointment, where do I even start? Director Tom Hooper decided to record vocals live instead of prerecording them, giving the actors freedom to match their singing to the spontaneity of their acting. Apparently, “freedom” meant freedom to rewrite the music. Between the flat and nasally notes, croaking, choking, and slurring of words it was hard to recognize the profound beauty of Claude-Michel Schönberg’s original score. Of course, all this was done in the name of “authenticity” and “raw” emotion. The thing is, the music itself conveys such depth of emotion all it needs is the proper musicality to deliver it. Instead, the film left me floundering in a sea of unnecessary overacting.

I gave Hugh Jackman every chance to wow me. Despite his lack of diction right off the bat, I maintained high hopes. But when he began the tender tune “Bring Him Home” by belting what should have been delicate notes, my hopes were completely shot. And his performance was the best of the lead characters… Russell Crowe looked the part of the hard-hearted, serious inspector Javert but his singing was a joke. Perhaps I was spoiled by Andrew Varela’s astounding performance in the live show I saw, but Crowe’s attempt to cover the baritone range was sad, to say the least. A little less pathetic was Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of the dejected and victimized Fantine. It’s clear the actress has talent. Unfortunately, with all her overacting, it was hard to find it. Honestly, when the only thing I’m moved to do is get her a Kleenex at the end of “I Dreamed a Dream” something’s terribly wrong.

Tony award winner Eddie Redmayne as Marius was on par vocally, but the out of control jaw quiver was distracting and uncomfortable to watch. Thankfully, the camera couldn’t stand it either and cut away just before I diverted my eyes. Finally, Amanda Seyfried as Cosette with her constantly under pitch and forced vibrato was just short of painful. Oh, I almost forgot about Samantha Barks as Éponine. She had all the vocal skill of a Broadway trained actress but failed to sing with an emotional fragility that would have made her memorable.

Beyond the severe lack of musicianship, I was especially disappointed by the lack of connectedness between characters. A genuine and believable connection between the characters would have eliminated several awkward moments. However, the actors were more focused on an independent and superficial portrayal of misery rather than on highlighting the profound humanity and love that can blossom in what seems like Hell.

Now it wasn’t all bad. Isabelle Allen’s brief portrayal of young Cosette was flawless while Daniel Huttlestone made young Gavroche come alive with all the spunk and charm necessary to make me sit up in my seat. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen were also delightful as the Innkeeper and his wife (the Thénardiers), but they were underused. Plus, it was almost impossible to follow the clever detail of their scenes due to the awful camerawork.

Whoever decided that zooming in on the actors’ faces during their solos but rushing through everything else was completely off their rocker. I either felt disoriented or uncomfortably bored. It also didn’t help that the lighting was either too dark or blindingly bright. The one element of cinematography I liked? The way Javert’s flirtation with a certain ledge was filmed actually gave me an appropriate sense of vertigo, which thrilled me.

The other part I liked? The end credits. Finally, the orchestra came alive, and I left feeling the triumph, emotional complexity, and depth I had craved for the entire film. So if you’re tone deaf, don’t frequent live theatre often, or just like bitter disappointment go see Les Misérables and be miserable right along with them!

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2 thoughts on “Les Misérables: A Miserable Failure

  1. Les Mis is my favorite musical : I used to watch the 10th anniversary on tape all the time with my sisters.. my favorite childhood memory. When I saw the movie I felt like Hooper sawed through that memory with a chainsaw… But Colm Wilkinson as the bishop (he played Jean Valjean in the tenth edition) somehow made it worth it for me 🙂

  2. Thanks for such a great simile! I love the 10th Anniversary edition, too! And I agree– Colm Wilkinson’s appearance in the movie was very special. However, his few minutes on screen weren’t enough to save the rest of the film for me. Thanks for commenting!

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