Friday, December 28, 2012

Les Miserables

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway
Director: Tom Hooper
Running Time: 2 hours, 37 minutes
Rating: PG-13

Going for the obvious pun, I felt pretty miserable after sitting through this daunting rendition of a classic. If you’re going to tackle one of the greatest musicals of all time, could you at least try to make it awesome? While the singing recorded live was a beautiful touch, the director of photography didn’t aesthetically please me the way I was expecting. Tom Hooper’s direction would have had a much longer-lasting impact had he shortened a few of the songs. Instead, he honored every single note of the musical, and then some. I should have known what I was in for when I checked my watch during Jean Valjean’s opening number.

For those of you who scanned the Cliffsnotes of Les Miserables in high school, allow me to refresh your memory. The story follows ex-con Jean Valjean during the French Revolution. We feel sympathy for this man who was imprisoned for 19 years after stealing a loaf of bread for his starving nephew. It was a nice reminder to see Hugh Jackman play someone other than Wolverine. Even following his parole, Valjean is tormented by Officer Javert, played by Russell Crowe, who is worse than Pierce Brosnan in “Mamma Mia.” In the words of my colleague, anyone, even Usher, would have been better in this role.
Photo Courtesy: Entertainment Weekly
During Valjean’s attempt to maintain a normal life, he encounters Fantine, a woman with no hope of salvation, struggling to provide for her daughter. People are falling in love with Anne Hathaway in this role, and as much as I hate to start a fire, she didn’t lose herself in the role like I wanted her to. Her scenes were “drama for drama’s sake.” She could have peeled back just one more layer. Fantine’s daughter Cosette lives with the Thenardier family, an inn-keeper couple and their daughter. Thank heavens for Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, whose comedic performance as the slimy couple stole every scene. These two made the film tolerable.

Fast-forward a few years, right in the midst of the French Revolution. Cosette has grown older, and Amanda Seyfried’s portrayal of her is graceful, though her songs were entirely too high for her range. She is being wooed by Marius, a key player in the Revolution. We shift back and forth between love and fight scenes, the latter being a bit hokey. Shout out to newcomer child actor Daniel Huttlestone for a heartfelt performance of Gavroche; he was the clear crowd favorite.

The purest performance was Eponine’s “On My Own.” Besides being one of the most famous songs in the musical, your heart can’t help but break for her, as she wants what she can’t have – we’ve all been there. Samantha Barks has a bright future in front of her.

The book and live musical are so much more powerful than the screen version. Though the audience (not me) gave a roaring applause at the end, I was hoping to be floored. If you just can’t “les mis” seeing this movie, be prepared to nod off and leave underwhelmed.

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