Life’s an unhappy song
LES MISERABLES Starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks. Screenplay by William Nicholson, directed by Tom Hooper. Rated M (violence, sexual references), 157 minutes. Showing at Reading Porirua and Light House Pauatahanui cinemas. WOW. I’ve never seen so many unhappy people sing so much.
Despite its globe-trotting longevity, Les Miserables always escaped me. Beyond vague recollections of Master of the House playing in form 2 music class, Victor Hugo’s novel and the musical monster it spawned in the 1980s, had never meant anything more to me than a poster of a forlorn little French girl or that it was the successful stage show Andrew Lloyd Webber didn’t compose.
By others’ accounts, Tom Hooper’s cinematic adaptation of Les Miserables stays very true to its musical theatre origins, and its impressive 8.2/ 10 rating on IMBD.com would suggest it has struck a chord with more than just the ‘Les Mis’ alumni.
It certainly looks the goods, boasting fantastic cinematography and costumes.
While I could tell which bits in the movie would have likely tin- gled my spine or given me goose bumps had I seen it on stage, the film itself wasn’t capable of triggering such reactions.
This could partly be because I’m no musical junkie. It took a good half-hour for me to get past the fact everything is sung, even the boring, bridging dialogue between the songs.
It could also be because Les Miserables is bloated and overwrought.
It’s stuffed with too many themes and thinly-written characters, and much of its music bears a plodding, repetitive tempo. Am I alone on this? For the uninitiated, we’re in 19th century France, where Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), makes a new, honest life for himself after spending 18 years in jail for stealing a piece of bread.
But unbending lawman Javert ( Russell Crowe) is hellbent on ensuring Valjean is punished for breaching parole.
After Jackman’s character makes a promise to raise the daughter of factory worker (Anne Hathaway), his personal quest for redemption becomes entangled with the hopes and dreams of Parisian revolutionaries.
Shot entirely as a close-up, the poignant lyrics of I Dreamed a Dream and Hathaway’s broken face and crestfallen voice combine for Les Miserables’ defining moment, albeit arriving in the first 30 minutes.
No doubt trying to provide viewers with something the stage show couldn’t, Hooper uses the close- up eagerly and often, emphasising anguished expressions, but too often the song and/ or the character aren’t strong enough to warrant it.
The gruff, dirge vocals of Jackman and Crowe tend to overwhelm proceedings, a melodic malaise only broken temporarily by the sweet-voiced Eddie Redmayne ( playing Marius) and Samantha Barks (Eponine), and the comic relief of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter’s light-fingered shysters.
Saving grace: Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean takes care of Les Miserables’ finest attribute, Anne Hathaway’s factory worker-turned-prostitute Fantine.